Last updated on June 4, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, travelling and making photos for 20 years. Read more Darktable - Photo Editing

darktable black and white

A conversion to black and white in darktable is relatively simple and it can be done in multiple ways.

In this tutorial, you will learn the quickest and most effective way where you can control the brightness based on the original colours.

Moreover, you will also see how to enhance the black and white version with a few techniques, including dodge and burn.

I made also a video about the whole process. You can find it at the end of this post

But let’s get into it straight away

More reading on Darktable

#1 Color Zones Module for darktable black and white conversion

For this tutorial, I am going to use a photo I made in Munich (Germany) along the Isar River with a nice subject but a washed-out sky and flat colours.

As you can see from the History, I have done already a couple of minor changes: Perspective Correction and Crop and Rotate.

Starting Point of darktable black and white conversion
Starting Point of darktable black and white conversion

With a similar photo, usually, you have two possibilities:

  • change the sky, import a more interesting one
  • convert the photo to black and white and make it more dramatic, which is today’s tutorial

And in true honesty, even before taking this photo, I was seeing the place in front of me with black&white eyes, thinking already about the processing.

The first module I am going to use is the Color Zones.

Once activated, you can select the preset black & white film that will desaturate all the colours.

The great advantage of Color Zones is that in the lightness tab you can control the brightness of parts of the photo based on the original colour in that part.

For example, you can control how bright or dark is the sky (originally blue) by just moving up or down the graph in the blue area.

I find the Color Zones module to be the most effective for darktable black and white conversion.

Photo after the Color Zones Module
Photo after the Color Zones Module

#2 Local contrast to add more details

The next step in the conversion is to add more contrast to enhance the details from an otherwise flat photo.

The Local Contrast module does the job perfectly here.

I add more details without pushing too hard

Photo after the Local Contrast Module
Photo after the Local Contrast Module

#3 Exposure to dark the sky

If the sky is too bright (like in my case) I suggest using a gradient filter with a parametric mask

Move the exposure to -1.5 stops (in case the sky is washed out) and add the gradient to dark up mostly the top part.

The parametric mask can be used to exclude the buildings from the gradient filter

In the input slider, select only the brightest part of the luminosity range

Gradient filter with Parametric Mask
Gradient filter with Parametric Mask

In this process, you may experience some artifacts, like on the top of the dome.

The best and quickest way to correct that is with the feathering radius.

Artifacts to correct
Artifacts to correct

Just be cautious, do not go overboard. Based on my experience a value between 5 and 10 fixes the issue.

Photo after the Gradient Filter in the Exposure Module
Photo after the Gradient Filter in the Exposure Module

#4 Vignetting to move the attention to the subject

Vignetting is a module that is quite useful, however, it can be quite tricky to use if you work full screen because it’s hard to change the oval size

Here is a great tip: set the view to small.

In that view, it will be so easy to change the oval size and move it as you need.

Vignetting Trick
Vignetting Trick

After the vignetting is applied, the attention goes straight to the subject, that in this case are the buildings and the church

#5 Correct the overall exposure

At this point, the photo may be too bright or too dark, but rarely correctly exposed.

It’s now time to add a new instance of the Exposure Module to correct the overall brightness.

In my case, the photo is too bright. I need it a bit darker (0.85 exposure stop) to make it more dramatic

Photo after the Overall Exposure Module
Photo after the Overall Exposure Module

#6 Dodge and burn the photo

I am now in the editing part of the photo that I like the most.

This is where we add the magic.

The photo is not as dynamic, it lacks a bit in the change of tonality.

We need to dodge here and there to add one or more centres of attention.

I have built two presets called Dodge and Burn in the Basic Adjustments module

For my photo, I am going to use the dodge first.

The dodging preset increase the exposure (0.70), add some contrast (0.19) and most importantly change the mask blur to 100 and the feathering radius to 120.

I select now the circle drawn mask (CTRL+Click to keep the circle selected) and I start dodging where needed. 

You may want to use the same technique to also burn part of your photos (new instance of Basic Adjustments and Burn B&W preset)

Photo after the Dodge and Burn
Photo after the Dodge and Burn

#7 RGB Curve to change the black and white point

This is the last step in the process that adds a final dramatic touch in my opinion.

Once you have activated the RGB Curve module, you just need to drag right the black point and left the white point.

By how much?

It’s all down to the photo and what you like.

And this is the final result of my darktable black and white conversion

Final Photo
Final Photo

#8 Video

In this video, you can see the full editing process.

Enjoy and leave a comment in the YouTube video if you need any information









Stefano Ferro - Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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