Get that look: Creating a vintage look in darktable

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There’s something nostalgic about the vintage look, even when its artificially added to a digital photo. Instagram themes such as Slumber and Valencia, which give that vintage look, are some of the app’s most popular.

(This popularity is ironic given that the faded, off-color look came from imperfections and flaws in film photography technology. Who wants tonal accuracy in a photograph!)

There are numerous how-to’s to get the vintage look in both Lightroom and Photoshop. Today we’ll be going over an example of how to achieve it in darktable.

As an example, we’ll use a photo that I took of a classic bike that I own. This is not a particularly good photo (I was shooting in Manual and got the exposure wildly wrong), so we’ll see if it looks any better with a vintage touch in keeping with the age of the bike.

Original photograph

The picture you see above has a boosted exposure (and an overexposed sky) and a corrected white balance. Everything else is the darktable default.

1. Tone curve

The first thing we’ll do is adjust the tone curve. By raising the lower left part of the curve, we dull the blackest shadows, and reduce the contrast.

02-tone curve
Tone curve adjustment.

2. Saturation

This picture is a little over saturated for that faded vintage feel, so I lowered the saturation slightly:


The grass is now noticeably less bright.

3. Split toning

Old film pictures often had a slight tonal tinge to them, which we can easily add in the split toning module. Use one of the presets (sepia is probably your best bet), or pick your own colours. Because I wasn’t paying attention, I gave the shadows a warm feel, and the highlights a cold blue tint (usually this would be the other way around).

04-split toning
Split toning

If you select the sepia preset you will probably need to dial down the compression slider, or the saturation, otherwise you will have a very orange photo.

4. Vignette

No vintage look would be complete without a slight vingette, which is easily added in darktable.

Adding a vignette

As we can see, its hard to make a poor picture great, even with editing. However, I think you would have to agree that its an improvement.

Final image

And that is one way to create a basic vintage look in darktable.

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