What do people use to get the most detail out of the shadows in images with large differences between highlights and shadows?

With my continued effort to learn the techniques and tricks of the masters.

The question I have is what techniques/modules do people use to get the most detail out of images where there are large differences between highlights and shadows?

Within darktable, I’ve tried a few ideas like pushing the exposure and using filmic RGB to pull-down the highlights. But the module I have the most success with is the display-referred module “Shadow and Highlights”.

I’m currently in the camp of “whatever works”… but there is a discussion about is there a better way to do the same thing within the scene-referred workflow?

Or are there other tips & tricks that people use?

1X1A5669.CR3 (21.7 MB)
1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (11.9 KB)

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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I’m a 100% tone equalizer user. It’s important to learn setting up the masking in this module properly (not pretending I can, but I’m satisfied).

1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (10.3 KB)


Thanks for your version - is really good! The detail in the shadows (especially the colour of the clothes) is almost mk1 eyeball like.

I am a big fan of what ever looks best. I am a big fan of the shadow and highlights module which I often use together with the tone equalizer as I have done here. For this shot I also drew a mask around the shadows and applied a second instance of exposure to brighten the shadows early in the pipeline. I used this same mask in the color calibration module and the spot color mapping feature to set a new ‘white balance’ in the shadow to match the colour of the daylight section of the image to get rid of the cold colors in the shadow.

This is a good image to play with and to learn new options. Thanks for the opportunity.

1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (27.1 KB)


Here is a second attempt to tweak this image. I used the rgb curves module to adjust the contrast a little as I thought my first post looked a little flat.

1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (27.9 KB)

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I had a lighter overall one and a bit darker… you can dial in how dark you want the shadows pretty easily…

1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (15.2 KB)

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Hey @priort, your second version seems very greenish (on my display), its very visible in the highlights. Just sayin, as I know you are sometimes fiddleing with display profiles and stuff - thought you might be interested. :man_shrugging:


I like your version, I think its balanced between light and shadow and you really managed to pop the details :+1:

Here is my version …

1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (15.0 KB)

Key to get the shadows and highlight is the tone eq, in my opinion. Also throw in a diffuse or sharpen, maybe with the dehaze preset - this should accentuate the details.

Other than that, I found it more interesting to balance the colors of the image. A bit warmer in the highlights, but maybe kinda neutral in the peajk highlights. Pretty subjectiv of course…

Thank you for sharing the image.


Thanks I will take a look tomorrow

My version…

1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (16.4 KB)


I am well aware that the OP has put this in the darktable category
— still, since I am presently re-learning Rawtherapee, I started
to wonder what RT method would be wise to use.

Spontaneously, I came to think of either Abstract Profile,
or Local Adjustments/Log Encoding. Here is a swift experiment
using Local Adj/Log Encoding only (all other modules are in
their default state):

1X1A5669.jpg.out.pp3 (15.3 KB)

Regarding darktable — I believe that Boris Hajdukovic’s Episode 57
would be suitable?

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


A black and white version…

1X1A5669_01.CR3.xmp (23.7 KB)


define “better”.

My dt 4.2.1 can not read your image, but my current goto solution is scene-referred, sigmoid, pull it down as much as you need to, adjust exposure accordingly, then add contrast with local contrast and tone equalizer. If that is not enough, add some diffuse or sharpen or a second tone equalizer.

Best high-contrast image handling I ever got out of any software in like, forever.

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thanks for posting
darktable 4.2.1

1X1A5669_05.CR3.xmp (13.9 KB)


Difficult. If you brighten the shadows too much in comparison to the bright sunlight, it starts to look unrealistic.

1X1A5669.CR3.xmp (9.4 KB)


Why does your 4.2.1 import the file, while mine¹ does not show it in the import window?

¹) linux, from the opensuse repo

You must be missing something for CR3 support… I think it uses libraw …

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And here’s my try in ART 1.20

I didn’t put any effort into other aspects of the image (distortion correction, etc.), just the light and shadow for the most part. The Tone Equalizer makes it pretty easy. I used a little highlight compression on the final bright (almost specular) spots here and there.


I’m using darktable 4.2.1 flatpak. I’m running Linux Neon and unsure exactly where it pulls the platpak from. The camera is a Canon R6mk2 which produces CR3 - maybe that might have something to do with it?

Looks more natural, provides more detail in the shadows, keeps colour in the shadows…

Seems that people are getting a better result using “Tone Equalizer” and “RGB Curves” than I got from using “Shadows and Highlights”.

I only put it in darktable category - as that is what I mainly use. But understanding what is available in RawTherapee or Gimp or other tools is also very interesting and useful. So your version is much appreciated.