LUG talk: darktable for beginners

I finally went to my local LUG meeting last night. Met some nice people. I was also talked into giving a presentation at next month’s meeting. I’ll be presenting darktable for beginners, where I’ll introduce the application, then edit a photo. I’ll have about an hour.

What do you think I should cover?

What gave you trouble in the beginning?

Any other suggestions welcome!


I’m still fairly new to DT and chose it after a lot of playing around with other software after deciding to move away from LR. I think the biggest hurdle for new users, and reflected by a lot of people in other photo discussion groups is DT can seem very overwhelming and complex, especially if the new user is new to post processing or has experience using much more basic or simple programs. I think it tends to scare off a lot of people. So emphasizing ease for beginners would be important. Simple approach to importing a folder, adding a few tags, then processing using only a few basic but effective modules followed by easy export might be appreciated.

Many tutorials either go through module by module, or they try to “wow” the person with stunning results but at the cost of great time and complexity. I think new users need to be able to create some good results fairly quickly to get them comfortable. As a new user, I would have loved a good presentation on the most basic edits to give decent results, then demonstrate the power of the more technical or complex modules to show the user they can continue to grow with the program over time to become more creative or get even better results.

Any chance your presentation could be filmed and posted?


Great opportunity, @paperdigits! @Bbawt’s suggestions are excellent.

When I started using dt, it took me a bit to get used to the idea that I had to go back from darkroom to lighttable to export my work, and I have that problem again every time I’ve been away from the product for a while. It would be good to make sure your audience is clear on that.

Further to the suggestion of doing some simple editing instead of whiz-bang wizardry, maybe show them how favorites work, so they can narrow down the number of tools they need to look at.

It might be good to close off with a quick tour of the benefits of PlayRaw here as a learning resource.

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They record them, I believe. If it goes well and I think the content is good, I’ll write up a blog post.

My initial thoughts on modules to show:

  • white balance
  • exposure
  • filmic
  • crop and rotate
  • tone curve
  • equalizer
  • color zones
  • profiled denoise

Also quick lighttable over view with tagging, exporting, and collections modules. And a nice bit on masking.


That’s a very good choice. It might not be bad to add one of the color modules, for example

  • color zones or channel mixer.

Both are often needed.
Channel mixer is, for example, very good for black and white photography.

And also very important for beginners is noise reduction.

  • denoise (profiled) is best suited for this.

I’d talk about this:

  • Introduction
    – Darktable (1 slide; application is RAW developing and Digital Asset Management; available for win, lin, mac; LUA extensions, export capabilities)
    – RAW and JPG (1 slide; RAW contains more data and offers more editing possibilities but is initially unprocessed, some differences to raster-based applications like Gimp)
  • darktable overview
    – short presentation of the modules except darkroom (lighttable, map, thethering…)
  • RAW processing in darkroom
    – pixelpipe and history
    – concept of modules
    – masking

and then get deeper into editing.

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@s7habo both great modules, I’ve added them to the list. Thank you.

@pphoto that is a good outline!

Of the modules listed, I’d consider filmic the one that might frustrate or confuse a brand new user given the complexity of the module and dependence on other modules (e.g. demosaicing method, WB, base curve off). Since these are beginners and you have an hour, you might consider doing 2 or 3 edits from simple to more complex to demonstrate. The first edit would the most simple modules for a reasonable result such as exposure, white balance, crop/rotate, basic adjustments, shadows/highlights, sharpen, local contrast, vibrance or velvia and maybe dehaze. I don’t think beginners would get lost using these.

A second edit could demonstrate an “intermediate” approach by using filmic, tone curve, denoise, color adjustments etc. - the ones that require more subtle or dependent adjustments.

An 'advanced" edit could further refine by adding some masking approaches, more significant color adjustments etc.

I’m thinking an approach like this might attract the very beginner users while also offering something to more experienced post processors.


If you have a suitable photo, blow their socks off with dt’s perspective correction!

From a high level I think it’s important to help users understand the overall paradigm of working with raw files in general (this is really applicable to all raw processors).

The idea that the raw file is (normally) unchanged and immutable, that they are working on a process with a representation of the file, and that they can export the results at any point (or as their last step to getting a file).

This happens often with people coming to GIMP for the first time from other, simpler editors. They expect that they’re working on their file and can just save the results, as opposed to importing their image to work on, and then exporting the final results to a new file.

