Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1


Darktable is a fantastic alternative to Lightroom. It has more tools, and those tools have more advanced features to help you achieve your creative vision.

Today I want to show you how to get started with Darktable. This is part 1 of three in this series. At the bottom of this tutorial, you’ll find a link to the next article for getting started with Darktable.

Ready to cut the Adobe cord?  Awesome!  Let’s get started…


What Is Darktable?

Darktable is a free alternative for editing your RAW files and managing your photos. It’s comparable to Lightroom but has a lot of advantages over it.

One is that it’s free! Plus, it doesn’t require a catalog, has more editing tools vs. Lightroom, and better features than Lightroom!

How To Install Darktable

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

Installing Darktable is super easy. To download, click here and choose your operating system. Once downloaded, unzip the file, then drag and drop it to your Applications folder if you’re on a Mac.

If you’re on a PC, double click the .exe file and follow the on-screen prompts to finish the installation.

If you’re on Linux, well, you probably know how to install an application based on your Linux version already.

That’s it. You now have Darktable installed. Now, go ahead and open Darktable to discover what it has to offer.

Light Table View

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

Once you open Darktable, your first view by default is known as the “Light Table.” In the top left panel, you can import your images from your hard drive or your camera. Once your images are imported, you can then view them from the Light Table module and begin organizing your photos.

You can manage your files by adding tags, labels and rate them with stars. All of which will make it easy to find specific files among thousands with a simple search via the Light Table search module.

The search module is within the “Collect Images,” and you’ll need to select the “tag” item or another item via the drop-down menu (click on “film roll”). Then, type in the tag’s name for the images you’re searching for in the box to the right (hit enter or return to see the photos).

Darkroom View

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

At the top right of the Darktable interface, you’ll see another view labeled darkroom. This will take you to the editing interface for, well, editing your photos. Make sure to have an image selected to be able to navigate to that view. You can also get to the darkroom view with the keyboard shortcut, the letter “D.” Also, “L” will take you back to the lighttable view.

If you click on “other,” you’ll see a drop-down menu that has more views, like slideshows, prints, and a map to place your photos based on geographic location.

The Tethering view will display an interface that will update every time you take a new photo. That is if you have your camera connected to your computer!

Darkroom Tools

Your editing tools are located in the right panel. The left panel contains features to help you with your editing workflow.

Left Panel

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

Snapshots allow you to create different versions of your edit. The History panel records every editing step as you work.

This is perfect if you’re not happy with the direction an edit is going. So, instead of starting over from scratch, you can choose one of these edits to re-start from.

Right Panel

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

In the right panel, you’ll find all the editing tools for Dark Table. Suppose you’re transitioning from Lightroom to Dark Table. In that case, you’ll find a lot more editing tools and features to help you achieve your creative vision. In fact, there are over 60 different editing tools!

The developers of Darktable have created a way for you to organize your favorite tools into a workspace. The default workspace consists of three main editing modules. Each contains tools in one of the specific categories…

Technical: You’ll find editing tools like base curve, lens correction, white balance, and others in this module. Color Grading: This module contains editing tools like color balance, levels, tone curve, and more. Effects: In this module, you’ll find tools for adding a vignette, grain, sharpening, and other effects. Plus, tools for retouching!

There are a few other premade workspaces to choose from too. Clicking on the hamburger icon (below and to the histogram’s right) will reveal a pop-out menu with more options. To create your own workspace, click on “Manage Presets” (in the same drop-down menu).

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

You can create one or more modules in the new window and add the appropriate tools based on your workflow. Make sure to give each module and workspace a unique name. Oh, and you can change the icon for the module too.

Editing in Darktable

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

As far as editing in Darktable, it works like most other RAW processing apps like Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, or even your camera’s proprietary software for editing RAW files. Selecting and adjusting a tool will update those changes on your image. However, it is not altering the original file in any way.

Instead, what you’re seeing in Darktable is a preview of the original file. Your editing settings are saved in a separate file from the original RAW file, that is, if you have that specific setting set in Preferences.

Customize the Darkroom Interface

Free Lightroom alternative: Getting started with Darktable part 1

Previously, I showed you how to customize your workspace. Now I’d like to show you how to customize your interface as well.

In each panel, you’ll notice an arrow used to collapse that individual panel, which is perfect if you want to make your images larger. To collapse the panel, click the arrow and click again to unhide it.

If you prefer, you can use keyboard shortcuts to hide or show these panels. For example, if you press the tab key, all the panels will disappear, and only your image will be visible.

There are more keyboard shortcuts for customizing your layout and for using Darktable in general. If you hold down the letter “H,” you’ll see a list of those shortcuts.

You can also adjust the panels’ width by clicking on the side and moving it in or out. For the thumbnail previews panel, click on the top and drag up or down to resize it.

In Part 2 of getting started with Darktable, you’ll discover how to import your images! Either from your hard drive or directly from your camera. Thanks for watching and reading, and have an awesome day!

About the Author

Chris Parker is a professional photographer, designer, and educator from the US. You can find more of his work on his website and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and his YouTube channel. This article was also published here and shared with permission.


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