Up close and personal with the color balance module: An experiment.

First of all: This is not my (RAW) image, all credit goes to @Wocket!

I came across it back when and it seemed a good choice for my color balance experiment. It was posted here at pixls.us in the Play Raw section in September 2017 by @Wocket with a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. This topic:

If anyone wants to download the RAW file please do so by using the above mentioned link.

I purposely decided to not add it to that thread because that one was a Film Emulation challenge, which this experiment is not and it is rather an old thread.

Ok, with that out of the way:

This is the result of an edit I did using only the color balance module. After I was finished I realized that I auto apply the lens correction module, left that one activated… Especially after my first ok-ish attempt editing another image (This on) I am rather pleased with the result of this edit:

dornbush.lighthouse.fujifilm.x.e2.raf.xmp (49.7 KB)

After watching Boris Hajdukovic’s color balance module only video and reading Aurélien Pierre’s*Darktable 3:RGB or Lab? Which Modules? Help! article and the many references to using the color balance module instead of module X I kept wondering how powerful and useful this module could be and how hard it would be to do a 1 module only edit of my own.

It turns out that it is not as hard as I expected it to be although I did have to learn along the way and had to redo certain part a few times to get certain effects done right. For me the hardest thing to accomplish turned out to be increasing the sharpness (the tree trunks being an example).

This, of course, is an experiment meant to learn about this specific module and not something you will ever do in a normal workflow. I did pick up a lot of things along the way though that I will be using in my normal workflow. Doing something like this yourself will greatly improve your understanding and is highly recommended.

I’m curious about:

  • any opinions concerning this edit,
  • color balance related tips to possibly further improve this edit,
  • and I would also like to hear (read) about people that tried something similar and what their experience were.

Would love to see the results that other people get with just the color balance module and this specific RAW file!

PS: Although I’ve been a lurker for some time I did only recently sign-up and this will be my first topic posted. I do think I abide by all the rules, but if not: Please let me know so I can take the appropriate action(s).


I like it! You’ve preserved tonality across the entire image, and the colors are pleasing to my eye.

Can’t comment on the color balance tool yet, haven’t had time to mess with it yet.

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Thanks for choosing my image :grin: And I like the idea of this thread.

I like your edit, except for the slightly greenish tint. The contrast and light in the tree works better in your edit. It pops.

Here is my take, only using color balance. I liked the auto adjustment for the tones and primarily adjusted the contrast.


Interesting differences between the two.

After switching back and forth between them: Your soberer version makes me ask myself if my more colourful version isn’t a tad overdone…

Although I like the way my tree top turned out, your tree trunks are better. I did struggle with that part of the image to be honest.

Except for the initial baseline (optimize luma) I did not use any of the auto adjustments.

Anyway; Thanks for your reply and edit!

I have the feeling that the texture is too rough there. In my mind, the focus should be on the crown and not the trunk supporting it.


Yeah, in my struggling attempt to sharpen the trunk I might have overlooked some side-effects… Just revisited my edit and the only thing that the trunk really needs is a little darkening.

That’s what you get when you realize how powerful a tool is and you want to do too much :slight_smile:

Anyway: Thanks for putting my attention on that bit!

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No problem. The thing about showcases is that I never know if it is acceptable to give feedback. Sometimes it is a big no-no. Other times it is welcomed. :blush:

Here, I will compliment you work to offset that: I actually don’t mind the colourfulness of the image: artificial looking for sure but eye catching and enjoyable to look at. But this might be due to @Wocket’s amazing composition, as I said way back. The frame has a lot to offer.


Yeah. Because of that I, in general, most often refrain from giving feedback or am very polite about it.

Me on the receiving end of it: As long as the feedback is substantiated or a clear case of taste difference I really welcome it. Both Wocket’s and your reply made me have another critical look at my edit; There is room for improvement!

The funny thing is that I am the first one to point out over-saturated and unnatural looking images and now I produce something like this myself…

Lets just say that I suffered from a blinding case of enthusiasm and module inspired awe :wink:

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OK, I’ve had some advise and critique from forum and non-forum members. Some of it is a difference in taste and not something I can, or want to, change. I do realize that the critique I got was, at least for the most part, justified.

This made me revisit my edit and, with that critique in mind, I changed some parts. I’m convinced this is a better version and I hope I’m right about that:

dornbush.lighthouse.fujifilm.x.e2.raf.xmp (31.7 KB)

Thanks for the attention/critique/comments thus far!



