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Last weekend I took some photos in the mountains, where I can't control the light, nor the movement of the subjects.

Some of the photos had very little contrast and brightness, and were a bit underexposed.

I edited the raw images with Darktable, and stretched the histogram using the exposure tool.

This image have got good contrast and brightness, but some defects. Posterization I believe, but not for sure.

is it posterization? enter image description here

enter image description hereenter image description here

What is the "right way" in this case? Not stretching histogram? Not doing it that much? Other Darktable module?

I took the photos on the mountains in cloudy conditions. With some of the subjects moving while I was walking. ISO and shutter speed in auto. So, probably I can do better with more experience and skill, and avoid bad exposure in first place.

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    Please post the corresponding extract of the initial image. – xenoid Apr 16 at 14:51
  • Looks like something called "banding". Are you working with JPEGs? – xiota Apr 16 at 23:27
  • it's done @xenoid there is the original raw, as seen in Darktable. – vsis Apr 17 at 1:11
  • @xiota, in Darktable I'm working with raw. – vsis Apr 17 at 1:11
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    Consider trying RawTherapee to see if you can get better results. Something about how DarkTable processes images; I've never been able to get good results with it. – xiota Apr 17 at 1:23
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That looks to me more like noise, particularly chrominance noise, than posterization or banding. But the two things can look very similar at times, particularly if too much compression was used when converting to JPEG.¹ There are some noticeable compression artifacts near the edges between the red sleeve and the background.

When one underexposes a shot and then increases the brightness later in processing (for a raw file) or post-processing (for a JPEG), one also increases the brightness of the noise in an image. Working with the raw data (instead of with a JPEG) will allow more significant adjustment of things such as brightness and contrast before banding becomes an issue. It also allows more control for doing noise reduction and sharpening (that can also affect the perceived level of noise in a photo).

Why do my images look fine in Lightroom itself but poor quality when I export them? shows the other side of the coin. As indicated in the comments to that question, heavy compression was the culprit there.

¹ The amount of compression used is determined by the "quality" setting when saving a JPEG file. The 100% setting uses very little compression but will result in the largest file size. A 60% setting will use significant amounts of compression to produce a much smaller file size. Sometimes the choices are labeled as 'Extra Fine', 'Fine', Normal', etc. I've never seen a camera with a choice worse than 'Normal' (i.e 'Low' or 'Poor')! It's like fast food joints where the smallest size drink is a "medium" and then there are the "Large", "Extra Large", and even "XXL" choices. Or shrimp, where the smallest size is "Jumbo" and they go up from there.

  • I'm using quality:95/100 in Darktable. So, I don't think the problem is compression level. I will google about chrominance noise. Maybe it helps me. Thank you. – vsis Apr 18 at 1:04
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This is likely not true posterization (reducing the number of colors). What happens here is that when you increase the luminosity of dark areas, you also increase the difference between the color channels, so something dark with just a hint of red come become something quite reddish when the levels are pushed. I don't use Darktable, but may you can fix the exposure using the LAB or HSV/HSL color models instead of RGB, to avoid the color shift.

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