Two common complaints from beginners are that it takes time to edit pictures with Darktable, and it isn’t easy to get good results. I don’t see it this way, and here I show how I make a stylish edit in less than 40 seconds using a scene-referred workflow.
Here is the RAW image without any modules for dynamic range compression applied (i.e. no filmic RGB or base curve).
I also set the “reduce the resolution of preview image” option to 1/2, which gives me faster renders.
I rely heavily on custom shortcuts. If I mention a shortcut and it does nothing on your machine, it is a shortcut I assigned myself.
My first step in darkroom mode is to turn on the “ISO 12646 colour assessment condition” with ctrl-b. It gives me three benefits:
- The smaller size speeds up rendering.
- The white frame lets me faster guess the white point of the image.
- My eyes do not have to wander far to see all parts of the picture.
My second step is to crop and rotate the image. My C key activates the crop & rotate module. My A and F keys cycle through the different aspect ratios. I have also added custom aspect ratios to Darktable for the print sizes my favourite lab uses. With a dynamic shortcut assigned to the angle, I rotate the image with R+scroll wheel.
My third step is to adjust the white balance. I use the dynamic shortcut Z+scroll wheel to adjust colour temperature and X+scroll wheel for tint. (I haven’t had time to learn the new colour calibration module yet—something to look forward to). So far, I have used up a maximum of 10-15 seconds.
My fourth step is to press ctr-R. This shortcut applies a custom style with the following modules:
- Exposure at +2.5 EV with the “compensate camera exposure”-option set.
- Local contrast at default values
- Sharpen at default values
- The lut 3d module. I always place it AFTER Filmic RGB but BEFORE output colour profile. In this example, I use the “Fuji 400H ++.png” colour lookup table from RawTherapees collection of free LUTs.
- Filmic RGB with all the default values except:
- White relative exposure: 2.63.
- Black relative exposure: -6.16
- Slightly higher contrast: 1.555
- Lower latitude: 13%
- Higher middle tone saturation: 12 %
- Lower target white luminance: 98%. (Adds a slightly faded look to the highlights)
My custom style gives me a reasonable starting point, but seldom an immediate perfect result. The fifth step is then to adjust the settings of my custom style. To speed up this operation, I have assigned dynamic shortcuts to the sliders I push most often:
- Exposure with E+scroll wheel.
- White relative exposure with W+scroll wheel. Less white relative exposure makes the highlights “pop” more, but too much and you lose all details in the highlights. More white relative exposure gives a more hazy, dreamy look to the image. Too much and the image turn grey and muddy with unpleasant colours.
- I adjust contrast in the filmic RGB module with Q+scroll wheel.
- Changes in contrast and exposure affect saturation. Therefore I often adjust middle tones saturation with d + scroll wheel after the previous steps.
If necessary, I fine-tune the white balance again.
My final step is to denoise and add other effects. If I want the kind of “super-crispy” skin texture popular in fashion photography today, I press V to activate a preset of the contrast equalizer module. Here, the luma channel’s fine details are pushed towards the roof in a gradual ski slope shape.
If the image is shot in a higher ISO, I press alt-1 to zoom in to 100% to see if I have any “chroma noise”. If so I press the T key to apply a custom preset of the denoise (profiled) module that uses the module with the default parameters for the “wavelet auto” mode. Afterwards, I zoom out again with alt-3.
I often finish by applying a vignette. I’m not too fond of the built-in vignette module. Instead, I use a copy of the exposure module, placed AFTER filmic RGB, with an ellipse-shaped drawn mask and the “multiply” blend mode. Naturally, I created a vignette style and assigned a keyboard shortcut to it.
These steps are enough for 60-80 per cent of the pictures I take. If I know what kind of look I’m aiming for, I can finish the edit in 30-40 seconds. If I need to do local edits with masks, or global dodging and burning with the tone equalizer module, I usually need 1-2 minutes more. My philosophy is to set a workflow that speeds up the most common and repetitive tasks, so I have more time for creative planning and sweating the details.
Here is the final look of my example, and some more pictures edited with the same workflow.