Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

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This is part two of five in a series. You can see Part 1 here. Before you can start editing your images with Darktable, you must first import them! There’s a couple of things we should get out of the way first. One, Darktable does not create a catalog like Lightroom! Two, your image files are not being imported.

So, what you see is a preview of your original file. Therefore, do NOT use Darktable as a way to back up your files… since that’s not what it was designed for. Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s explore two different options for importing your images; via your hard drive or your camera.

Importing From Your Camera

Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

Make sure you’re in the Lighttable view (L) to access the import panel. In the top left of the darktable interface, click on “import” to expand the module. Also, make sure your camera is connected to your computer.

Once connected, darktable will auto-detect it and will display a button labeled “import from camera.” Click on it! The other button, “tethered shoot,” is used when you want images to auto-import as you shoot.

Note: Once upon a time, there was a button labeled “scan for devices.” Either the developers forgot to include it in the recent version, or they got rid of it. Either way, if you want to import from a media card, then you’ll have to import directly from the camera.

Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

In the “import from camera” window, you’ll see a preview of all the images available for import. If you’re not seeing any previews, make sure your camera is turned on and has enough battery power to complete the import process.

Next to each preview, you’ll see the directory from which the images are being imported. And the current file name. By default, the photos will be imported into your systems Pictures folder and inside of a subfolder called darktable.

Change File Import Location + File Naming Structure

If you’d like to import your images into a different directory, change the folder and file naming structure, you can do so via Preferences. To access Preferences, click on the gear icon near the top/right of the interface. Navigate to the import tab and under sessions. From here, you can set your file and folder default settings.

Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

Base directory naming pattern: This is the file path for where your images will be saved to. There isn’t a browse button, so you’ll need to figure out the path to the folder location you want to set up and then type it in. Subdirectory naming pattern: this option sets the file naming of your sub-directory. File naming pattern: this sets the naming structure of your files. I’d recommend leaving the File Extension, and you can remove any part of the date or all three if you wish to have only a numbered sequence for your file name.

Renaming Tip

Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

I updated the “file naming pattern” to include the JOBCODE. Click to enlarge.

“Jobcode” is a vital element of renaming your files during import. In the “subdirectory” file naming sequence above, you’ll see “Jobcode” listed in the naming structure. This will add your desired file name (added in the import window) to the subfolder.

So, if you want a specific name added to your files as well, add “_$(JOBCODE)” to the “file naming pattern.” Then in the “import images from camera” window, replace “name” with the name you’d like to add to the file.

Settings

Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

I updated the “file naming pattern” to include the JOBCODE.

Once you have your preferences set as you wish, close it and re-click the “import from camera” button. In the import window, you’ll see another tab labeled “Settings.” Inside this tab, you can choose to exclude JPG files from being imported if you shoot in both RAW and JPEG.

If you’d like to add some metadata on import, make sure to select the “apply metadata on import” option. Below that, you’ll see some fields to add a title, description, creator/publisher, copyright info, notes, and tags.

Adding tags during import is the first step in getting your images organized. Use generic tags that describe what the pictures are about. You can then add additional tags that are more specific per photo.

Override Today’s Date

This setting is vital for organizing your images! The key is the date that will be added to your images will be today’s date… not the date you took the photos! So, if you didn’t get a chance to import photos you took last week until today, then override today’s date by typing in the date you took the photos.

Import Your Photos

Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

Before you can import your photos, you first need to select them! You have three ways to do so…

Click any image and then hold down your Ctrl key and click on some additional photos. Click the top image, hold down your Shift key and click on the last image. All images in-between will be auto-selected. The last option is to click on any image and then use the keyboard shortcut; Command or Ctrl + A. Once you have your images selected, click the “import” button, and darktable will do its magic! Oh, and don’t forget to replace “noname” with the name you’d like to add for the “jobcode!”

Import From Your Hard Drive

Free Lightroom alternative: Importing images into Darktable (quick start guide)

Now, let’s look at importing from your hard drive. If you have one or maybe a few images that you want to quickly import, you could go with the image option or import a folder of images.

Either way, both import windows are the same. However, the import window for these options is different from importing from a media card.

The main difference is you can’t rename your files on import or specify a location since they’re already on your hard drive. When it comes to renaming your files, I’d suggest doing so before importing.

If you import your images and then rename them, Darktable will not recognize the new name. Renaming them after the fact will require re-importing your photos before you’re able to edit the files!

Both Mac and Windows users have an option for renaming files through your operating system, and you can learn how to do that by doing a quick Google search.

As you did before, you can add metadata to the files during import. Now, you can locate the folder of images and click the import button.

If you missed part 1, you can see it here. Be sure to watch part 3 of getting started with darktable, where you’ll learn how to edit an image in darkroom.

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 Instagram, Facebook, and his YouTube channel. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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