Wavelet Levels

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Wavelet Levels
A before (bottom) and after (top) view of an image processed with Wavelet levels.

How is this tool organized?

The Wavelet Levels tool is extensive and its underlying algorithms are complex. It has most of the functions necessary for processing photographs from start to finish with the exception of certain tasks such as interpolation or color management. However, it is most useful when it is used to complete or refine processing operations carried out in other parts of RawTherapee. It allows you to work on different levels of detail to produce subtle contrast and color effects, remove noise or defects in the image without sacrificing overall detail, or work on the color and luminance of the image without introducing artifacts.

It can be used for any sort of image but its unique capabilities make it particularly suitable for portraits, macro photography, astro-photography etc., where selective control over fine detail is important. It can also be used to great effect in landscape photography to remove noise in skies, compress the dynamic range while at the same time preserving the details, reduce the noise, remove color casts in shadows, and create interesting luminosity effects. The capabilities are almost limitless, but you will only be able to use them properly if you have a good understanding of the underlying principles and operation of the various tools, so please read on!

The tool is organized around a general Wavelet Settings module followed by a series of modules which can activated or deactivated to perform specific tasks.

What are Wavelets?

A Wavelet, or more precisely a Wavelet Transform, is a complex mathematical function which is very useful in image processing. It allows you to split images into different levels of detail so that you can work on the level that interests you.

The wavelets term was introduced in the early 1980s by French physicists Jean Morlet and Alex Grossman: they used the French word ondelette, which means small wave. Later, this word was adapted to English changing onde by wave, leading to wavelet.

The Wavelet Transform, which is similar to a Fourier Transform, represents data as combinations of known and predefined waves (the frequencies), so that the result is as close as possible to the original data. Broadly speaking, the main difference for two-dimensional images is that in the Wavelet Transform the data being analyzed is represented as the frequencies present at the pixel level of the image, whereas in the standard Fourier Transform the data represents the frequencies present in the full image. Therefore, using wavelets offers more precision when analyzing the data.   [Obviously this is a very simplistic explanation: mathematicians would surely have a lot to say here...]

Graphic rendering of a Daubechies wavelet

RawTherapee uses wavelets in various tools, and in this one in particular it uses the Daubechies wavelet, to decompose the elements of the image into the components of the L*a*b* color space (L*, a* and b*).

Image decomposition is carried out using an algorithm to analyze the «internal» contrast of groups of pixels (2x2=4 pixels on the first level, 4x4=16 pixels on the second level, ...) in three directions: vertical, horizontal and diagonal. This analysis converts these contrast values into sets of wavelets with different amplitudes and intensities and stores their characteristics in coefficient matrices, which indicate how the wavelets should be combined to regenerate an image as close as possible to the original.

Each time you make modifications (contrast, tone, noise, ...) this regeneration is done automatically, so that you can immediately see the result of your adjustments.

In fact the moment the image is decomposed, it ceases to exist, leaving only sets of coefficients (one set for each level) which will be used subsequently by the tool. These coefficient sets can be used to characterize the image in the following two ways:

  • Several levels of detail: the first level corresponds to details with an area of 2x2 pixels; the tenth level corresponds to «details» with an area of 1024x1024 pixels. The choice of how many you use depends on your needs, however keep in mind that processing time and memory requirements will increase with the number of levels.
Because only variations (gradients, or differences) in hue or luminance are analyzed at each level, the levels will not contain any information if an image is absolutely uniform in luminance and color. In this case any differences extracted from individual levels will come from digital noise and changes in contrast (or chromaticity) due to edge effects, fog or other scene-related optical phenomena.
  • A residual image: the result of removing the details from all of the decomposed levels of the original image. Consequently, any modifications (contrast, chromaticity etc.) that are carried out within a particular level will have no effect on the residual image and vice versa.

Moreover, each level the tool takes into account the set of coefficient values and calculates their arithmetic mean (for each level the mean will be different) and the standard deviation. By adding the maximum and minimum coefficients to this data, a characteristic distribution curve is generated for each level (it should be noted that this curve is not Gaussian). This information is used in different ways in the various algorithms used by the wavelet levels tool.

In practice

After decomposition, the resulting levels can be used for different purposes: image compression, noise reduction, secret watermarking, specific residual image treatment for astronomy, etc.

Depending on your needs, you can work either with an individual level of detail, with several levels of detail (one after another), with the residual image, or with all of them combined.

The size of the details included in each level is:

Comparison of actual detail size at each level
1 (Finest) : 2x2 pixels
2 : 4x4 pixels
3 : 8x8 pixels
4 : 16x16 pixels
5 : 32x32 pixels
6 : 64x64 pixels
7 : 128x128 pixels
8 : 256x256 pixels
9 (Coarsest) : 512x512 pixels
Extra : 1024x1024 pixels

If you were to select 5 detail levels, the changes in the various levels would be limited to details with 32 pixels size or smaller. In this case the residual image would have all the details of the image, except those included in levels 1 to 5. And since the details that have been removed are relatively small, the residual image would be similar to the original image.

