Editing Photographs with Darktable on Linux

March 17, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Every once in a while, I’m left with just a lap­top run­ning linux (Red Hat Enter­prise v7 specif­i­cally) and I need to do a quick bit of edit­ing on a pho­to­graph. His­tor­i­cally the only fea­si­ble option has been to fire up GIMP and puz­zle through the dialogs to try and get some­thing usable. While I am a big fan of open source soft­ware, and espe­cially long-established pro­grams like GIMP, it is just too dif­fi­cult for me to use. I like the Pho­to­shop toolkeys and lay­out. I know there are peo­ple who [a] have no trou­ble with GIMP [b] have installed skins and what­not for eas­ier use [c] both a and b. I’m not one of them. I want my image work­flow to “just work” and GIMP just doesn’t.

But Dark­table does! For some­one like me who is used to Ligh­room, dark­table pro­vides a sim­i­lar inter­face and work­flow as usual. Very help­ful when some sim­ple edits and cor­rec­tions need to be done. How do you go from the start­ing image on the left to the fin­ished on the right?

Click Read More and let’s dig in to the process of tak­ing a RAW image from cap­ture to fin­ished output.

Below is an image straight off the cam­era (Canon 5dmk2 , 100mm f/2.8 USM) after import­ing into Dark­room and switch­ing to the “dark­room” tab. If you are famil­iar with Light­room, you’ll see most of the same work­flow as what’s in the “develop” tab therein.

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Lovely flow­ers, but what a color cast! That’s awful!

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By going to the dark­room tab and choos­ing the White Bal­ance util­ity (you may have to select it from the “more mod­ules” drop­down), you can update the white bal­ance in much the same way as in Lightroom.

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Now we have the white bal­ance cor­rected, now we can work on our lev­els. One ben­e­fit that I found in dark­table over my (admit­tedly old) Light­room is the abil­ity to split out and update the lev­els through set­ting expo­sure, black point, etc by each red green and blue chan­nel. You can see in the image above that the his­togram box shows all three chan­nels with a white mix. If you mouseover the box, you will see ways to dis­able indi­vid­ual chan­nels to edit only one. In the image below you see only the red chan­nel. At that point you can then cor­rect by drag­ging the val­ues inside the box (same as Light­room) for each chan­nel to have a nice spread of red green and blue.

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At this point we have a bal­anced and expo­sure cor­rected image. All that’s left now is some spot healing.

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Which, unfor­tu­nately, is where dark­table really falls down. There is a spot-brush which will clone, but no heal­ing. In the develop tab you can choose the “spot removal” tool which can clean up some, but frankly it is not great. Or even good. Very dif­fi­cult to get it to work for healing.

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How­ever, with prac­tice and patience accept­able results can be achieved and the image is now ready for export! Under the light­table tab at the bot­tom is the export func­tion. Export and share the fin­ished image!

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On the whole I found dark­table to be very full-featured. The heal­ing lack is dif­fi­cult to get around (and if any­one knows how to get better/easier results please drop me a line) but other than that it’s a def­i­nite win of a prod­uct. And, of course, the price can’t be beat. Down­load your copy for Linux or OS X and try it out!


The fin­ished image:

Two Roses, March 2015

Two Roses, March 2015