Free Lightroom alternative: Exporting images in Darktable

Tips & Techniques

This is part four of five in a series. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Now that you’ve completed your editing, you’re ready to share it with the world. But how? Well, the answer lies within this tutorial.

It should be noted that edits to your image are not saved directly to the image file. Instead, the editing data is recorded in darktable’s database and an XMP file if the preference default settings are left unchanged. To share your images, you’ll need to “export” them, and the edits you applied will be included.

If you’re ready to learn how to export your images with darktable… let’s do it!

The Darkroom Export Module

The following includes information on each feature of the export module. However, it will not be an in-depth view of every aspect of each option. That would be impossible to do in one article. In fact, entire books have been written on some of the options… color profiles and color spaces. I’ll provide the necessary information you’ll need to know, and it will be up to you to do further research.

To export your images, make sure you’re in the lighttable module to access it. It’s located at the bottom of the right panel. Although JPEG is the most common use to save your images, the export module offers various options based on your needs. Let’s discover the export options…

Target Storage

The first question you need to answer is where the exported file will be saved to. This section lists that folder location on your internal drive. If the default isn’t satisfactory, click the icon to the right of the box. This will reveal the “select directory” window where you can specify the exact location.

By default, on export, your new file will be renamed. This is to ensure you don’t overwrite the original or another copy. If needed, you can select “overwrite” or “skip” as required. Either option can be chosen via the drop-down menu below the directory box. Click on “create unique filename” to access the menu.

Format Options

The next question you have to answer is the file type (format). JPEG is the one you’ll probably use the most, especially for social media. If you have other needs, you can find the most popular choices via the drop-down menu (click on JPEG 8-bit) to access it.

  • JPEG 8-bit: The standard bit depth for JPG files.
  • JPEG 2000 12-bit: Increase the bit-depth of your JPEG file.
  • OpenEXR (float): A professional-grade image storage format of the motion picture industry.
  • PDF: Exports your image as an Adobe PDF.
  • PFM (float): The Portable FloatMap Image Format is the lowest common denominator color image file format. If you have no idea what that means, you’ll never need it!
  • PNG 8/16-bit: A file type used to preserve transparency in a file. Not sure why this is an option since your images will most likely never have transparency.
  • TIFF 8/15/32-bit: Provides a lossless means of saving your images. If high-quality is of importance to you, consider this option. The higher bit rates will ensure more colors are used for the creation of your image. Keep in mind that the higher bit rates also drastically increase the size of your files.
  • WebP 8-bit: This is a file format designed for online use and compresses it for fast downloads. If you have your own blog, you may want to consider this.
  • Copy: If you need a copy of the original RAW file without edits, use this option.
  • xcf: This is a GIMP file format that saves multiple layers.

Global Options

  • Size: Set the size of your export file. Includes options for pixels, centimeters, inches, or by scale. You can set the width (first box) to say 400px, and darktable will auto adjust the height.
  • Allow Upscaling: If your size exceeds the original dimensions of the image, set this to yes to improve the exported file’s quality.
  • High-Quality Resampling: When set to yes, the image will be processed in full resolution and will only be downscaled at the very end. This often results in a higher quality export. However, it is considerably slower.
  • Store Masks: Unable to get this to work with darktable 3.4.1. If it’s working for you, let me know in the comments and which version.
  • Profile: A variety of color spaces that will result in more or fewer colors depending on your choice. Color spaces are one of those categories that entire books have been written about. Quick tip, if you’re sharing your images online, always use sRGB.
  • Intent: This option tells darktable how to render images that have out of gamut colors.
  • Style: Adds another set of edit (s) based on the preset (or style). The style does not override the original history stack.
  • Mode: If you apply a style and wish to override or append it to the history stack, set this option accordingly.

Edit Metadata Exportation

Before hitting that export button, you may want to click the clog icon to its right. This will reveal the “edit metadata exportation” window. This will allow you to set what metadata is written to your image file.

If your camera captures geolocation, you might not want that data floating around the internet. For example, suppose you’re sharing images of your kids (that you shot at home). In that case, the geolocation will be accessible in your exported file! To turn it off, de-activate “geo tags.”

Pro Tip: If you find yourself using the same exporting settings each time you can export directly from the darkroom view with the following keyboard shortcut: Ctrl + E.

This is the fourth of a 5-part tutorial. If you missed Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3, be sure to check them out.

About the Author

Chris Parker is a professional photographer, designer, and educator from the US. You can find more of his work on his website and follow him on InstagramFacebook, and his YouTube channel. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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