Linux Photography: Basic Darktable Tutorial

I know why my first few minutes with Darktable seemed so frustrating–they were all me scrubbing this modal interface looking for things I thought all should be in a menubar. But there are no menubars. While DT has quite a bit of keyboard shortcuts (not discussed today) Those were no help because you have to study the Settings dialog Shortcuts tab…no quick to get started with when you’re used to mundane office software. Darktable is as different from GIMP as GIMP is from Photoshop. Is DT similar to PhotoShop? You tell me.

– select photos in light table mode

– enter darkroom mode


– select an action group “basic”

– enable a module DT-tut-008

– reset a module using the furthest right “standby” icon

– spot selects are often a rectangle

– return to lighttable mode

– turn down stars of photos you don’t want

DT-tut-002 DT-tut-015
– expand right sidebar

– select group, select all

– where will it save?

– export selected group with the Export button at the bottom of the column. This will batch-export all the photos on your light-table screen.


Certainly this is nothing like the GIMP. You do have to scrub the interfaces to find all the gritty little features, but it is more batch-oriented and possibly a cleaner work-flow.

Linux Photo Processing


Example of GIMP

At LinuxFest Northwest 2013 April 28/29, I will be giving a talk comparing the GIMP and Darktable. These are two very powerful photo manipulation tools.

I am particularly looking at two programs that provide a strong post-processing capability. You use them for different purposes and how they are used is quit different as well. There will be a few more posts on each of these. (What about digiKam? Honestly, I don’t know anyone who uses it, so it didn’t immediately come to mind. For all-around photo-management, digiKam is certainly worthwhile. I won’t speak against it.)

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)

Largely, the GIMP is what many people might think of a Photoshop for Linux. Many would strongly disagree–commonly what you hear is this: Gimp is nothing like Photoshop. I think people will agree on this: if you need retouching, layer compositing, text, and pixel-pencil drawing, your choices are pretty likely going to be some version of Photoshop or the GIMP. If you dont want to pay for a copy of Photoshop but want to produce layered screen graphics or high-res graphics for printing, here’s your tool. (And while GIMP has some vector tools for pathings, it is not a vector drawing program–see Inkscape for that).


Example of Darktable

Example of Darktable

If you have used Lightroom, (a semi-pro and above level raw photo organizer and post-process workflow program), Darktable shall fill an analagous role. Darktable is has no intentions of being a drawing program. Color control is Darktables primary focus. It’s internals operate on color as 32-bit floating point values, which is mighty accurate. However, this means it wants a 64-bit computer with at least 2 gigs of ram. WIth it you can run through a batch of photos imported from your SD card, pick a few 4- and 5-star photos, isolate that set, apply color correction and “make snapshots” of them to jpg or png images.


I look forward to writing out a few examples comparing and constrasting how GIMP and Darktable are used. Linux and digital photography are getting along quite well these days, and I look forward to helping you get a leg up on these two programs!