I will admit, the scene-referred workflow, has not been easy to adapt to, but over the last week, I think I’ve got the hang of it and the images I have edited in the last day or two, have been most satisfying, to work on, with results that encourage me to go out there and take better pictures, or have caused me to re-edit raw images, with this revised approach, with much better results.
Workflow described herein, is based 100% on the scene-referred approach, using filmic - no base curves or LUTS used here.
Recent modules, need a proper read through the manual
The thorough read of the manual (or relevant sections there of) is unavoidable.
But how do you know what is relevant when there are some hidden features in the user interface, which only the manual can tell you about. So with dt, one has to read the entire manual. No other way. And read it several times, until the new scene-referred ethos, sinks in.
And as I have experienced recently, some conventions exist in dt, which may not yet have been captured in the manual, and it was only after raising “expectations” on the dt github, were certain conventions revealed, to me.
A level of persistence and constant enquiry, and sometimes accepting/discovering the conventions, cos the manual cannot be always assured to cover every single bit of dt, that has been developed, its written by humans, who make a damn good effort, but we are human.
The darktable of a few years ago, where you could skip much of the manual and still use it, is gone. The versions from about the time filmic was introduced, need a compulsory read, of the manual, and preferably a read of the blog articles, and Youtube videos related to these new modules. To reinforce any info in the manual.
One module per function type - an approach - a mindset
What I deduce from recent developments (over the recent 2 years) in dt, is an attempt to, as much as possible, avoid the overlap where multiple tools exist to fulfill the same purpose. Of course this is not always possible, but that broad trend of separating functions into different modules, is something one may also adopt as a mindset, in developing a workflow.
So when one looks at an image and thinks of a modification required, a specific module immediately comes to mind, as the primary tool to use, but of course, this approach is not set in stone, and nothing stops us from breaking the good practice.
dt version and settings
I’m using a 3.5 dev build on Windows - 3.5.0+2525~gd1f02a42e
Via preferences, I’m using the modern scene-referred workflow. Which enable modules like color calibration and filmic.
Basic - Level 101 Workflow steps
Before I make any changes, turn off all other indicators, and use the over-exposed indicator to check if there are any such areas in the raw image. And then turn off the over-exposed indicator.
Take a look at the histogram, to give me an idea of how much leeway I have, to edit the image. I’ve marked up an image of the histogram with three white lines that broadly represent :
-on the left of the image - how much room I have to make the darkest parts darker, if I wanted this, and going overboard in this direction, will throw aspects of the image into underexposure
-on the right of the histogram - how much room do I have to make things brighter, without throwing aspects of the image into overexposure.
-towards the top of the histogram, how much room do I have to add saturation, or chroma, without making portions of the image oversaturated.
Then I turn on the clipping indicator, which gives me further details of which areas of the image, have any issues like oversaturation, after all the processing in dt. i.e if there are issues at the output. Until editing is completed, I turn on the clipping indicator occasionally, to see if there are areas of the image I need to pay attention to.
Steps 2 and 3 are only guides. We have creative license to break the rules, if the image or what we have in mind calls for it, e.g. there are valid reasons to leave overexposed portions of an image, or oversaturate, or crush aspects into the black, if that’s what the image needs.
The next steps can be taken in any order, and typically is not a one direction sequence, as one comes back to make further minor adjustments as needed, to modules, based on the changes occurring in other modules. But the thought process is to go from broad, to narrow refinements.
Color Calibration - to set what I would call the “white balance” if needed (or if one is more comfortable with this, turn off Color Calibration, and use white balance module - starting in As-Shot mode, and make adjustments). Color Calibration is what I use exclusively, but it does have a bit of a learning curve, and I am still learning how to use it better.
Exposure - (How bright, broadly speaking, should this image be). I see this as a global tool, across the whole image.
Filmic-rgb, to adjust how much is pushed into the bright, and dark regions of the image, and how much contrast is needed. Filmic is one more level of precision, after Exposure has been applied.
Filmic helps to refine the darkest and lightest regions. Of course it does more than this, I’m trying to keep things simple.
The next level of adjustment for broad changes more finite than filmic is suited for, would be the color-balance-rgb, which enables both global and regional changes for highlights, mid-tones, and shadows - for chroma(colour), luminance, etc, etc. Typically this replaces the old Shadows and Highlights module.
If any more specific broad but finite brightness adjustment is needed. then Tone-eq module is a good place to go.
Then back to making small changes to all of the above as needed.
- Finally some Raw denoise, and Sharpen. using a magnified view, as well as a fit to window view, to see the results at micro and full image view. Optional - for images intended for casual view or sharing on social media, one may skip this step, cos the effort may be wasted. I’m picky so I spend a minute or two, so I never have to go back to this step, in the event that I wish to print, at a later date.
Beyond Level 101
Then those who wish to take things further can get into masks, and multiple instances of modules, to fine-tune things even more, as their time and effort justifies, and of course, use any other modules they wish to use.
More editing freedom using Duplicates
One more thing, d this has nothing to do with the raw processing, per say, but to address my human judgement, and allow me to make changes, with a lot more flexibility, and experiment a lot more, is to after any significant changes, create a duplicate, and continue any edits on the duplicate. so that I can always go back to view the progress of my edits, to see where I may have taken things too far, and recover from any excesses.
In a simple example, I may end up with something like this, with each duplicate being a copy of an earlier one.
Duplicate 0 - Basic Workflow with all steps above, except tone-eq and color-balance rgb, completed.
Duplicate 1 - Tone-eq changes and Colour balance are made here
Duplicate 2 - Refinements to module settings are made here + Crop + Sharpen.
Duplicate 3 - A refinement of Duplicate 2, where I try out certain options or refine further.
Duplicate 4 - An alternative refinement of Duplicate 2.
So at the end of the day, I can look at Duplicate 3 and 4, and know which of these is more of what I want, and based on this I can create a Duplicate 5, from the one I prefer, to make any further edits.
While the dt history is a wonderful tool, and I do use it, I like having these “fallback” duplicates, which I can compare in the lighttable view, and see if I’m improving the image, or shockingly as I sometimes discover, I have gone too far, but because I have these safety nets, I can be far more creative in exploring options. Its a bit difficult to use only the history to back track, cos the history does not have “branching” preservation, so it preserves edits but you cannot go back to a previous edit which has been replaced, by a new “branch”, in your edits.
The duplicates help me preserve the progress of my edits much better than using only the history feature. and allow me to have multiple branches, from one point in the edit, so I can explore alternatives, as outlined above.