Darktable RAW processing basics

Tim Wells
7 min readMay 20, 2021

Darktable is an excellent free and open source software tool for processing RAW photos. It can be used to edit non-raw photos as well but it is designed as a RAW photo processor and so some functionality may be disabled if editing non-raw images.

Here I will look at the basic steps I take when processing a RAW file using Darktable.

Raw image from https://www.signatureedits.com/free-raw-photos/

Here is the RAW image as it appears in darktable without any modifications made. As you can see it’s a little dull as is usually the case with raw images.

If you’ve ever taken a shot in RAW, then checked it out on the back of the camera and thought “Oh yeah, that’s nice.” but then when you’ve opened it on your pc it looks dull compared to what showed on the camera. There is a reason for that.

The image on the LCD of the camera is a JPEG image the camera has processed using it’s own built in parameters. This is based on the current image mode selected or custom settings that most DSLR cameras allow you to choose from. This preview is post-processed by the camera whereas the RAW file you open on the computer is raw and unprocessed. That’s why we are here.

You may ask then why not just shoot in JPEG and let the camera do the post processing, after all, the preview on the camera looked good?

You certainly could do that, but you would be missing out on the power that you get from RAW files. With RAW files you can change white balance, recover details from shadows and more that would be impossible to do from a JPEG image as the RAW file stores all the raw information captured by the cameras image sensor where as a JPEG has had a lot of that information stripped away in favor of size and speed.

Let’s carry on.

One of the first modifications I would do the RAW file is white balance.

White balance will allow you to change the temperature of the light in the scene as well as a tint. You can set these manually using the sliders or select from a preset list of white balance options provided by the camera. Temperature is as it sounds and will adjust the temperature of the light in the…



Tim Wells

Self taught software developer and photographer.