On the other hand, if you chose level 9 you could change the details with a size of 512 pixels and 1024 pixels (level Extra). In this case the residual image would be quite different from the original image, as the levels from 1 to Extra would contain all the details, leaving little more than a blurred background.

Wavelet decomposition separates the lightness and the chroma channels (a* and b*) in the residual image and in each of the levels. This allows you to apply different adjustments to the brightness and tones of each level and carry out completely different processing operations on the residual image. This means that the levels and the residual image are independent and the tool will only modify those levels where changes have been made. The rest will remain untouched and the residual image will continue to be what is left after the details in each of the levels have been removed (regardless of whether they have been modified).

Note that if you want to use the Wavelet Levels tool at the same time as the CIECAM tool, you may get artifacts due to the fact that the CIECAM color model uses specific values that are close to, but different from the values of the Lab color space. Because of the way the tool is coded these artifacts are unavoidable, but their appearance will depend on which processing operations have been carried out.

The preview

The size of the image on the screen has a direct impact on the perceived sharpness and on one’s ability to see any small changes introduced by the various modules: the effects of this tool are only visible at full size (or larger).

In practice, this means that, for processing speed reasons, you must have the final size of the image in mind. If it is planned to reduce the image size (scale it down, not crop it), then it is advised to first export it with its final size and process it afterwards with wavelets. Keep this in mind because otherwise what you see in the preview will not be the same as the final exported result.

There is also another limitation: RawTherapee uses all the levels it can in the preview and ignores levels that have details larger than the portion of the image you see on the screen. However, if the changes in the ignored levels are not shown on screen, they will be applied when the image is saved to disk.


  • Example 1: the image is 4096x2160 pixels, you have enlarged it (to 100% or more) and in the preview you see a 1500x1200 pixel-area similar in size to the final image. This is the ideal case because on the screen you can see all the modifications in all of the levels (up to the level Extra). In addition, any changes made in any of the levels will be included in the final image.
  • Example 2: the image is 4096x2160 pixels, but you have enlarged it and can only see 300x200 pixels in the preview. On the screen you won't be able to see any change in details bigger than level 7 (details of 128 pixels), but when you save it the changes you made in levels 8, 9 and Extra will be included (because the image is bigger than 1024x1024 pixels).
  • Example 3: the image is 720x480 pixels and you have enlarged it until you can only see 300x200 pixels in the preview. On the screen you will not be able to see any modification in details bigger than those of the level 7 (details of 128 pixels). When saving, the changes you made in level 8 will be included (details of 256 pixels), but levels 9 and Extra will NOT be included.

To help keep this important information in mind, the tool indicates how many levels are being used for the preview (under the last slider of the Contrast module). In the examples 2 and 3 it would indicate: «Preview maximum possible levels = 7».

Contrast by Detail Levels vs Wavelet Levels

It's worth mentioning that RawTherapee has a tool called Contrast by Detail Levels and although it looks like the Wavelet Levels tool, there are several important differences between them:

  • Contrast by Detail Levels has fewer levels (6, instead of up to 10),
  • Contrast by Detail Levels only allows you to adjust the luminance of each level, while Wavelet Levels also allows you to adjust the chroma of each level,
  • Contrast by Detail Levels adjusts equally all luminance (or chroma) values present in the level, while Wavelet Levels performs a progressive adjustment (this is explained further in the contrast attenuation section),
  • Contrast by Detail Levels doesn't have a residual image.

That said, it is possible to use both tools at the same time. It should be noted however that Contrast by Detail Levels is applied earlier in the Processing Pipeline, so depending on the intensity of the adjustments made there, the details presented in levels from 1 to 6 may be affected. In other words, since the contrast will have changed with the Contrast by Levels of Detail settings, the analysis by Wavelet Levels could decompose the image in a different way, so the results would be different. In any case, if you have to use both tools, it is recommended that you adjust first the Contrast by Detail Levels and then adjust the Wavelet Levels.

General tool configuration

When this tool is turned on, any adjustments will affect all the subsequent modules.


With this slider you can adjust the overall intensity of the tool. It works on a similar principle to the opacity slider used for blending layers in the GIMP: any adjustments made in the Wavelet Levels tool can be blended back into the original image using the Strength slider. This allows you to make fairly aggressive adjustments and then adjust the overall intensity to achieve the desired result.

Wavelet levels

This slider lets you decide how many detail levels the image will be decomposed into. You can choose any level between 4 and 9 (the 10th level, called Extra, appears automatically when you select level 9). The higher the number, the more processing time and memory will be required.

Tiling method

A drop-down list allows you to choose from:

It is always preferable to use Full image, because it avoids problems in the transition area between tiles.

