Darktable vs Lightroom: which software to choose for non-destructive editing and color correction? Darktable is a free Lightroom alternative. Both programs are good image editors but I prefer Lightroom. Want to know why? Read about Lightroom vs Darktable, strong points, distinctive image editing features and additional functions.
Today I will tell you about two user-friendly image graphics editors, Darktable – one of the best free Lightroom alternatives and Lightroom - the best photo editing software for color correction and raw photo editing. With their assistance, you will be able to edit and manage your pictures. In this article, I will describe in detail the distinctive features of these programs, their purpose and working process.
Lightroom is one of the most popular programs for color correction, photo sorting, storage and work with RAW files. The image editor allows you to sort your photos, edit them and convert into any necessary format and size.
If you are wondering when exactly you should use Lightroom, go on reading and learn my point of view. Use this photo editor when:
1. YOU NEED QUALITATIVE COLOR CORRECTION
If you think that your shot requires a fantastic color correction, then Lightroom is the best program to solve this issue. You will be able to adjust exposure, contrast, sharpness, improve white balance, edit light/shades, etc.
2. YOU WANT TO USE ONLY ONE PROGRAM
Lightroom is a photo editing software that, in addition to high-quality color correction and basic skin editing, allows you sorting and deleting images very conveniently. Then you can mark them with a rating and various tags. All of this will make further work even more pleasant and quicker.
3. YOU ARE SPECIALIZED IN WEDDING OR EVENT PHOTOGRAPHY
If you shoot large photo series after which you need to sort the images and achieve one style, Lightroom is the best picture editor to do it.
4. YOU WORK WITH PHOTOSHOP
If you make photo retouching in Photoshop, then using Lightroom is the right decision. These programs are developed by one company so they are connected with each other and interact well. You won't face any problems if you need to import a picture to Photoshop while working in Lightroom, perform image retouching and send it back to Lightroom.
5. YOU WORK WITH DIFFERENT PHOTO FORMATS
You can import images in JPG, TIFF8/16, PSD and many RAW formats.
Lightroom is a powerful image editor with the help of which you can adjust:
Use the Exposure tool if the shot is lighter or darker than it’s necessary. You can also correct the highlights with its help. The photo becomes darker if you move the slider to the left, and lighter if moved to the right. But remember to be careful while working with Exposure as you are increasing the noise in the photo as well.
If you set the wrong white balance and the photo has a yellow or blue tone, use White Balance to solve this problem. The tool has the “Auto” function. However, Lightroom often makes mistakes with the balance so I recommend to adjust it manually.
Moreover, this tool has many built-in presets which allow adjusting white balance for various cases. You will find the additional tools, Temp and Tint, as well. They will help adjust the temperature, shade and white balance of your image in detail.
This tool affects the picture contrast in mid-tones but almost does not touch the darkest and the lightest image areas. Apply it without hesitations if the shot seems to be low-contrast to you. Move the slider to the right if you need to add contrast and to the left to decrease it.
Blacks & Whites
You can easily lighten the darkest and mute the intersected parts of the image thanks to Blacks & Whites. The tool works great in cases where the foreground and background differ from each other in exposure. For example, a person is on a light background or some bright object is on the dark. In such cases, you can pull out the dark areas and mute the light ones to achieve the right balance.
Shadows & Highlights
Shadows & Highlights works similar to Blacks & Whites. However, unlike Blacks & Whites, it affects the darkened and illuminated image areas. If you move the slider to the right, you will compress the dynamic range so that the dark areas will become lighter and the contrast will decrease. Moving the slider to the left will make the image darker and more contrasting.
Adjustment Brush is a tool that allows you to affect the photo locally. Most of all it is similar to the correction layers in Photoshop when you apply them through a mask. Using a brush, you select the area you want to apply various settings to. Then you can adjust the parameters in any combination.
If you want to achieve an effect similar to HDR, Clarity will help you do this. The tool allows increasing the visibility of image details. Best of all, it works with street or landscape photography. You will get a clearer picture while moving the slider to the right, and a softer one if you move it to the left.
The Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom gives you more precise control over the hues and contrast in the photos. The program divides the curve into 4 areas: Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows. Lightroom offers different styles for adjusting hues to simplify the process.
You can move the curve either manually or using sliders. In addition, the Tone Curve Panel has a number of presets. So you just need to choose a more suitable one for your photo.
Hue, Saturation, and Luminance – HSL tool lets you edit separate color ranges of a photo. You can adjust the saturation, hue and brightness of the tone using it. Apply HSL to create the right color combination.
Aside from the main functions, Lightroom can please you with additional tools. I’m going to tell you more about them:
Lightroom will allow you to crop the image conveniently, in a way you like the best of all. The main feature of cropping is that it doesn’t change the original photo. So you can crop it as many times as you need.
This tool is designed to work with various optical defects, such as correction of distortion, chromatic aberrations, falling of the horizon and verticals, and so on. Lightroom has a large library of presets for different lenses. Just choose your lens and the program will apply the ready-made adjustments.
Classic graduated filter will allow you to make a smooth transition from dark to light. This tool is ideal for landscapes where it is necessary to darken the bright sky or, on the contrary, to lighten it. With Graduated Filter, it is possible to achieve the right balance for the image. In addition, you can add various properties to the filter, thereby changing the color, shadows, clarity or temperature as a gradient.
This tool is suitable for those who need to perform a simple image retouching. You can adjust the color of a particular object or clone objects using it. The tool is useful for selecting and removing a large number of spots or for getting rid of dust and other artifacts.
Preset is a set of pre-adjustments for images. It is the tool for professionals who are short of time, or for beginners who are not familiar with correct image editing yet. With one click, namely by clicking “Presets”, you will save much time on color correction. There are several standard built-in presets. They are divided into such points as Color, Creative, B&W, Curve, Grain, Sharpening, Vignetting and have various variations.
Do you want to process your photos and get an interesting result? Lightroom presets are the best option for this purpose.
This amazing preset creates the effect of a stylish retro look. You can emphasize the emotions of the model and make a soft background using this tool.
This preset will make your photo softer and clearer. It is suitable for both wedding photography and street photoshoots. In addition, the preset perfectly corrects white balance.
Create unusual retro pictures by using this tool. This preset will help you achieve a film effect by shifting black and white dots and adding grain.
Darktable is an image editing program which is positioned as a free alternative to Lightroom. Darktable supports RAW files and offers a big set of modules for applying all kinds of image editing. It allows having an image base, maintaining graphic navigation through available images and, if necessary, performing operations of distortion correction and quality improvement.
The key distinctive feature of the program is that it is a free open source alternative to Lightroom. In other words, anyone, who feels like it, may add new modules and functions to the program. Darktable is designed not only for Linux, MacOS, Microsoft Windows but also for Fedora, OpenSUSE, Debian, Solaris and FreeBSD.
Darktable is a free and open source image editor which you can use when:
1. YOU WANT TO ADJUST THE EDITOR IN ACCORDANCE WITH YOUR OWN REQUIREMENTS.
Darktable is a free program with open source which is its main feature. It means that the source code of such programs is available for viewing, studying and modifying.
2. YOU NEED “NONDESTRUCTIVE EDITING”.
Darktable offers the option of “nondestructive editing” during the whole working process. In other words, your original images are never changed as the program deals with a picture copy.
3. YOU NEED TO PERFORM BASIC IMAGE RETOUCHING.
Of course, you can't perform a complete image retouching with Darktable like in Photoshop. But the image editor has a module for spots removal and greatly enhanced cloning function. The tool allows drawing areas with hands, use oval and round shapes. Moreover, you can create various areas of irregular shapes. Such options as restoring, cloning, blurring and filling the selected field are available.
4. YOU WORK WITH PLENTY OF FORMATS.
If the list of formats you work with is too long and you have to convert them constantly, then Darktable is a perfect choice. It will help do it in a few clicks. Select it for working with CR2, NEF, HDR, PFM. Aside from them, the editor also supports the main formats like TIFF, JPG and RAW.
Darktable is a fantastic program that has a sufficient number of tools for convenient image editing.
