Beauty retouch on darktable ?

Back in 2011-2012, Jared Polin did a YouTube series where he cross-edited pictures on Lightroom with fellow photographers.

It’s funny to see how these edits have not aged well and did not survive to the trends they tried to follow. Nonetheless, as he gave us the RAW, I tried to see how I could do better in today’s darktable than with 2011’s Lightroom, because a lot of stupid things have been said and written about darktable being “not professional” since it appeared on Windows (hence : in the World) last year.

Full disclosure, the darktable version I used to achieve that is my own fork, not the official one.

The original retouch by Adam Lerner (CC BY-SA-NC 2.0):


Mine, 100% darktable (CC whatever):

I think we are good with dt. Thanks Adobe, but no thanks.

The XMP to reproduce:

AWL_3433.nef.xmp (139.7 KB)

You can play with the original RAW.


wow, i like how you brought back the person under all this glaring light. look, it has real skin! it’s actually fairly bright in the raw already.

Good job Aurélien!

a small pluck for @RileyB … He also has a course on editing portraits in darktable =)


I think providing the xmp file will be a great education to many hence my interest in this.

When I open the image in Darktable 2.4.4 I get an error/warning as below. Have tried a Google search of this issue without success.

Do you think this is related to your fork of Darktable please ?

module ‘colourbalance’ version mismatch: 1 != 2

Yes it is related to Aurélien fork.

Hopefully at some point this will be merged in master and with a bit of luck we’ll all have those enhancements in 2.6.

Thanks everyone ! This is mostly a showcase of the combined use of 2 modules I hacked:

  1. the unbreak color profile, where I added a log profile as a tonemapping method, with 2 different exposure optimiziers (one guided, one fully auto), in order to remap the luminance between 18 and 96 (where the ICC input profile is not extrapolated, hence the better color rendition)
  2. the color balance, where I added the ASC CDL mode, which can fix lightness, contrast, saturations and hues selectively for shadows, highlights and mid-tones in Prophoto RGB (doing operations in Lab as most modules do is generally a non-sense).
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hi, I’m not great at colour science, but please could you explain this? I thought Lab was generally a good space for making changes.

For a physicist, Lab is nice to describe colors we see. For a photographer, it is not nice to apply transformations.

We (and camera sensors) see a trichromatic signal (from 3 different cells, in the eye) and the brain recomposes the lightness by mixing RGB channels. Applying the same transfer function on the 3 RGB channels will actually affect the lightness and the color saturation, but in a “natural way” (for the eye) because the lightness is only a side-effect of the trichromatic manipulation.

In Lab space, the lightness is fully separated from the colors, which could seem nice at first, because you control everything, but will actually result in washed-out results because you need do fix the color saturation according to the lightness in the same way the eye behaves. In the Lab modules of dt (for example : tone curves in auto mode), you adjust the L channel transfer function, and the module will make the assumption that the a & b channels should follow the same function, which is silly because it doesn’t take account of the way we percieve color & lightness. So you will either get desaturated or weirdly saturated color saturation.

Lab is great for special effects, such as creating more color separation, due to the way it represents colors : on the a channel, the more green you are, the less magenta you are, same for blue/yellow on the b channel. So, increasing the contrast in a & b results in more defined colors. But, in portrait, it will just make the spots and blemishes pop out.

90 % of the color, lightness and contrst adjustments should be made (from my taste & experimentations) in RGB, because it’s safe. Once you have got someting natural and good looking, you can run the extra mile in Lab for (delicate) special effects, on separated channels (no auto Lab mode that affects the 3 channels with the same transfer function).

That’s basically how I recovered this picture.


Thanks for the explanation, interesting.

The model looks great! However, I think the background could be improved in part. Especially on the right including the pink, yellow orange stuff.

Here’s a 200% view of @anon41087856 s version compared to my suggestion (complete edit below):

AWL_3433.nef.xmp (7.5 KB)

Aaaaah I specifically recovered the deep shadows in the background to bring back the audience. I thought it would add more context and depth to the picture.

It certainly does. But it also distracts somewhat from the model which may not be wanted in fashion photography. Nevertheless, I personally like it (on the left side).
Just the “audience” on the right is for my taste too noisy and the colorful stuff too dominant. That’s why I suggested to change the background.

@Thomas_Do: your version is far more saturated for my taste and the model’s skin as a too red color cast. I prefer Aurelien’s version.

That may well be. I did this edit on my laptop, which although calibrated, is a little under saturated. Edits from that PC are often a little "colorful" when I watch them later on other displays. But I like playing around with image while sitting on the sofa :wink: . Not a good attitude for serious editing …

Had to have a go… RT using new shadows & highlights tool. Then Gimp to tweak, mainly eyes and trying to make left hand tone in better with rest of skin (right hand/wrist untouched, still ruddy).

Congrats you went far and beyond the enhance magic spells; brought life to the model… I think we can call you Dr Frankestraw :stuck_out_tongue:

3 stills for comparison: reptorian’s //1 > mine and > aurelien’s

//1 mistook rawconvert (sorry andrew) with reptorian

I might be biaised, but I still prefer the skin tones I got :wink:

I might be biaised, but I still prefer the skin tones I got

jajajaa aaa jajajaa :rofl:

3 things probably unconnected:

A. the first thing I thought when I saw the picture was {gradma mode} this girls needs to eat ASAP

B. indeed you got excellent (natural) colours out of the image, that’s abso out of the ?

C. direct link to the raw →

I know, right ? :rofl: See what I did with the fluidity tool on the hips and shoulders ?