However, if you do not have enough RAM, or if you are processing very large images (e.g., 50 Megapixels or more), you may have to use the tiles:

Required memory, in bytes, with 9 detail levels
Pentax K10D Nikon D810
Megapixels (Mpx) 10.2Mpx (3888 x 2608) 36.3Mpx (7360 × 4912)
To open the image (all tools turned off) 116MiB ([Mebibytes]) 414MiB
Contrast, Chromaticity or Hue Protection turned on 329MiB 1172MiB
+ Avoid color shift 39MiB 138MiB
Total 483MiB 1724MiB

Edge performance

An image that has been decomposed into its component parts using the Daubechies method may have up to 10 coefficient scales ranging from D2 (which corresponds to the Haar decomposition) to D20. In RawTherapee the coefficients D2 (low), D4 (standard), D6 (standard plus), D10 (medium) and D14 (high) are used. The more coefficients there are, the more detail the wavelet will distinguish albeit with a slight increase in processing time (often negligible).

Although there is no direct relationship between the resulting quality and the number of coefficients (depending on the original image), choosing the right number of coefficients will allow you to refine the quality of the lower levels, or that of the residual image:

  • in some cases the best results for edge detection are obtained with D2
  • in other cases with D6 or D14

This parameter has a fairly strong impact on Edge detection and also on global decomposition (the relationship between the residual image and each level).


This group of controls will help you understand how to work with the wavelets tool and assist when fine-tuning the parameters of the various modules (e.g. noise reduction).

You have a total of four drop-down lists, allowing you to tailor what you see in the preview.

The group is divided into two main drop-down lists (and several others that will be activated when you make certain selections in the main lists):

  • the first lets you choose the preview background
  • the second lets you choose which levels will be displayed in the preview


In the Background list you can choose between 3 possible backgrounds: Black, Gray or Residual Image, which will be used when viewing any of the levels.

The histogram will take into account these options and will allow you, for example, to see the effects of the settings on the residual image. Note however, that if you choose the black or gray background, you will not see the residual image (the real background) and you may find that the image has a strange look. You should be especially aware of this if you make changes to the detail levels, as the actual effect will not be seen until you put the residual image back into the background. In spite of this, it is sometimes interesting to see the changes against a neutral background to better judge what is happening (for example in noise reduction).

The process levels

In the Process list you can select:

  1. One level
  2. Finer details levels, with selected level: all levels from the selected level down to level 1,
  3. Coarser details levels, without selected level: all levels up to the level Extra (plus the residual image), with the exception of the selected level
  4. All levels, in all directions

In previous versions of the program, the list was shown with different labels, but the behaviour of the sliders remains unchanged:

  • One level
  • Below or equal the level: now Finer details levels, with selected level
  • Above the level: now Coarser details levels, without selected level
  • All levels, in all directions

If you select any of the first three options, two drop-down lists will be activated just below Process:.

  • in the list on the left you can decide which level the previous options refer to (from level 1 to 9, the level Extra, or the Residual Image).
  • in the list on the right you can choose the wavelet decomposition direction (Vertical, Horizontal, Diagonal, All directions).

If you select the option All levels, in all directions, you can edit the levels directly on the residual image (the two lower lists would remain disabled). This option is useful if you already have experience with the tool and you prefer to view the entire image while editing it. It is also the option you should select before exporting. Keep in mind that what you see in the preview will be what is exported in the final image and is shown in the histogram: if you have selected One level, you will see only one level on the screen and the histogram will reflect the RGB values of that particular level. When you export the image only the chosen level will be included in the final image so before exporting, make sure you select All levels, in all directions.

Suggestions for use

  • you can select One level with a gray background to see how the selected Daubechies' coefficient (from D2 to D14) has decomposed the details, and then try out different coefficients to see which one offers the most accurate detail separation
  • you can select One level to find the level that has the details you want to work on (such as the level that has extracted the blemishes from the skin, but not its texture)
  • you can select One level and see the effect of contrast changes on that particular level, or fine tune the noise reduction
  • you can select Coarser details levels, without selected level and 8, to see the residual image along with the largest details and better appreciate the action of the various parameters of the module Residual Image
  • you can select Finer details levels, with selected level 4 and as a background Residual Image, to see the modifications in the finest details in their context, without the larger details masking what you are doing

Example (the preview)

Below is a sample image with minimal processing that will be used in all the subsequent examples. Next to it, from left to right you will see the level 2 details, the level 4 details and the residual image.

In the two examples showing the details, the decomposition has been done with Edge performance set to D6 - standard plus, the color gray has been selected as Background. In addition, to isolate the detail, One level has been selected in Process.

The Residual Image is the result of removing all of the details after choosing 5 Wavelet Levels.

  To enlarge the images click on them and when the new page loads, click on the image a second time.

  • Original image: a Prunus pisardii flower (cherry plum) at 50% of original size.
  • Level 2 details over a gray background: see how the texture of the petals has been captured in this level (you must enlarge the image to see it properly).
  • Level 4 details over a gray background: in this level you can see what we would probably draw if we wanted to make a sketch of the flower.
  • Residual Image details: we can see perfectly the fundamental hue of each zone of the photo.

Contrast module

In this module you can modify the lightness contrast (L* component of decomposition) of the details in each level independently. This allows you to increase the contrast of smaller details to give an impression of greater sharpness, while reducing the contrast of larger details. A practical benefit of this approach is that by reducing the overall contrast (the large details), you do not have to increase the fine details as much to achieve an impression of sharpness. This makes it easier to avoid introducing artifacts.