Contrast, Brightness, Saturation
This tool is responsible for brightness, contrast and saturation of your photo. Its main advantage is ease of use. There are only 3 sliders, each has its own function. Applying this tool, you can improve low-contrast pictures and achieve a fashionable effect like on advertisement posters.
As a rule, the camera can shift the overall exposure of the image to the left or right in the histogram. If it made a mistake and darkened or made a very bright photo, then you would definitely need the Exposure tool. It will help you correct the balance of the picture. The tool has only 3 sliders: black level correction, exposure and clipping threshold.
If the white balance of your photo turns out to be blue or red at automatic adjustment, then feel free to use the White Balance tool to fix this problem. It has several sliders, such as tint, temperature, and 3 sliders that allow you to adjust the colors separately: Red, Green and Blue. In addition, the tool has the ability to set 1 of 3 presets: camera, camera neutral and spot.
Shadows and Highlights
This tool is used to restore the image in dark and illuminated areas. If you need to make corrections in dark or intersected places, feel free to use Shadows and Highlights. You will be able to achieve a high-quality image with the right balance due to the increased local contrast.
It is a simple contour sharpness using which you can achieve the effect of something resembling HDR. You can enhance an image that, for some reason, has lost its clarity. The tool has only 3 sliders: radius, amount and threshold. It is worth noting that the Sharpen tool should be used with caution so don’t set the sliders to the maximum.
This tool will allow you to achieve the black-and-white photo effect that is so popular nowadays. Monochrome has a color panel using which you can darken or brighten the necessary colors of the image. The highlights slider will edit the bright areas in the shot.
The main task of this tool is editing the hue and color of a photo. It has a color field and one saturation slider. You can tint the light and dark areas of the image by moving the black and white point on the panel. The result resembles the editing of RGB curves. However, here you need to move only 2 points.
Moreover, Darktable can please you with such additional functions as:
Crop and Rotate
You can crop and rotate a photo as you need using this tool. Moreover, it is very simple to manage. The tool has simple and clear functions. You can rotate the image horizontally or vertically. Moreover, Darktable will provide you with a large number of sizes if you need to frame a photo. For convenience, you can also choose different types of grid.
The effect of grain is very popular among youth. This tool will help achieve it. The tool has 3 sliders. Grain is responsible for the grain size in the photo, Intensity – for its intensity. As for Mid-Tone Shift, the greater the offset – the more noticeable is the fading of grain in shadows and highlights.
If you want to achieve the popular effect of vignetting, then Darktable will help realize this dream. You can darken or brighten the edges of the image using this tool. It includes scaling, fading intensity, brightness, saturation, horizontal and vertical center, shape and mixing of noise. Feel free to customize the vignette for your photo with these functions.
This tool is perfect for editing landscape photos, for example, when you need to darken the bright sky. You can change the tonality of the illuminated area with the help of Graduated density. The basic principle of the function is to move from the dark to the light area. You can adjust the gradient’s smoothness, density and also make it colorful.
Unfortunately, Darktable doesn’t have standard presets. However, you can install them or you can also create presets on your оwn. You need to fulfill only 4 simple steps to install the downloaded preset.
Step 1. Download a preset.
Step 2. Unpack it into the convenient folder.
Step 3. Move to the “Styles” tab on the main display and click “Import”.
Step 4. Choose the necessary preset, download it and apply to photographs.
If you want to create a new preset, you should adjust all the photo settings as you like, then move from the tab “Darkroom” to the tab “Lighttable”, open “Styles” and click “Create”.
Each program has its pros and cons. These two programs ideally cope with quick image post-processing of a great number of pictures, in case you need only color correction or RAW format editing. Darktable is better because of its free access, although Lightroom pleases with its stability and quality. Therefore, if you are a beginner who is not eager to spend money on Lightroom subscription every month, Darktable is the best choice. If you are a professional shooter who needs stability, speed and clear task performance, Lightroom is the most beneficial app.
Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a photographer, photo retoucher and of course, journalist. Here on FixThePhoto blog you can find all of my reviews, photography and photo editing tips, pricing guides, and photography experiments.