I have a few pretty big collections in Darktable - 500-1000 photos per collection - from when I was starting with all this. Now I'd like to get at least some of them in order, split them up into several theme-related collections.

Additionally, sometimes when I'm importing photos from my camera, I pull them all without dividing them by event.

Is this possible with an existing collection in Darktable, selecting several photos and moving them to a different, new collection? Or should I just move the files manually out of the collection folders?


In Darktable, a collection is a set of filters. The most common filter is “film roll” which by default is equivalent to an operating system’s file directory/folder. But a collection can be any of the other options or a combination of filters. And pictures can belong to multiple collections.

For me, tags are the most useful way of creating collections across multiple film rolls and date ranges are the second most useful. I can collect all my pictures tagged “New Mexico” on the light table if I select pictures by tag instead of by film roll.

If “New Mexico” is a useful collection, I can save it as a preset for easy access. If I am only interested in New Mexico pictures from 2018, I can narrow the search by date. With recent versions of Darktable I can even narrow further by lens or date modified or aperture , etc.

Tagging of course is a whole different can of worms. Some people want a grand hierarchy beforehand. I just tag as a go (or forget to) and live with a certain degree of chaos that comes from six years learning to use Darktable while using it to solve the tasks at hand.

Basically a Darktable collection is a set of search criteria. Tags are keywords and the other options are like “advanced search” options commonly found in search tools. The default collections by “film roll” is convenient for ordinary importing and editing, but falls apart for thematic collections.

  • Thank you, this is a very useful answer. I don't (yet) deal with tags, but this both gives me a way to figure out how to split up my big collection, and how to approach the whole thing in the future. Now I just need to learn a way to select a bunch of pics and mark them as a filmroll. – Zlatko Oct 31 '20 at 22:01
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    @Zlatko I am not sure you can mark pictures as a film roll. Because I think “film roll” more or less equates to a directory/folder on the file system. However you can select pictures and tag them with “my big collection” and later use “tag” instead of “film roll” to define the collection displayed on the light table view. What Darktable does is store information in a SQLITE database. “Film roll” is just one way of querying it. But the other fields are just as good and save the complexity of moving files around. And the potential for errors that come with that. – Bob Macaroni McStevens Oct 31 '20 at 23:09

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