I’ve found your first attempt a bit overdone and I noted the greenish tint as well.
The original, displayed here, left me with a feeling which can be summarized as “this needs something to pop”. I saw an unrealized potential. Still, it was a good composition.
Your second attempt is certainly better than both, to my eyes. I have no idea how it was done, though.
Could you share what exactly was your adjustments?
Did you use more than one instance of the module, for example?

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This was a darktable one-module experiment. Of course I’m not counting the 8 needed modules that are applied by default, although I did not adjust those in any way.

I only used the color balance module and nothing else to try and get a good end result (some might argue ‘decent’, but that might be a reflection of my current skill level).

I did, however, use 11 instances (10 in the first try).

All 11 instances have their own name/indicator to distinguish which part(s) they apply to. So if you want to you can dl the RAW, apply my xmp and have a detailed look.

The first change I made was getting rid of the sharpening attempt on the treetrunk. This was a disaster from the start :slight_smile: I used the same instance to slightly darken the trunk instead.

Second change I made was add an 11th instance to get rid of the greenish tint. I used an (inverted) mask from one of the earlier instances to apply this to everything but the sky.

I took three samples from dark, middle and light green, looked up the complimentary of those and used them as starting point. I also toned down the luminosity and added a tad of contrast.

Third change was the sky: I toned it down by adjusting the mask refinement and slightly changing the hue/saturation sliders.

Those were the only “big” changes.

I did revisit most of the other instances to tweak (moderate) them slightly, working towards a more natural look.

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Thank you, Jacques.
Your description of the processes is most welcome.

I will be working soon on one of my images using your “one module challenge” approach.
I hope I will understand more about this powerful and very efficient module.
On the other hand, I will probably continue using contrast equalizer for sharpening as I am very happy with it.

You’re welcome.

As I mentioned in my first post: This one-module approach is not something you want to limit yourself to in a normal workflow situation. It is a learning experience, or it was for me anyway.

The one thing I really missed: A way to sharpen in a precise/controlled way. In my normal workflow I would, like you, use the contrast equalizer module, with in my case assistance from a difference blend.


Sounds like very good idea. I will give it a try.

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Jacques, it’s an interesting experiment and I’ll have to try that myself. As you said, it’s been suggested that Color Balance could replace the Tone Curve as well as other modules. I’m skeptical of that approach because of the myriad controls - shadow, mid tones, and highlights along with contrast and fulcrum - necessary to achieve the effect.

I’m curious if you’ve looked at that in particular and what your thoughts are.

Nice work!

@aurelienpierre’s many references replacing module X by the color balance module in his Darktable 3:RGB or Lab? Which Modules? Help! article need to be seen in context of that article. Can the color balance module replace the tone curve on its own? No, I don’t think it can. But in a linear RGB workflow it can because it is part of this whole rgb exposure-filmic-tone equalizer-etc modules toolchain.

Most people don’t like change and rather stick to what they know and/or have experience with. I’m no different, but sceptical as I was I did jump on the linear RGB bandwagon (kept falling of a few times, too) and am now convinced that it is a way of working that I really like. I don’t understand all of it yet, but that path is part of the fun.

I almost wrote and am now convinced that it is the better way, but I think as long as it isn’t your bread-and-butter having fun editing is more important than this being the better/correct way.

I never went into this experiment looking for or expecting to find replacements for any specific module. Now that this exercise is finished I’m confident that this specific module lives up to the claims put upon it though.


I really don’t have a dog in the fight on Lab vs RGB, and I would rather use a tool where I understand what’s going on under the hood. At the same time, I do want to know that some alternate method is actually going to yield better results, especially if it comes at the cost of more time.

L*a*b* still has its applications. It is about knowing when to use which model and for what purpose. For most people, the transition to “RGB” is beneficial.


@Jade_NL Either I have not been paying proper attention or else there is something that I do not understand :frowning: Could you please show a workflow where the contrast equalizer module with blend mode difference would enhance an image?

I did not say with blend mode difference I said with […] assistance from a difference blend.

My preset turns on the blend mode difference. This will turn the image to black. I can now start sharpening and very slowly the coarse/fine parts start showing up through the black. When you think you nailed it: turn off the blend (click on the circle once). If you overdone it you can either go back or adjust using the effects slider.

I find this an easier way to determine the actual sharpness I want without being distracted by luminance, colours and all that.