Darktable introduction course

In march I gave an introductory course in darktable at the local evening school.

I had set the goal of that course to making it easier for beginners to get started with darktable. The course was scheduled for 3x2 hours.

At the beginning I asked the course participants what they expected from the course. Basically there were two main points: They generally wanted to know how to manage images in darktable.
And with the darkroom, they were faced with the problem that the sheer number of modules made it difficult to get started. Which one should be used?
Also I got the feedback that the online help is very technical.

So, I gave a brief introduction to the lighttable: how to import pictures, tag and export them. I explained what the xmp file does and the configuration file and so on. That was the easy bit.

The introduction to the darkroom took the most of the time.
For the darkroom I started with changing the dt prefrerences to the new scene referred workflow.
Then I presented a list of modules which one should stick to for the beginning. (Well, I set up that list just from my own experience.)

I explained every step I do by working on examples which I took from the PlayRaw section of pixl.us. Initially my concept was that the students would redo what I showed so that they could follow more in depth. But as it turned out they were happy with me showing them the steps. So at the end it was me talking most of the time… anyway…

I did not explain all the different details of each module used. Just the sliders and buttons I used in that example. For more in depth explanation of the modules I recommended the available online videos.

The first example I chose was one where one could get a decent result without using masks or blend modes at all. So with that I could focus on modules like exposure, white balance, crop & rotate, local contrast, lens correction, and profiled denoise.

My second example was also an easy one. With that I introduced the perspective correction and replicated the other modules. Also with that example I showed how to get a black and white conversion.

Only with the third example I started with masks and after that with explaining blend modes.

I had the impression that the participants have now a foot in the door of darktable.

At the end of the course I provided some slides with the steps I explained during the sessions. Well, they are in german. I upload them here anyway as I know that there are a lot of readers from germany also. Maybe the slides help one or the other even without explanation.

Anything I could do better next time?

Darktable_VHS_03_2021.pdf (7.9 MB)


Hi Marco,

Maybe of importance: My understanding of German is reasonably good, but I’m Dutch…

First impression after reading the PDF: A nice, very compact introduction to darktable. I do think that most of the relevant bases are covered, although I did see a thing or two that might need to be added. Then again, maybe you have a good rationale not to add them (just yet).

The 2 things that I think could be improved:

  • filmic RGB

Page 6 makes sure that the scene-referred workflow is set as default and page 17 talks a bit about exposure.

What I am missing is any mention of the filmic RGB module and its roll/importance. No need to go into details about it, this being a introductory course. But mentioning its importance and what to do in the exposure module and what in the filmic module seems too relevant to leave out.

  • Page 13

This deals with the modern chromatic adaption way of setting the white balance: Make sure to mention that the actual white balance module should not be touched and left at its default camera reference.

Maybe you mention the stuff I mentioned above during the course, but I’m assuming that your course participants get a digital version of the PDF to use as a reference and might look at it to get a refresher later on.

Anyway: Nice initiative!

1 Like

@s7habo might be able to help.

just a crazy idea … maybe develop teaching material together so not everyone has to start from scratch?


Very good idea! I would be in any case for it!


Besides the points @Jade_NL has mentioned, which are very important additions, regarding the content I would have one more point here:

Just because this is a beginner’s course, I think it’s very important that you just give people some important overview from the beginning about these two different workflows; scene-referred and display-referred.

This could be done as a kind of interesting intro about our “distorted” visual perception of reality.

You can demonstrate this without going to deep in the theory, with just few examples like: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optische_Täuschung#/media/Datei:Optical.greysquares.arp-animated.gif

By then making it clear that the camera sensor perceives the world physically “more correctly” than we do you can make people understand why the raw files look so boringly flat compared to jpegs, because the camera already internally takes into account the aspects of human perception when it creates a jpeg from raw data. And that so far darktable has tried to mimic this internal processing of the camera with the base curve.

Then you can say that to this approach a new modern one has recently been added in darktable
where processing takes place first by doing the most important corrections first in a physically correct way (mostly with scene-referred modules before filmic) and only at the end of the processing chain you adjust it to human perception (display-referred modules after filmic).

