Last updated on February 15, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, travelling and making photos for 20 years. Read more Darktable - Photo Editing

Darktable Tutorials Hub – All You Need To Know, From Beginner To Advanced Level

Whether you’re after advanced training, suggestions for beginners or educational material to enhance your photos, this is your hub for all the darktable tutorials I have been posting on both my website and YouTube channel.

Moreover, here you will find also free stuff to download as presets and styles.

Best of all, this guide is updated on a regular basis with the new darktable tutorials that I publish on a weekly basis.

By the way, I forgot to mention that you can download the latest release of darktable here and read/download the manual here.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

View of Krasnoyarsk city, Russia
View of Krasnoyarsk city enhanced with darktable

darktable Tutorials – Key Points

  • darktable or Lightroom? darktable is the easy answer in case you have not started using any editing software. It gets more complicated if you are thinking of moving across platforms. There are a few benefits and drawbacks to both. Check them out below
  • darktable tutorial for beginners: I have organised a simple tutorial that will get you started, together with a video and a few examples. It’s not complicated software however it deserves some time. It may be easier if you have Lightroom experience, however, the workflow is different in darktable and you may be tempted to give up. Don’t. Once you go through the first learning phase, it will all become very simple and intuitive. Keep reading below for my darktable tutorial to get you started.
  • From Lightroom to darktable: as I just said, the workflow is a bit different but this does not mean it’s more complicated. You can import all the photos from Lightroom as well as some info from the catalogue, but not everything.  Read below for all you need to know about the migration.
  • darktable workflow: I have organised in this case two tutorials. The first one goes through the entire workflow, from import to export. The second video is exclusively on the editing part, with my OSC Process. Keep reading below
  • darktable Presets and Styles: I love them and I use them a lot. It’s a great way to speed up the editing process. They work as filters, using one or more modules/adjustments. You can find below more info on them, including a few presets/styles to download for free.
  • keyboard shortcuts in darktable: there are many of them that you should learn to speed up your workflow. The first and most important is the button “H”. A page opens up with help on all the available shortcuts. Read below on my favourite 10 keywords, you will be surprised.
  • RGB Curve: a must-learn module. You can control many things including exposure, contrast, clipping, fading, and color correction and I could keep going. I use it on a regular basis. It’s my go-to “backbone” module. Read more on how to use it below.
  • Spot Removal: this is one of the darktable modules that has never excited me much. But then I found the Retouch Module which is so amazing! My go-to module if I want to remove/retouch anything in a photo. Read below on how to use it.
  • Noise reduction: darktable has 4 modules to denoise! Which one works best and in which case? You will find all your answers below.
  • Exporting photos: easy process if you want to just export a photo. Not as straight forward if you need to add watermarks, for example. Not very intuitive I must admit. But the video below will give you all you need to do it without issues.
The sunrise friend
The sunrise friend in Sri Lanka [enhanced with darktable]

darktable vs Lightroom – Which one is best

Both darktable and Lightroom are very similar in what they do. Of course, the workflow is slightly different and you may be biased versus one or the other.

I have heard many Lightroom users say how more “complicated” is to use darktable, “less intuitive” is another common comment.

I personally believe that they are both great tools and they do things differently and honestly there is no winner.

Just don’t be intimidated by the fact that things may take longer at the start. Once you get up to speed you will see how things are as intuitive in darktable as in Lightroom.

I list here below a few pros and cons of both software solutions. 

  • Cost: darktable is free of charge meanwhile Lightroom costs $10-15/month (based on your country of origin). That’s a difference of $120-150/year
  • Reliability: both very stable and reliable. darktable is open-source with a new release posted every year on Christmas day. Lightroom is made and supported by Adobe and new releases are posted on a regular basis throughout the year. Do not think that open source is not well supported. In fact, the contrary applies. Just think that Android is open-source and runs most of the mobiles, same with Linux, running most of the internet servers nowadays.
  • Photo Organisation: both software solutions have catalogues that essentially follow your folder structure. Keywords, labels/flags and a star system are implemented in both tools. There are a few unique features but nothing to make one or the other the winner.
  • Photo Editing: both are non-destructive editing software. darktable works with modules meanwhile Lightroom has adjustments. Besides the different naming conventions, they essentially do the same things. One big difference is that Lightroom stores the editing in one single file (catalogue file) meanwhile darktable uses an XMP file for each photo. There are pros and cons for both implementations.
  • Speed & Feeling: based on my experience darktable is slightly quicker but take it as a personal feeling. I do not have a testing lab. darktable has more editing options that are not in Lightroom and you would need to go in Photoshop instead. For example, darktable has multiple ways to mask that Lightroom does not have. However, HDR is not really usable on darktable (no auto de-ghosting) and there is no integrated Panorama option (you would need another software). No plugins either. darktable has also a few hiccups here and there but once you know them you can work around them.

