Last updated on May 16, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, travelling and making photos for 20 years. Read more Darktable - Photo Editing

Quick darktable Tutorial to get started for beginners

In this quick tutorial, you will learn how to get started with darktable, from organising to editing your photos.

If you are familiar with Lightroom, you may have already noticed that the darktable interface is quite similar.

You can catalogue your photos in the Lighttable View,  you can improve them in the darktable View and you have the possibility to Map them as well as Print or just show them on a Slideshow.

You have also the possibility to tether your camera, however, this is something that I never did it with my travel photography.

Without further ado let’s get into it

More reading on darktable

A Quick darktable Tutorial – in a nutshell

There are a few things to know before you get started:

  • darktable works on Windows, Mac and a few versions of Linux. What this means to you is that you can even think to use darktable on different platforms, for example on an old laptop with Linux when you travel. Once you are back at home, you will be able to move your work to your local more powerful Windows or Mac computer. In travel photography, this possibility can open new horizons without the need to buy new powerful laptops
  • It’s Opensource and free of charge. Opensource does not mean it is not reliable, just think that most of the internet is running over Linux which is Opensource too.
  • The editing is non-destructive. This means that all the changes are saved on a separate file (called sidecar file) and you can always go back to your original photo.

In this video below, you will find a step-by-step quick tutorial to the darktable interface

How to organise your photos in darktable – Lightroom View

For your information, I am not going too deep in the description of every single module.

However, I will add more links to this darktable tutorial once I published new videos ( I suggest to subscribe to my channel for the latest videos)

Let’s start with file management, where darktable is suffering the most as you are pretty limited with the things you can do.

You can move files around but the workflow can be a bit tedious and I would personally not suggest it.

My point here is to create your folder structure and move your photos there before starting the import process.

It makes things so much quicker

In my travel photography workflow, I have folders for each year and subfolder for each shooting with the following naming convention:

yyyy_mm_dd_CountryOrCityIHaveVisited (or shooting description)

Import and Collect Images

On the left side of the Lighttable view, you can find the Import module.

You can either decide to import a single photo or a folder containing all the photos (that’s what I usually do at the end of the day)

You can also decide to overwrite some metadata info as creator or rights (to name two possibilities).

In the Collect Images module, you can instead organise the way you see your photos.

My preference is to view them by folder unless I am looking for something in particular.

For example, if I need a photo of a Sydney bridge, I would filter my collection based on the tag “Sydney” and the tag “bridge” and I would start my search in the last two years (Yes, I travel a lot to Sydney and I have way too many photos of bridges LOL).

I can even decide to store this search as a preset if I do this lookup on a frequent basis.

You can browse the last 10 lookups in the Recently Used Collections

Image information

This is where you can see all the metadata info of the photo you have your mouse over.

You can read information like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc

Photo Grid

The photos are organised in the centre of the screen in a grid that you can scale (up to 25 images each row) using the meter at the bottom of the page

You can set the photo grid to show for each photo

  • the type of file (JPG, DNG, the type of RAW file or any other image extension)
  • the file name
  • the star rating and reject status
  • the aperture, shutter speed, focal length and ISO

You can set that in the overlays menu (click on the star on the top-right of your photo grid)

Select and Selected images

This is where you can select your images (but honestly use the mouse and shift keys for a quicker selection) and a few file management operations that you can perform on those files (move, trash, delete, etc).

This is where you can also create your HDR photo.

darktable does not implement any stitching for panorama photos.

You would need an external software instead

History Stack and Styles

The History Stack has a memory of all the editing you have done to the photo and we will talk more about it in a later stage of this quick tutorial

The Styles Module gives you the possibility to do some preliminary editing based on the styles that you have set in darktable.

You can create these styles or you can download them from the internet.

You should check out my Styles Hub Post where I explain how to import and use them and you can also download for free a few of my styles too.

Another good website is dtStyle.net where you will find plenty of them available for free.

My only issue with this website is that there are way too many styles and plenty of them are a bit over the top.

Metadata Editor

This is where you can add the title of the photo as well as the description and other photo information

Tagging

I rate the Tagging Module as one of the most import, if not the most important, in the Lighttable view.