Some of this is also carry-over from other programs they are used to using where it’s all WYSIWYG (like a word processor). The concept of working on a project that needs exporting at the end might be new to many.

I agree that touching on just a few modules to quickly get to nice results is important to helping them get started with raw processing. See how they can quickly get to something good looking with simple steps, and they can start branching out to further modules as their specialized needs arise (or not at all if they are happy with their workflows as-is!).


I agree on that.
For a beginner, the existence of so many modules is frightening.
I think it’s important to clarify that DT is currently on overhaul (quick mention to LAB x RGB paradigms), and that a new kind of workflow is being proposed (quick mention to linear/RGB/scene referred), which also explains why more modules are showing up, instead of just fixing/improving old ones, besides backward compatibility. This would be an introductory talk.
Then, the three kinds of edits - beginner, intermediate, advanced - would show three basic workflows to begin with.
Also, it would be interesting that, for each one of the types of edits, you suggest to favourite the modules you’ll be using, to isolate them from other modules that aren’t going to be used.

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Many of the suggestions are already too advanced. If the talk is for beginners, it is best to start with high level content as @patdavid said. More on basic concepts and paradigms and less on specific tools.

Two difficult topics that you may want to introduce are colour management and soft proofing. When digital editing first became a thing, I struggled with printing at the correct brightness and with the correct colours!

Keeping in mind the suggestions above, I would think first about the simple enough RAW workflow, second all the main concepts (definitely starting from color spaces, camera profiles, lenses specifics, RAW histogram etc), tools and settings to support the required steps, and third the main ideas of what can be further improved or/and done better or differently while staying focused on the expected (good enough) results if you have more time for editing.

What is important for me is to make the end-to-end process simple enough, do not learn and do the things in the reverse order, and avoid the possible loops. Not an easy task!

There is also a couple questions about the main idea - what is good enough and where to stop. It has to be somehow defined and discussed.

I will be eagerly waiting to see the talks videos and the related blog!

That is not totally correct … you can always hit ‘CTRL+E’ from the darkroom to export the photo that is currently opened.

So hint to @paperdigits: mention that there are shortcuts :slight_smile:


Thanks! I wasn’t aware of that.

Might want to cover some “tips and tricks and gotchas” - small things that can potentially be highly beneficial:

  1. Because of the way white balance multipliers work (they are all positive), they may actually want to use -EV exposure compensation to pull highlights back below the clip point which is potentially counterintuitive. Also just a quick overview of scenarios you might want to use the highlight reconstruction module in.
  2. Use of right-click on a slider to get a more fine-grained slider and numeric entry (strangely, I don’t remember this being present when I last used a release version of DT - either I missed it and if I did so will a lot of new users, or it’s new in git master…)

You can inspire from here Darktable Tricks. Tips and tricks are always catchy!

Being clear on the concept of non-destructive editing would be important given the number of people that often seem confused on that. Also sending out some basics on digital imaging ahead of the presentation might be a real boost. I find many people are frustrated by something complicated by DT but it is because they lack a basic understanding about the nuts and bolts of digital image editing…This is a really great site for issues around color digital editing etc that is really something everyone should have a handle on in my opinion This site is fantastic and covers all the basics . Finally reminding them that DT is open source and has evolved from the contributions of several individuals the result being a large number of modules with quite a bit of overlap and so there is not one correct way to do things …Its a toolbox and how you craft depends on the tools you like and the combination that you use them in…But really its very complicated and powerful so I would choose a theme…How to get images in, a basic edit and how to export. Then you could insert some nuance and complexity later…just my thoughts…

I’m very late to the party, and I don’t know if you’ve always done your presentation…

Like @patdavid said, there is a high chance your audience is not entirely familiar with the concept of raw photos (compared to jpeg or png files), so it’s good to explain this.

As for darktable itself, most people “just” want to open a raw photo and edit it to get a good result. If you have a workflow you follow all the time, it’s a good idea to talk about it (what module, in what order and why).

If you have some extra time, explaining the magic denoising using one luma and one chroma denoise module would be pretty cool (it’s briefly mentioned in the user manual). I don’t know if other software have this option, but it gives very good results and can be adjusted for each photo to get the best level of details Vs. noise reduction output.

Hopefully this can be recorded and shared here!