This way, a bit of the necessary general knowledge is provided and a lot of confusion will be saved later, when people deal with darktable more intensively.

Apart from that, your presentation is very well structured, visually very clear and appealing with many good examples. Excellent work!

Since I will soon also make a course on darktable at the adult education center, I would like to ask you if I can use your material for the purposes?


On page 44 of your pdf the link to this forum is wrong :wink:


That’s a nice idea. I can provide my slides as a starter for that!

@Jade_NL, @s7habo, thanks for your feedback!

Actually I was struggling of how to adress filmic and its connection to the exposure module.
And also of how to deal with the two workflows.

I think generally having the two workflows is for the beginner one of the biggest hurdle. And that in connection with multiple modules for the same stuff, modules which are recommended for this or that workflow, and so on.
Don’t get me wrong, that is also the strength of darktable for the experienced user! And in my opinion darktable is and should be further developed for the experienced technical orientated user, not with focus on the beginner.

But for an introduction I thought its benefical to just show the one way which leads in general to the best results. In my experience, that’s the new approach. Using filmic, just with the default values, leads generally to very good results for most of the pictures.

At least for a beginners course I thought its benefical not to go too deep into technical details. That’s why I have decided to leave it out for the time being. I made it very easy by saying: Use the scene referred workflow, stick to the recommended modules and you are on the save side.

Well, I did mention some of filmics technical basics during the session, but did not introduce the display referred workflow at all.
But I’m fully aware of, if one wants to master darktable, one has to understand what’s under the hood.
Perhaps that decision was a pitfall for my participants in the long run, who knows…

So maybe it’s a good idea to add the comparison of both workflows as @s7habo suggests

Boris, of course you can use my material for that!
I used libre office for the slides but exported a pdf as it needs less space. I will send you a link to the original file

1 Like

Thanks a lot for that!

By the way, was your course online or taken directly in VHS?

In the VHS here in Erfurt, the courses do not take place because of current situation. I wanted to offer online courses, but it could not take place because the participation is very low because people have to register and that is supposedly much too big a threshold for many participants. Many are technically poorly equipped to follow online courses from home. That’s why there are hardly any online courses here. Mine is postponed until November, with the hope that until then the courses can take place directly in VHS. Let’s see what comes.

Originally the course was planned face2face but due to the current situation I was asked if I would also do it online. And so it went…

1 Like

There used to be a book, but it’s badly outdated:

The 3.4 manual is very good, IF you already know why to use the module and what the terminology means. But not at all easy for someone who is new to digital photo processing/retouching. It’s frustrating to read about HOW to set a tone curve when you have no idea what that is one why you’d want to do that.

In particular, I think the scene-based workflow and the addition of filmic is a good opportunity to update the book. Alas, I’m the newbie who can’t figure out why to use the tone curve module, etc.

Regarding the tutorial, if you publish it as a web-based (HTML) slideshow, perhaps Google Translate will be sufficient. Thanks for putting it together.


Hi Marco,

I am from Germany, too. I appreciate that you share those teaching materials for beginners. I also gave an online short introduction to Darktable for art students at our university although I am professor for electrical power systems. I prepared a very short presentation that I attached to this message as pdf file (it is a mixture of English and German). I kept the English GUI because I find more convenient to use the English terminology because available materials, discussions are all in English. I noted it was difficult for some students to follow English terminology. I preferred to show and illustrate some basic functions using examples.

In the beginning, I pointed out two workflow alternatives: display-referred and scene-referred. Then I switched to scene-referred immediately. That was a mistake because without knowing the basics for beginners and explaining the traditional display-referred workflow it was difficult for them to follow.

I am very interested as suggested in this thread to cooperate to develop teaching materials for Darktable in German.

Darktable-Bildbearbeitungssoftware_2021-02-25.pdf (646.0 KB)

I have found sometimes to present a concept…change the context a bit at first so that everyone is not so focused on matching the tools to the material demonstrated…just absorb the concept…I found early on this was a nice video to help explain scene-referred and why you might want to edit that way…FWIW if your interested… https://www.blenderguru.com/tutorials/secret-ingredient-photorealism