Bee macro -- always having trouble with colors in darktable, especially macros (sony a6400)

My last camera was like 15 years ago – a canon eos 300d digital rebel. I quickly grew frustrated editing photos and the whole pipeline, often due to color stuff (maybe it’s just a hard subject for me). I’ve been loving taking macros with my a6400 and have watched various darktable videos / read some stuff, but I always seem to destroy colors and am generally confused in macros with darktable. I’ve had some luck with regular photos and improving them in dt (not a ton), which felt like a huge victory, but for macros I much more often seem to make things worse than sooc jpg primarily because colors start to get very weird tinges. I’ll happily take any advice or things to read that may get me started with getting better, because I even resorted to trying out this random .dstyle Comparing Darktable and Capture One input color profile for Sony A6000 - #24 by MarcoNex ( [Tone & Color_Sony A6400 C1 colors (filmic v4 + LUT).dtstyle) just to try to get around frustration, sometimes being OK at the end.

I’m attaching this slightly un-ideally focused bee macro and the sony jpg. I’m usually trying to tone down flash highlights, draw attention somewhere, and get exposure adjusted, but in the end I’m also always getting myself into these weird colors with yellow-greens-too-surreal or oranges just looking funky or low contrast situations compared to the JPGS.

Thanks for any input or if anyone finds this interesting enough to play with!

This file is licensed Creative Commons, By-Attribution, Share-Alike.

MJD04337.ARW (23.6 MB)


Would you perhaps share your own version (including the sidecar) that you feel has ‘weird’ colours?

I’m using a Sony camera as well, and I found that, compared to the camera jpegs, I have to add at least 1EV exposure in darktable, with a well-exposed camera jpeg. Also, I find the camera default treatment often over-saturated and too contrasty/over-sharpened. So I don’t use the jpegs as a reference in editing…

In this particular image,what I did was:

  • add 1.6 EV exposure
  • set “color calibration” to daylight @ 4020K (more or less)
  • use the “sharpen demosaicing: AA filter” preset from “diffuse or sharpen”
  • use the “basic colorfulness: standard” preset from “color balance RGB”
  • fiddle a bit with the black and white references in filmic.

So only basic adjustments, for a basic interpretation of the image.

That made the bee, the pollen and the yellow flower look believable, I can’t say anything about the purple flower (or about the real colours of the bee, given the number of possible species…).

1 Like

Hi Madko, and welcome!

Lovely image I think. I see what you mean about the colours feeling ‘off’ when opened in darktable. Usually, the darktable default colours are actually more accurate, but sometimes less pleasing, depending on taste.
I’ve usually found that some tweaks to the channel mixer in color calibration are the best way to sort this kind of thing out, albeit somewhat complicated.
However - the current master has the new RGB primaries module that (I think) will be in dt 4.6 when released. This seems like the perfect use case, so I gave it go using the latest windows build from here: darktable windows insider program 11/5

The first is without any channel mixer or primaries adjustment, the second is tweaked to taste in rgb primaries… a[art from that, both are the same, with default sigmoid workflow and minor adjustments.
MJD04337.ARW.xmp (13.8 KB)

P.S. you probably know already but you can load my .xmp file via the button in lighttable - except that unless you are running a recent build of 4.5 the primaries module doesn’t exist…

Edit… another try, this time using a second instance of color calibration as channel mixer, so this xmp should work on any recent dt.

MJD04337.ARW.xmp (17.3 KB)


Did you forget the files?

Thanks so far everyone!! I can try giving it an edit example again tomorrow, the last 3 times I just reverted and discarded any changes since I got so far off base.

I will re-read the advice tomorrow, super useful information to go on. Those do look a lot better than I usually end up at when editing. The flower was certainly very richly purple like that, and there was a nice range of yellow / browns / golden, while I often end up with images that look a lot more flat or drab if not downright weirdly inaccurate on colors. Then I’m struggling to add back some richness or visual interest, but my skills are lacking and I go too far not knowing where to start. I do understand that the visual styles of camera jpg being pleasing is something subjective, that’s a good point. I didn’t know that the dt files are often more seemingly accurate as far as colors. Basically, I’m usually decently happy with the visual interest created with the off camera jpgs, except when it accidentally made something look a bit too surreal or just totally muted, but sometimes I want to fix something/draw interest in an image but my end result either looks a little flat / boring, or ends up with really weird colors due to my lack of experience.

1 Like

Great capture :+1:

MJD04337.ARW.xmp (14.7 KB)

I did use the input profile of my A7iv, but that shouldn’t make too much of a difference. Otherwise I applied some (rather sloppy) masking for sharpening, because I normally don’t want to sharpen the noise, but just the main features of the insect/flower/…

Other than that, hmm … oh yes, I made sure that the beatiful colors don’t get bleached by filmic, balancing the white relative exposure, the highlight saturation in color balance rgb and using the tone eq to dim the highlights.

All in all a quick and standard edit. The picture didn’t need more to shine.


Hi @Madko, and welcome!

I’m attaching this slightly un-ideally focused bee macro

Please allow me to introduce you to a secret:
bees and all other UFOs are always fuzzy!
As soon as you spot one and start to focus on it,
it begins to fly in zig-zag. Trust me. I know.