The attenuation curve

As discussed in an earlier chapter, the wavelets tool calculates the mean and standard deviation for each decomposition level and will use these values in all of the modules.

In the case of the Contrast module, the first step is to set the contrast slider values for each decomposed level depending on the effect required. However, if you only perform this action, the contrast variations would be proportional to the original contrast (homothetical modifications, as in the Contrast by Detail Levels tool) and it would be quite easy to generate artifacts.

To overcome this problem, the contrast values for the details in each of the levels are analyzed and sorted before being modified and progressively attenuated similar to the following curve :

Graphical representation of the proportional changes made to each contrast value.

Broadly speaking and for each level, the graph shows that:

  • the lowest contrast values are to the left and the highest contrast values to the right
  • the contrast value set for each level (contrast in the graph) defines the maximum modification that will be applied to the contrast values present in the level
  • the modification will be maximum around the average contrast value of each level (the mean value on the graph)
  • the more the contrast values vary from the average contrast value, the less they will be changed
  • high or strong contrast values are more attenuated than low ones

This means that for each level, the biggest contrast changes will be made to the mid-contrast values while avoiding the extreme values to avoid excessive effects or artifacts. However, keep in mind two fundamental points:

  1. the mean contrast value is the arithmetic mean of the contrast values present in the level: if all the contrast values are high (strong contrasts), the mean value will also be high and the extreme contrasts in that particular level will be modified less
  2. each level has its own average value, which depends on the contrast values present in the details of that particular level

Contrast Levels

The values of each level after clicking several times on Contrast +

The number of levels shown is defined by the Wavelet levels and you can reduce or increase this number in the wavelet configuration settings.

The Contrast - and Contrast + buttons make it easier to progressively change the values of each level: stronger in the first levels and more discreet in the last. As you can see in the example, the progression is homogeneous: starting from the Extra level, which has not been modified, each level has been increased by 31 units with respect to the previous level (the actual amount will depend on the number of times you click on the Contrast+ or the Contrast- buttons).

In general these buttons allow you to define a logical progression of microcontrast values: higher for the first levels and lower for the last levels.

Don't forget that if a level has uniform contrast, the slider action for that level will not have any effect (if there are no details, nothing is changed).

Note that the residual image is not included in this group of controls because it is not a level: it is what is left of the original image after removing all the details distributed across all of the levels.

Attenuation and selectivity in contrast changes

There are 3 sliders that allow you to adjust the curve for each level, as explained in Analysis of the contrasts in each level:

  1. Attenuation Response: by selecting positive values the upper part of the curve becomes wider around the medium contrast area, and is weighted towards the higher contrasts. Conversely, selecting negative values narrows the curve, thus reducing the range of contrasts that undergo any noticeable modification. Graphically:
    • The curve can be widened by selecting a positiveAttenuation Response value. The green background curve is the original curve, with the slider at 0. The horizontal line (contrast) is the maximum value that can be set by the contrast slider at that level.
    • The curve can be made narrower by selecting a negative Attenuation Response value. The green background curve is the original curve, with the slider at 0. As indicated previously, the changes in the curve are more pronounced in the area with high contrast values.
  2. Offset: shifts the top of the curve, so that the strongest contrast modifications are no longer made to the medium contrasts. By shifting the curve to the right, the higher contrast values will vary more, whereas with negative slider values, the lower contrast values will be modified more. Graphically:
    Selecting a positive Offset will affect the higher-contrast values (but not the extreme contrasts) for that particular level.
  3. Low contrast threshold: this is the minimum contrast value that the details in the decomposition level must have for them to be taken into account. Lower contrast values, which have a value lower than the minimum value, will not be taken into account when calculating the mean of that level, nor will they undergo any variation, whatever the slider settings. In this way we can avoid highlighting noise or finer and more delicate textures.

Apply To

This control block allows you to decide whether changes in contrast in individual levels apply to all the details or only to those details with pixels that are within a given range of luminance. This allows you, for example, to increase the contrast of fine details with high luminance and reduce the contrast of larger details with low luminance.

In the drop-down list, you decide where to apply the contrast changes: over the whole range of luminance values (i.e. to all the details in each level) or only to details that have a certain luminance value.

Luminance ranges

If you have selected the Whole luminance range, the modification will apply to all of the details in each of the levels. However, if you choose Selective luminance range, you can decide which details will be modified in which levels.