This is where you add you tags, or keywords, of the photo.

For example, if I do a photo of the famous Bondi Beach in Sydney I would add: “Sydney”, “Bondi”, “Australia”, “Beach”, “Iconic” and possibly “Crowd” and maybe “Sunset” or “Surfing” if I am taking a photo of people surfing.

In this way, if in a later stage I need photos of iconic places in Australia I can just do a lookup in the Collect Images module of the tags “Australia” and “Iconic” and maybe filter on 2/3 stars to get only the best photos.

Geotagging

This is where you can to give a location of your photo applying the GPX track file.

You may not need to use this module if your photos include already the geotagging in the metadata.

Export

Simple and easy, just select the type of file you want to make (JPG, TIFF, DNG etc) and the quality.

Unfortunately, you cannot set max file size. That would be useful, at least to me 🙂

Watermarks are applied in the Darkroom view (we will see that later).

You can also create a Style with just the watermark and apply it when you are exporting multiple photos.

How to edit your photos in darktable – Darkroom View

This is the most exciting view of darktable, where magic happens.

In the bottom of the view, you will see the filmstrip of the collection you are working on.

In the central part of the interface, you have the photo that you are working on.

Snapshots and History

You find these two modules on the left side.

The history keeps track of all the editing you have done to your photos.

You can go up and down every editing to see your progress.

You can also take a snapshot to compare with a handy slider the progress (check the video above to see the way it works).

Snapshots can be used also to compare two photos

Duplicate Manager

You can use the duplicate manager to create virtual copies.

darktable will create a second sidecar file independent from the original one

I would personally suggest to bypass the Color Picker module and leave it for a later stage of your learning curve.

Tagging and Image Information modules are exactly the same as in the Lighttable View.

Mask Manager

darktable is famous for its advanced way to build masks.

Masks are areas of the photo where you can apply your editing, for example just the sky.

You can create masks based on shapes or shadow and highlights information or a combination of them.

You have many possibilities.

In this module, you will find all the masks created and used for that particular photo that can be re-used for another editing for example.

Histogram

Located on the top right of the interface, you have a view of the shadow part of your photo (left of the histogram), the highlights (right) and the midtone area (centre).

You can also check that based on the colour channel (RGB).

With the mouse, you can move the histogram to either open the shadow area or reduce the highlights.

Workspace

This is where you find all the editing modules (over 60 of them).

The mere quantity can be actually quite intimidating, however, you do not need to use all of them.

In fact, you should start with a small selection and build your confidence from there.

These modules are organised into 5 groups:

  • Basic Group, just the modules you need to start with to make a few simple adjustments to your photos
  • Tone Group
  • Colour Group
  • Correction Group
  • Effects Group

Once you are more familiar with your workflow then you should build your Favourite Group with the modules that you use the most.

In this way, you will speed up your photo editing.

The last group, called Active Group, is automatically populated with the modules used in the editing process (same as you see in the history stack)

The modules can be visible or hidden in this way you see only what you need and use.

You can search a module either by name, in the search module field (just under the group icons) or select it from the more modules list down in the left corner

If you check the hamburger button you will see the possibility to save your workspace (the way you organised your groups) as a preset.

Moreover, you will see pre-organised workspaces for the different types of photography.

The other views

In the Map View, you can find all of your photos positioned on the map (in case you have them geotagged).

You have the possibility to use Google Maps as well as OpenStreetMap and others.

The Slideshow View is where you can see and show your photos on simple slides

In the Tethering View, you can connect the camera to the computer to import your photos directly to darktable meanwhile you are shooting, which is great for studio photography.

The Print View is available for all platforms except Windows.

My final suggestions

Do not get frustrated with the many, too many, available modules in your editing.

Start small with the basic and build up from there.

Learn the most important keyboard shortcuts to speed up your workflow

Subscribe do my YouTube channel where I publish on a regular basis video about darktable and how to improve your travel photography.

And, please, feel free to leave a comment in case of any question. I usually reply in no time.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, 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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