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


Hi @Madko,
In my opinion if you use the default filmic processing the colors look very subdued and need work in the color balance RGB module to get a good look. However, I use Sigmoid instead of filmic for most of my images as I tend to get more pleasing colors straight out of the box.

Here is my edit using sigmoid.

MJD04337.ARW.xmp (10.5 KB)


Welcome @Madko !
My version…

MJD04337.ARW.xmp (18.2 KB)


Beautiful shot!

MJD04337.ARW.xmp (17.2 KB)




Thank you @Tim, @Madko fantastic capture helps a lot to get a good end result.


Very good shot. I keep bees and have had a few attempts to capture them with a camera - but I’ve never succeeded like this. My attempt with DT4.4.2

MJD04337.ARW.xmp (22.8 KB)

@Madko - are you in the Southern Hemisphere? As in the Northern Hemisphere by November most bees would have slowed down and reduced foraging & the last of the bee friendly flowering plants would have started to get ready for winter…


MJD04337.ARW.xmp (12.6 KB)

My first contribution in a while. I didn’t crop or do anything to the composition, just tones and color. If I may make a suggestion starting out (since I don’t know how you are using darktable), is to set your settings to use the Sigmoid defaults as a beginner. “Settings > processing > auto-apply pixel workflow defaults > scene-referred (sigmoid)”

With that starting point on my version, exposure is raised a lot, to around +1.8. With a new instance of exposure I drew a shape around the bee and the flower, feathered it, reversed it (so it now includes everything except the bee and flower), and used that to darken the background.

With “color balance rgb” I added chroma and saturation to the shadows only, without changing anything else (this affects more of the image than you would expect).

For pushing the colors in a pleasant direction, I used “color calibration”. I didn’t have to make a new instance, but I made one for my changes and left the default the way it was. On the “R” tab, it’s just a little extra red in “input red” and a little less red in “input green”. This should effect all the colors in the photo that already have more red in them. I’m not great at this tool, but the results can be so amazing with just small adjustments.

Before I forget to add: I also turned on “denoise (profiled)” and left it on the defaults, and I turned on “diffuse and sharpen” and selected the “sharpness: strong” preset.


Rt. 5.9 + Gimp 2.10.34


MJD04337.ARW.xmp (10.4 KB)

1 Like


MJD04337.ARW.xmp (9.5 KB)


I’m really happy/humbled to hear the positive feedback, I’m just starting out over these past few months so it’s super encouraging / motivating to keep trying for something interesting. I’ve been taking a toooon of photos after I got the camera a few months ago and I’m usually trying to balance interesting/sharp macros while not going above f8ish and the extremely narrow DOF there, while having enough going for it that composition is interesting. lots of learning and deleting, but I think I have another shot of this on the camera in which the bee eyes were a tiny bit more in focus rather than the curly flower petals, so I’m improving at sometimes getting fun results :slight_smile:

Awesome advice all around, I’m taking notes and planning to look up the specific suggestions. It’s really helpful to hear that filmic can bleach out these colors, because that’s something I would often run into and just feel like I did something very wrong, even after some slider adjustments. I’m not positive I understand the difference between the filmic / sigmoid or workflow suggestions yet, but I will look it up too. I’ve heard the terms featured, etc, but it seems like there are a lot of approaches over the years and I don’t understand what’s what or how to orient myself yet.

@dqpcoxeas lovely, artistically I’m always still working through when it is nice to rotate the macro shot, or when it looks funky due to gravity and the insect “hanging” being now rotated. This handles the focal point being slightly more on the flower petals than the bee eye really beautifully!

@Roger.Wilco I’m in north america. It snowed and froze briefly last week, but then it’s been sunny and warm again this week (before more cold tomorrow). I’m going to try to take the opportunity to visit this garden again today and continue to this week, until the bees absolutely disappear. As for the capture, I’m inexperienced at macro but I’ve managed like 20k shutter actuations in the past 2.5mo, lol, damn focus stack attempts and thousands upon thouuuusands of blurry photos in hi speed continuous shooting. The biggest help was making a diy diffuser in the style of the hood type commercial ones (photo attached). I just got the laowa 65mm 2x apo, which this was taken with and it’s a lovely light apsc lens so far. I had been using the Sony 90mm macro before, so I’m learning with this one now. I’m still trying to learn yo balance composition with being a bit (too?) obsessive about wanting to get really sharp details close up, but it’s been fun and frustrating to learn what I like.

I hope to play around with some of the files in darktable tomorrow or soon while re-reading some of the advice because everyone’s contributions have been very informative. My eyes are a bit exhausted for editing today since my job is on the computer too. I like both the darker exposure ones, as well as the brighter exposure versions that still feel balanced (something I struggle with). I’ve been taking macros in a vacuum the past 2mo without sharing too much yet, so seeing what different people stylistically see in an image is very educational and cool, thanks again!


Thanks for sharing this beautiful shot. I did not try to enhance the colours, or to improve the composition; I just wanted to see if darktable somehow mangles the colours by default.
Here are filmic v7 and sigmoid (using the ‘smooth’ preset) renderings:

MJD04337.ARW.xmp (13.0 KB)
MJD04337_01.ARW.xmp (13.0 KB)

Oh, I picked the white balance in color calibration from the spot indicated below:

1 Like