In addition, after selecting the Selective luminance range two threshold curves and two sliders will appear allowing you to customize the result. i.e.:

  • Finer levels luminance range:
    • this is a small area with a black and white gradient and four points that define the range of luminance values that will be affected by the change in contrast
      Wavelet contrast highlight.jpg
    • If you move your mouse over it, you will see where the default limits are: Bottom-Left: 50, Top-Left: 75, Top-Right: 98, Bottom-Right: 100. This range covers the highlights
    • these are the luminance values that must be in the image for the contrast change to be applied to the details (see following slider explanation)
    • the default values are as follows:
      • details with luminance of 50 or less will not be changed
      • details with a luminance of 50 to 75 will be subject to an increasing amount of modification
      • between 75 and 98, 100% of the modification will be applied
      • between 98 and 100, progressively less change will be applied
    • to change the values of the points on the curve, we have two options:
      • click and move one of the two points on one side (left or right) and slide the two points together
      • press the shift key, click on a point and slide it to move only that point
    • the default values are set for the highlights but you can modify the points to cover any part of the range from the shadows to the highlights as required.
  • Finer levels: only levels from the selected value and below will be affected by the Finer levels luminance range threshold curve.
  • Coarser levels luminance range:
    • another small area with a black and white gradient and four points that define the range of luminance values that will be affected by the change of contrast
      Wavelet contrast shadow.jpg
    • again, by hovering your mouse over it, you will see where the default boundaries are around the shadows: Bottom-Left: 0, Top-Left: 2, Top-Right: 25, Bottom-Right: 50
    • the default levels are:
      • details with luminance between 0 and 2 will be subject to an increasing amount of contrast change
      • between 2 and 25, 100% contrast modification will be applied
      • between 25 and 50, progressively less change will be applied
      • from 50 onwards no change will be applied
    • the default values are set for the shadows but you can modify the points to cover any part of the range from the shadows to the highlights as required.
  • Coarser levels: only those levels from the value set with this slider up to the selected number of wavelet levels will be affected by the Coarser levels luminance range threshold curve.

No modifications will be made to any level that is not included in either a Finer levels or a Coarser levels selection, no matter what values have been set with the Contrast sliders. For these levels the final result will be the same as setting a contrast-slider value of 0.

Case Studies

  • you are using 7 levels and only want to change level 7 within the range set by the Coarser levels luminance range threshold curve: adjust the slider for Coarser levels to 7
  • you are using 7 levels and only want to selectively modify the finest details: set the Finer levels to the highest level you want to modify, and set the Contrast sliders for the rest of the levels to 0
  • you are using 7 levels and you want to selectively adjust levels 1 and 2 in accordance with the luminance values set in the threshold curve for Finer levels luminance range and adjust levels 6 and 7 in accordance with the luminance values set in the threshold curve for the Coarser levels luminance range: set the Finer levels slider to 2 and the Coarser levels slider to 6. This will selectively modify levels 1, 2 and 6, 7 in accordance with the relevant threshold curve settings and the details in levels 3, 4 and 5 will remain unchanged

Example (changing contrast)

The sample image is shown below and next to it, from left to right, are several different possibilities when a contrast increase is applied to all levels (after pressing 15 times on the button Contrast +).

First the effect on the Whole luminance range is shown and to the right the effect if you set the Selective luminance range. Finally, an example of how the changes can be nuanced by the Strength slider.

The sliders not mentioned have been left at their default values (the control points on the curves, ...).

  • Original image.
  • After applying the effect on the Whole luminance range: the increased visibility of the background noise is particularly noticeable.
  • After applying the effect over the Selective luminance range: Finer levels at 3, Coarser levels at 6: the effect is better, but it looks a little exaggerated.
  • The same treatment as above, but lowering the overall Strength of the tool to 50.

And now both the original image and the final image, side by side to better appreciate the differences: you can see an increase in the sharpness of the texture of the petals, without ruining the overall effect.

  • Original image.
  • Contrast modified and effect reduced to 50%.

Chroma module

This module works in a similar way to the contrast module, except that in this case, the tool analyzes the color contrast (components a* and b*).

In the drop-down list Chrominance method you have the following options:

  • Whole chroma range: with this option, any change in any level will affect the full range of chroma, regardless of the values that have been set in the Contrast module levels.
  • Saturated/pastel: here you can modify two threshold curves that act simultaneously and limit the pastel and saturated tones, regardless of the values in the Contrast module levels.
  • Link contrast levels: the changes in chroma will be directly related to those made at each level of the Contrast module.

When you select Whole chroma range or Saturated/pastel you can use the Neutral button to reset all the level sliders to their default value (0).

In addition, there is a Attenuation Response slider for all 3 options, which will act in the same way as described in the section on the attenuation of the Contrast module.

Whole chroma range

If you choose this option, the entire chroma range in the image is changed, regardless of how saturated each color is already.

The same observation as for contrast applies here: for there to be changes in color, there must be a pre-existing color variation in the level. If a level has a uniform color, the slider will have no effect.

The modifications at each level are limited to the range [-100,+100] : the value -100 is the equivalent of completely desaturating the level, while the value +100 increases the chroma of each detail. This method almost always introduces artifacts because the formula that is applied to the color value for each detail does not take into account whether there are any deviations from the initial value.

  • Image with the contrast modifications applied and the overall intensity of the wavelets at 100%.
  • Effect on the Whole chroma range with the sliders of the 5 levels at +100: even on downsized images you can see the color artifacts (this behaviour is expected because the effect has been applied to the maximum).
  • After applying the maximum effect on levels 1 and 2: at this size there is hardly any change (remember that we are only modifying the finest details).
  • Detail with 400% zoom (8 times larger than the preceeding images): at the top, with the color modification applied, artifacts can be seen especially on the edges of the stamens, but hardly any change in the texture of the petal.