For much more information, I have written a full post comparing the two software products. You will see lots of interesting points.

You can also watch this video where I go step by step through both software interfaces, comparing the two.

darktable tutorial for beginners

If you have worked already with Lightroom then you will have a very easy life moving to darktable. It’s all very similar, even the colour of the interface.

If darktable is your first editing software then things may take a bit longer, but nothing is impossible.

Start from the lightable view where you organise your photos, add keywords, flag and rate them.

The next step is the darkroom view where you can edit your photos with a history stack that keeps track of all your changes. You can always move back in case of any mistake or just compare your progress.

There are also views for a slideshow, a world map organisation, tethering of your camera, printing (except in Windows)

You can read the full darktable tutorial for beginners here and you can watch the video below that includes examples too.

This is really the starting point of all my darktable tutorials

How to migrate from Lightroom to darktable

You can move easily all of your photos from Lightroom to darktable, however, you need to keep in mind two things:

  • keywords, flags and ratings can be moved across without any loss
  • the editing you did in Lightroom on your photos can not be exported

I have written a post about the migration of the Lightroom catalogue to darktable with a few workarounds that solve a few issues 

But, let me be very honest with you, you will not be able to import the photos with the exact editing you already did in Lightroom.

Check out also this video where I go step-by-step through the process.

darktable workflow – from organising to editing

Admittedly, darktable lacks a bit on the file management side.

For example, you can’t drag and drop files or folders around, you would have instead to go through buttons that make a simple process take more seconds than you would want to (it’s a bit stuck to a Norton Utilities 2000 edition interface).

I personally organise my photos in folders based on the year and location. I move the files around, all ready to be imported into darktable, so much easier and quicker.

I then follow these steps:

  • keywording
  • ranking
  • editing
  • colour flags
  • export as needed

I explain the whole darktable workflow process here in all the details.

You can also watch this video where I show step-by-step all I do to my photos

The previous video is about the overall workflow, from start to finish.

Here below my editing process, called OSC Process (Overall, Subject, Colours), based on 3 macro steps:

  • Overall: Work on the entire photo with the following modules:
    • Lens correction (automatically applied with a preset)
    • Crop and Rotate, so that the histogram is a true reflection of my cropped photo
    • White Balance, if I can’t control WB then there is no need to keep working on the photo
    • Exposure, to get the correct exposure
    • RGB Curve, contrast and colours with my customised presets
    • Local contrast, to give another punch, if needed
  • Subject: Attention to the subject with the below modules and masking (I normally use drawn¶metric masks as well as raster masks toggling polarity where needed)
    • Basic adjustments, sometimes also to add a light source
    • RGB Curve
    • Local contrast
    • Soften (to blur the background or the areas that take the attention out from my subject)
  • Colours: Control the colours with the following modules
    • RGB Curve, once again, it’s my workhorse. I have developed a few presets for it that you can download in the Styles & Presets Central Hub
    • Color Zones, to work on specific colours or change them
    • Color balance, to “insert” quickly colour in the shadow/mid-tone/highlights
    • Color Calibration, mostly for landscape photography
    • Colorize, to add a orange/yellow light source on top of the previous basic adjustments

In this video below I describe the entire editing workflow with a photo (btw, this is one of my favourite darktable tutorials)

darktable presets and styles

As I mentioned in my workflow video above, the darktable presets and styles are two of the most important tools in my editing process, especially the styles.

I have prebuilt styles for many different kinds of photos, from travel photography to vintage and I am still building new libraries.

I have organised a central hub with videos and free-to-download styles here.

