A quick dive into Darktable

Full disclosure: I am not a professional photographer or graphic designer. 100% hobbyist.

That said, I do try a fair amount of applications for photo editing and use a fair amount of the tools they offer for image manipulation. Consider my thoughts as coming from the perspective of a hobbyist interested in getting great results (by my standards) with a relatively small investment in learning new software. I'm also use to working with Adobe Lightroom and have a Canon Digital Rebel XTi.

Over the past year I've switched from being a lifetime Windows user to an Ubuntu user. Since the switch I've been desperate for good photo editing/management software. Previously I'd used Lightroom. I love love love Lightroom. I had a few options to continue using Lightroom. I tried going the Windows virtual machine route but I found its responsiveness to be too slow. I felt like the dual-boot route was too much effort. File that complain under First-World Problems. I like my desktop setup and I don't want to reboot my computer just to use one app. I'm lazy.

Finally, I like to not spend money. Free software really appeals me. This lead me to look for Lightroom alternative that would work with Ubuntu and ideally would be free.

The post isn't about my application selection process but I did try Rawstudio and RawTherapee before choosing Darktable. I will say my preference for Darktable was immediate, though there's a few things to know to dive in and get to the "learning by using" part.

Keyboard shortcuts

I like shortcut keys. If you also like shortcut keys and are use to Lightroom you'll find that some shortcuts are the same but a lot aren't. If you want to see what the shortcut keys are and even change then to whatever you like here's how:

How to view and modify shortcut keys in Darktable

I also work on a laptop with a touchpad. You have a lot of zooming control with your scroll wheel, but I don't have one. Without a scroll wheel you need to rely on Alt+1. Note, if you hit it twice it zooms in twice. That is not obvious from just seeing the binding on the shortcuts tab.


Each type of adjustment you can do to an image is broken into a plugin. Select a photo and go into Darkroom mode by hitting D. At the bottom right there is a "more plugins" button. Hover over the plugin to find out what the plugin means because the icon does not make it obvious at all. This process annoys me as it takes a fair amount of time just to know what your options are. Clicking on a plugin will turn the icon background grey indicating that the plugin has been added the the right panel. It will be under whatever the plugin's default category is. Clicking the icon twice will turn the icons background red. This means the plugin has also been added to the "favorite" category in the right panel. Click a third time to remove the plugin from the right panel.

How to activate plugins in Darktable

Generally I use a few plugins and I use them a lot. My preference was to only add those plugins to the panel and make them all my favorites. This makes it a lot easier to use without having to keep switching between these kinda of poorly defined categories.

Time to play

With my shortcuts ready and plugins out where I can see this its easy to play around and make that transition from Lightroom to Darktable. Darktable doesn't have all the feautres and the easy of use that Lightoom has, but its still damn good and its free. I am extremely excited to see how this application will evolve over the next few years.