The above examples mean that you should only make subtle changes with this option because depending on the level and the strength of the change, it is very easy to introduce highly visible artifacts. However, if the changes are too subtle, they will hardly be noticeable. In all cases the chroma noise will be affected and will increase significantly.


With this option, the color changes in each level are focused on the saturated tones of levels with finer details and on the pastel tones of the other levels (with coarser details).

After selecting this option, a threhold slider and two threshold curves will appear, which operate in the same way as the contrast threshold curves above.

  • Saturation/pastel threshold
    • with this control you decide from which level to switch from saturated to pastel tones
    • the default value is 5, i.e. in the first 5 levels the saturated tones will be changed, and in the higher levels the pastel tones will be changed
    • please note that if this value is higher than the number of levels of the wavelet decomposition, only the saturated tones will be changed
    • on the other hand, if you choose 1 (the level with only the finest details), it is as if you only modify the pastel tones
  • Pastel chroma range:
    • the threshold curve is the same as for the contrast. The points define the saturation level for which a change in color will be effective
      Wavelet chrom pastel.jpg
    • it should be noted that the dark area of the gradient corresponds to the pastel tones and the lighter area corresponds to the saturated tones (following this explanation of saturation)
    • hovering the mouse over it, you can see the limits: by default the values presented are Bottom-Left: 0, Top-Left: 2, Top-Right: 20, Bottom-Right: 30.
    • changes to the curve are made in a similar way to those made to the contrast curves
  • Saturated chroma range
    • hovering the mouse over it, you will see where the limits are: by default the values shown are Bottom-Left: 30, Top-Left: 45, Top-Right: 100, Bottom-Right: 130
      Wavelet chrom chrom.jpg
    • although the values of both curves do not overlap, you can see an overlap on the graphical interface. And in practice it seems that changes around the threshold level affect both the saturated and pastel tones. To be able to see clearly whether there is an effect or not (depending on whether the tone is pastel or saturated), it is necessary to use very saturated or very desaturated (pastel) values.

Nonetheless, as with the Whole chroma range option, the changes are not noticeable unless you are willing to introduce fairly visible artifacts.

  • Image with contrast modifications applied and overall wavelet strength at 100%.
  • After applying maximum effect on levels 1 and 2.
  • Applying modifications in saturated and pastel tones independently. Saturation/pastel threshold in level 3. Maximum effect on levels 1 and 2, while it stays at 60 on level 3. The rest in 0.
  • Once more the image with the contrast modifications applied and the overall strength of the wavelets at 100% (to be compared with the modified pastel and saturated tones.

As you can see, despite applying 100% changes in some levels, the differences are subtle and may appear to be negligible if you don't look closely. The most visible changes are the more intensely colored «veins» in the petals.

Link contrast levels

This option is an interesting one because the changes in chroma are directly related to those made to each of the contrast levels.

The ratio between the changes in contrast and color is adjusted with the Chroma-contrast link strength slider: thus 0 will have no effect on chroma, while 100 will provide the maximum effect, and is more intense than for the Whole chroma range option (particularly noticeable in chroma noise).

Keep in mind that if you apply strong changes to the contrast levels, they will also appear in the chroma and will most likely generate undesirable artifacts: your best ally will always be the Chroma-contrast link strength control, to achieve clearly visible effects without producing artifacts that will ruin the photo.

Example (changing chroma)

  • Color linked to changes in contrast. Chroma-contrast link strength in 100. Image absolutely degraded by artifacts (as expected): halos and color noise in the background.
  • In this case the Chroma-contrast link strength is 50. It's not subtle, but it's controllable.
  • The same strength as the previous picture, but with the overall strength of the wavelet at 50%.
  • Reference image with contrast modifications applied and overall wavelet strength at 50%.

The modifications to the original image have been exaggerated so that the results are clearly visible. Consequently, the contrast and color modifications made to the last photo have introduced blue edges on the petals, halos around the anthers of the stamens and a noisy background. Despite this, the image is not a complete disaster given how aggressive the modifications are. At this point it is worth noting the intensity of the color in the «veins» of the petals.

Gamut module

This module is linked to the Contrast and Chroma modules, so that adjustments can be targeted as a function of the chroma in the details. In other words, for the details in each of the wavelet levels, you can not only take into account the contrast of the luminance (contrast module) or the contrast of the tones (chroma module), you can also choose the color range that these modifications will be applied to.

Reduce artifacts in blue sky

Digital images often have speckled noise in the blue colors of the sky. Wavelet processing can accentuate this noise or generate small artifacts because it increases local contrast.

This checkbox introduces a median filter to reduce these artifacts, at the expense of loss of detail and generation of artifacts in areas where there are changes in tone or which have high contrast. Although useful for fast and undemanding processing, you will actually achieve better results with a judicious combination of the Noise Reduction tool in the Detail tab and the Denoise and Refine module in this tool.

  • Original image with speckles in the blue sky.
  • Artifacts generated by applying Reduce artifacts in blue sky: you can see extra detail at the intersections of the lines and loss of contrast in the thinnest lines.