The styles will speed up your workflow immensely and it’s something you should start using from the real beginning, it will make your life so much easier.

These are two videos that may help you with step-by-step instructions.

Top 10 darktable keyboard shortcuts [speed up your workflow]

If you want to speed up your workflow then you should start using a few keyword shortcuts and forget about the mouse.

I have built this post with my top 10 favourites, they help me immensely and I use them on a regular basis

You can also watch this video where I go step by step through all of them

Demystifying the RGB Curve Module

I usually use the RGB Curve to do all the heavy lifting in my editing process.

I start with controlling the contrast, adding fade where needed and clipping if necessary.

I may even add a second instance to color grade, especially the sky.

I have even built a series of RGB Curve Presets to speed up my process (check them out on my free styles and presets hub)

You can watch this video where I explain more in detail all the features with the help of an RGB color wheel

Spot removal and retouch in darktable

The retouching module is one of my favourites in darktable.

It works amazingly well for skin imperfections, and not only.

It’s my one-stop station when I need to remove things from my photos, like the annoying sensor dust.

Unfortunately, I am not a fan of the spot removal module.

Somehow it does not work for me.

I must be honest though, I am not spending much time on it as the retouch is so amazing anyway.

You can watch this video where I explain all you need with a few examples

Noise reduction

Usually, you can have noisy photos because:

  • you have used a high value of ISO (3200 on new full sensor cameras, 800-1600 with old DSLR or MFT)
  • you have shot a long exposure photo (30 seconds or over). You can fix part of it with LENR (Long Exposure Noise Reduction)

darktable has four modules for noise reduction:

  • raw denoise
  • denoise (profiled)
  • denoise (bilateral filter)
  • denoise (non-local means)

I go through them in the first part of the below video suggesting the only one you really need, in my opinion.

The second part of the video includes a comparison with the best tool in the market, Topaz Denoise AI.

Exporting photos in darktable

It’s one of the easiest steps in the whole process.

In saying that, you can automate it with a few presets, based on the platform you want to post your photos on, or for max resolution in case of printing.

You can even build your own watermark to apply as a style in the exporting process.

In this video, I go through all the options with a few examples as well.

Go Back to the Main Points

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.

6 thoughts on “Darktable Tutorials Hub [from beginner to advanced]”

  1. Thanks for the awesome free tutorials!

    I’m switching from Lightroom to Darktable, because I don’t want to use Windows anymore, Linux is the first choice until I collected enough money for Mac.

    Have you ever thought about creating a slack channel or something like that for your group? I guess we can learn more things from others’ cases and share interesting editing ideas 😉

    Best Regards,
    Xin

    Reply
    • Thanks Xin,
      there is already a fantastic FB channel for darktable with people helping each other, a great reference. and highly suggested
      Cheers

      Reply
  2. Thanks for great tutorials.
    One question, when you add a watermark with exif data, is the exif data updated per photo? If so how do you add that exif data as watermark?

    Reply
  3. Always appreciate learning a new perspective of using Darktable.

    I like to see future videos focusing on one topic (module) at a time and how to use that module. Editing a photo by jumping around to different modules is often confusing.

    Minor suggestion, start providing an episode number in your videos to either keep track of or show a sequence. I like to download the videos so that I can view them off line or multiple times and like to see them in the sequence that you recorded. Also makes it easier if I generate an index to immediately go to a topic that I need to refresh my knowledge and understanding of.

    Like your videos.

    Reply
    • Thanks Dennis for your feedback.
      I like to keep this Darktable Tutorial Hub updated with all the info, posts and videos I make creating a central depository, which works great also for me 🙂
      I am trying to alternate posts for photo editing (Urban Photography, Vintage Photography etc) and topics (RGB Curve and Presets in the next two weeks, and a few in the past like masking).
      I fully understand your point. Honestly, there are already a few channels that have great topic content (Bruce’s is one) and I am trying to diversify a bit, sometimes successfully, other times not really LOL
      I love your suggestion of keeping a sequence, an episode list. I will add them to this post. Great value. Thanks for your suggestion!
      I will not change the names on YouTube though as there is already the playing list doing that job.

      Again, thanks for your feedback. Really appreciated

      Reply

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