The ultimate darktable workflow
How to organise and edit your photos with an efficient
What is the best and quickest Darktable workflow?
I wish there was a quick answer with a solid explanation.
In this post, I share my Darktable workflow built on 10 years of travel photography experience around the world
It’s a simple 8 steps process that allows me to catalogue, edit and publish my photos in no time, well, maybe a bit more than no time LOL
All these steps may not apply to your workflow, however, you may be surprised by a few.
And now let’s start with Step #1
Table of Contents
More reading on Darktable
- Darktable Tutorials Hub [from beginner to advanced]
- Quick Darktable Tutorial to get started for travel photographers
- Darktable vs Lightroom: is Darktable a good free Lightroom alternative
- How to import the Lightroom catalogue in Darktable [with the same workspace]
In the below video, I cover most of the steps, however, I had to keep it as short as I could and I had to omit a few points that I instead added in this post
Creation of folder structure (the base of my darktable workflow)
In my Travel Photography workflow, I organise my photos in folders based on the year and the destination I visit.
For example, in 2019 I had:
- 2019_05_19 Sydney
- 2019_06_19 Vietnam
- 2019_06_19 Hanoi
- 2019_06_22 Ha Giang
- 2019_06_28 Ninh Binh
If I spend some time in the destination, for example in Vietnam above, then I create folders also for the places I visit.
The date is referred to the first day I arrive at the destination.
For Melbourne, the place where I live, I have a special folder with a similar structure
Melbourne > Year > Shooting Day
I decided to not mix Melbourne with everything else just because of the enormous number of photos I have been taking in my city
For today’s post example, I have decided to import photos from a day around Melbourne, during one of my workshops I usually run in the city.
These photos are from 2019 and I just stored them on my hard drive but never organised or retouched them.
After moving all my photos from the SD card to my newly created folder I usually import the folder content adding just the creator and the rights to all my photos.
In doing that Darktable creates XMP files (sidecar files) for each photo and it applies some editing to re-create the JPG look that you would have on your camera monitor.
Reject the photos I do not need
There is no point to even start tagging photos that I do not need
The fewer photos I have on my screen the better
I go in “Sticky Preview with Focus detection” (Ctrl+Alt+W) to work on full-screen mode.
The focus points are very handy to be almost certain of the sharp areas.
I do not delete immediately the rejected photos, just in case.
I will do that once I finish selecting and processing the photos
Rating the photos
This is 2 steps process for me which starts with filtering all photos “except rejected” (top-left corner on the photo grid)
I go through all non-rejected photos and rate 1-star the images I like the most
Once finished, I filter to only 1-star photos.
I start screening again changing the one that I like the most to 2-star.
All the photos with a 2-star rating will go into the Darkroom phase
Tagging the photos
I go back in the photo grid with all the photos “except rejected” (independently from the star rating).
I start tagging the photos adding the destination, the type of photo (building, landscape, people, street art, etc), maybe the technique I used (panning, reflection, etc) and other possible keywords that I may need to do a lookup in future
With the time I have learned what is my sweet spot with the right number of tags, without overdoing.
Apply the Style
The Style is like the Lightroom Preset, if you are used to the Adobe software.
I used Lightroom for many years and I used to apply the Preset in the Develop Window.
With Darktable I had to change my workflow because the selection of the style in the Darkroom View is not that friendly, it feels stuck in the 80s.
I filter only the 2-star photos and I apply Styles as a starting point, I can then tweak the adjustments to fit the photo.
In this way, all my photos have a consistent style, which I love.
Of course, everyone is different and I am sure there are people that like to work independently without any style to start with.
Applying the style helps me also in speeding up the process, massively sometimes, especially when I do not need to tweak anything.
When I am on a photography trip and I shoot 200-300 photos/day I find myself overwhelmed with the mere quantity.
But after the rating phase and the application of the style, it all suddenly becomes manageable and I can start publishing photos on my social almost straight away.
I apply the Style in the lighttable view.
I personally suggest building your own though.
You can obviously start from someone else style, like mine, but apply some changes to make it yours.
When I apply a Style I set the Photo Grid to one photo only.
Darktable has not a live preview of the style so the only workaround is to apply it (double click) and remove it if it doesn’t work (Ctrl+Z)
For more information and how-to, read my Complete Reference Guide to Presets and Styles
Move to Darkroom for last adjustments
This is the step where I finalise my photo ready to be published or used.
I usually apply the Lens Correction, Crop & Rotate (if needed) and Vignetting.
I have the above modules in my Favourite Group.
However, I go in the Active Group to tweak the adjustments performed with the Styles application.
Just as a reminder, the Active Group has all the modules used for the editing, that you see in the History Stack.
Colour labelling the photos I want to publish
Once I finish editing the photos I go through them and label with colours the ones I want to publish.
I use a Yellow Label (F2) to the photos I want to publish.
I add a Green Label (F3) to the photos for Instagram
I add a Blue Label (F4) to the photos for my website or Facebook
Colours in Darktable are not exclusive.
This means that until not published my photos will have two colours, for example, Yellow and Green.
Once I publish a photo I remove the Yellow flag.
I use the Purple Flag as a Pick, just in case of outstanding photos (similarly to the Pick Flag in Lightroom, in case you are familiar with the Adobe Software)
Delete the rejected photos
No point to keep them as I am sure now that I had all the photos I wanted.
My final thoughts
I just want to stress once again that this is my Darktable workflow and it’s far from perfect.
And possibly my workflow may not work for you, we are all different.
In saying that, I find it very straight forward and very quick.
I suggest also to learn a few keyboard shortcuts to speed up your workflow, here are my top 10 I could not live without.
I personally like to spend more time on the field, making photos, than on my computer.
I am sure my photos could be well improved with all that Darktable has to offer, so powerful.
But in a few minutes, I can go through hundreds of photos and take them to a good level, to my eyes.
When I find an outstanding one though, I do spend lots of time on it, tweaking it through many days.