Skin hue

Although the title refers to skin hues, the adjustment is not restricted to these and you can specify the range of tones you want to modify. The selected range will govern the changes made by the other controls in the module. However, the default range is for the usual skin tones.

For the examples that follow, the following (rather restrictive) range of red tones has been chosen:

Color range selected for the following examples. A narrow range of reds has been selected to clearly differentiate the changes.

Skin targetting/protection

This allows you to modify the contrast and/or color of details that have colors included in the above range:

  • with the slider at 0 all the colors of the image are modified equally
  • selecting -100 (sliding left) centers the contrast and color changes in the selected color range
  • on the contrary, if you select 100 (by sliding right) the colors that do not coincide with the selected range will be modified

In the intermediate positions between 0 and ±100 the changes increase progressively towards either the chosen range, or towards the rest of the colors.

  • Original image. Courtesy of Photographyblog.com
  • By applying some fairly radical changes in Contrast and Color, with the slider at 0.
  • In this case the position is -100: the contrast and color changes are centered on the range of reds.
  • When the position is at 100, changes apply to colors that are not red.


Once you've set the desired Skin targetting/protection, you can use this graph to fine tune the contrast/chromaticity variation for each color: moving a control point up will increase the variation for that color, while moving it down will mitigate the changes for that particular color (although it won't eliminate the effect entirely).

However, only those colors within the range selected above will be taken into account regardless of the colors modified with the curve.

  • According to the attached curve, the intention is to highlight the green colors as much as possible, while leaving all the others in the background. The consequence is that the green ticket is the most highlighted of all the objects.
  • The curve in which changes have been mitigated for all colors except green, which has been maximized.

Avoid color shift

Processing by Wavelet Levels can introduce significant hue changes, especially near the limits of the color range of the working color space. Activating this option makes a series of corrections to ensure that the resulting hue is related to the initial color.

Toning module

This module can be used for color toning specific detail levels as required.

However, it is not possible to act directly and accurately on the hue in each individual level because the components a* and b* have been decomposed and it is very difficult to create a precise mathematical relationship between the selected hue and the decomposed components.

Still, you can control to some extent which hues will be modified and decide which color dominants they will take.

As with the other modules, there is an Attenuation Response slider, which will act in the same way as described in the chapter on the attenuation in the Contrast module.

Excluded Colors

The Excluded Colors graph is based on the color distribution of the chromatic coordinates used for the L*a*b* color space: the horizontal axis represents the a* component (going from green to red) and the vertical axis represents the b* component (going from blue to yellow).

However, because it is complicated to represent the actual L*a*b* space color distribution in two dimensions, the pastel shades as shown in the interface, while being mathematically accurate, are not visually intuitive, especially when selecting yellow tones. Perceptually they are equivalent to a graph such as the one below:

Approximate representation of the color tone distribution in the CIEL*a*b* space.

In the center of the graph there is a white dot which, when dragged, will produce a second black dot. These two dots define the centers of the color ranges that will be protected to a greater or lesser extent by any toning adjustments subsequently carried out in this module. Putting the white dot on a particular color on the graph defines the center of the first color range. Similarly, the position of the black dot defines the center of the second color range. If the black dot is not moved from the initial position at the center, then the second range is ignored.

With the slider Range a and b % a zone of influence is created around the center as defined by the position of the dot on the graph and the slider % determines how large the zone will be.

With the Protection slider, the effect of any adjustments on the selected colors is reduced in the zone of influence (center plus range). The protection slider value corresponds to the % of the protection effect and will decrease as you move away from the center, until at the end of the range (at the periphery of the zone of influence) the reduction is equivalent to half the established value.

For example: Protection=80 means that the protection is 80% and therefore the center of each range will only receive 20% of the toning values set in the equalizer modules (explained below). As we move away from the center and until we reach the limit set by Range a and b %, the toning will become progressively more intense until it reaches a maximum of half of the Protection value. In this case it would be 40 meaning that the colors on the periphery would undergo 60% of the set value.

Toning controls

In this group of controls, two curves are presented:

  • the Opacity Red-Green (the a*-curve) which acts on the red-green tones
  • the Opacity Blue-Yellow (the b*-curve) which acts on the blue-yellow tones

But don't forget that the final colors of the photo will be a combination of the tones of these two curves. For example: if you modify the a* curve (Red-Green Opacity) to red, all the tones of the level you are modifying will take on a red/reddish tone, but will not necessarily become red (if they also had a strong blue component, they would turn towards magenta/violet).

From a practical point of view: a tone can become more or less saturated up to a certain limit and at the same time undergo a change in hue. To better visualize these effects, take a look at this view from above the L*a*b* color space, with b* as the vertical axis and a* as the horizontal axis. And don't miss this front view of the L*a*b* color space. The bottom of the top view matches the front of the front view.

In the interface you will find two curve types: Linear (Wavelet toning linear.jpg) and Equalizer (Wavelet toning curve.jpg). To choose between one or the other, click on the small triangle on the right.

