When it comes to photo processing, I think everyone would be familiar with software called Lightroom. This Adobe software is considered by many to be the best RAW photo processing software and with good reason. It’s very powerful while being easy to use. But… that comes at a cost.
Don’t get me wrong, for professional photographers the cost is well worth it for the tools you get. However, what if you’re not a professional yet, or you just prefer something that doesn’t operate on a subscription cost basis.
There are a few decent freely available RAW photo editing applications and one of the best of them is called darktable.
darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer. A virtual lighttable and darkroom for photographers. It manages your digital negatives in a database, lets you view them through a zoomable lighttable and enables you to develop raw images and enhance them.
Darktable is completely free, developed by photographers, for photographers and has many of the same features and functions that Lightroom has, plus some extras. It runs on the Linux operating system as well as Mac and Windows which means you can use it on whatever platform you’re using. (If free software is something you’re interested in it might be worth looking at Linux as a replacement to Windows or Mac)
Features include non-destructive editing, color management, huge range of file formats supported, powerful export system, multiple languages supported and a huge range of modules. These range from basic exposure, white balance, etc through to more powerful tools for color grading and creative effects.
The online users manual explains all the applications features and offers guides on how to best use each included module but once you understand each module it becomes straightforward to use for basic editing while also offering some extremely powerful editing through the use of manual or parametric masking tools.
The lighttable allows you to organize images quickly and easily and arrange them into colored groups or by star rating. It allows batch manipulation, tagging, metadata editing and everything you expect from a tool for organizing your image catalogs and all image manipulations are stored in standard sidecar files so if in the unlikely event of hardware failure or database corruption you can re-import the images and have all the modifications previously made still available.
Styles or Presets
One of the big reasons that people choose Adobe Lightroom is for the ability to use presets. There are many preset stores and that sort of thing out there for Lightroom and the ability to save your edits into your own presets that you can then offer to others.
Darktable also has powerful preset functionality that they call styles.
Styles can be created and used to apply edits to individual images or batches of images. They can also be shared with others. Such functionality is very helpful in being able to keep a consistent style across a gallery of images and this level of capability to create and use styles is something that in my opinion many other apps don’t handle as well.
There is an existing library of free styles available for darktable that can be found at dtstyle.net
There are also some downloadable resources available on the darktable website as well.
If you’re looking for powerful free software to get into photo processing and editing then darktable is an excellent multi-platform choice.
It’s worth noting that while it’s aimed at RAW processing, it can work with JPEG and other non-raw files as well, although certain modules or functions will only be available on RAW files.
This leads into it’s ability to interface with another excellent free and open source image editor, GIMP. GIMP is a raster based image editor suitable for powerful image manipulation and creation. GIMP itself doesn’t process RAW files, however darktable provides an integration for GIMP that means that if you open a RAW file in GIMP, it uses the full power of darktable for processing the RAW file then hands the output of that over to GIMP for additional editing and finalization.
I highly encourage you to give Darktable a try if you’re looking for a great RAW photo processor. It’s powerful features can offer a lot and while it may take a little getting used to, the user interface is simple to use but offers huge amounts of power to those who like to push it to it’s limits.