The linear curve cancels the effect of the axis to which it refers: if you select it in the Red-Green Opacity, you will not perform any action on those tones. Similarly with the Blue-Yellow Opacity.

In each equalizercurve there is a horizontal axis (or x axis) and a vertical axis (or y axis):

  • the x axis represents the 10 possible levels, in ascending order from left to right and evenly distributed
  • the y axis represents the intensity of the modification: when the curve rises above or falls below the mid-line the color is modified towards one end or the other of the axis of the component being modified (a* or b*)
  • in the Red-Green Opacity (the a*-curve), moving the curve upward introduces a reddish tint, while moving it downward introduces a greenish tint
  • in the Blue-Yellow Opacity (the b*-curve), moving the curve upward introduces a yellow tint, while moving it downward introduces a bluish tint

By default, the curve is flat and lies on the mid-line. To get an idea of how you can interact with the curve, see the explanations of the Tone Curves. And remember that if you don't like the changes you have made to the curve, you can always start over by clicking the reset arrow ResetButton.png.

As long as there are variations in contrast in the original image color, these curves will allow you to selectively vary the tone of the desired details. The resulting changes depend on where you place the points in the curve and the amplitude of the modification (i.e. the number of levels it affects). Everything has to be done «by eye», as there is no reference to the levels on the x axis, however you can see the effect of the modification by looking at the preview.

If you use less than 10 levels, the points affecting the rightmost levels will simply be ignored: if you are modifying an image with 4 levels, the rightmost 6 (the ones with the largest details) will be ignored.

Example (applying toning)

You will recall that we had some ugly blue halos around parts of the flower, so let's try to eliminate them (or at least hide them) with the toning controls. We take advantage of the fact that most of the image has a red dominant so we can modify the blue component, without it being too noticeable in the overall result. For this example, none of the colors have been excluded:

  • The image as it was after the changes in the Chroma module, with the overall strength at 50%.
  • By applying a maximum tonal change on the Blue-Yellow curve: see how yellow halos have been generated where they were previously blue.
  • The applied curve, which mainly affects levels 3 and 4 and to a lesser extent level 5.
  • A moderate change of tone in the Blue-Yellow curve to eliminate blue halos as much as possible.
  • The same change as in the previous image, but with the overall wavelet strength at 50%.
  • The applied curve, which affects more or less the same levels as before, but with lower intensity.

There are still some traces of blue halos in the final result although they are not as visible, and the overall appearance of the photo seems to be the same.

Denoise and Refine module

This module complements the general Noise Reduction tool (in the Detail tab) and Edge Sharpness (explained in the next section).

Noise management is a complex issue because decisions have to be made as to where should it be done in the processing pipeline (e.g. at the beginning or at the end), what should be done and how.

In RawTherapee the general noise reduction tool is placed at the beginning of the processing pipeline to prevent subsequent tools from enhancing the noise to unacceptable levels. In the Noise Reduction tool in the Detail tab you have the following possibilities:

  • process the luminance (also based on wavelets) as a block, i.e. with no distinction between the wavelet levels
  • process the color noise using a different method: this generally requires a higher number of wavelet levels (4 to 7) and more complex processing
  • add Fourier Transform processing to refine the luminosity
  • add a median filter

Although this may be sufficient, use of the Wavelet Levels tool can provide some additional benefits (even though it uses the same algorithm as the general tool):

  • it is at the end of the processing pipeline, thus reducing the impact of noise added by other general tools (Exposure, Curves, Dynamic Range, etc.)
  • it acts separately and independently on each of the first 4 levels, whereas the standard noise reduction has an effect on the entire image. This is especially useful for low noise images and for images where the general tool has been used sparingly to preserve detail (i.e. to reduce rather than to eliminate the noise)
  • it reduces the incidence of noise in the other wavelet processing modules, e.g. allowing you to process skies without exaggerating the noise
  • it adjusts both noise processing and the degree of contrast amplification/reduction at each level, which is useful for example for astronomical images

The controls

You can adjust the noise reduction by levels as required with the following set of controls, which not only decide what noise to act on, but also link its effect to the Edge Sharpness module and the chroma denoise.

Link with Edge Sharpness' Strength

This option will modify the behavior of the lower slider of each level (explained below).

  • if you choose not to activate it, then the lower slider of each level (the Strength slider) will have a similar effect to the Contrast module when it is used over the Whole luminance range
  • if you activate it, you can change the distribution of the sharpness improvement in the first levels with the lower slider (this is explained in more detail in the next module, Edge Sharpness)

Denoise equalizer White-Black

Human vision is able to distinguish noise more easily in light areas than in dark areas, even when there is more noise in the dark areas (the shadows).

With this slider, noise reduction can be increased either in the shadows (with values to the right) or in the highlights (with values to the left).

It is easier to adjust if you choose an area with both light and dark areas, so that you can see the difference between the noise levels in the shadows and in the highlights.

Denoise and Strength

These sliders are used to control noise in the 4 finer-detail levels of the image:

  • the upper slider of each level performs the Denoise.
  • the lower one, called Strength, modifies the contrast of the details for that particular level. It should be noted that this adjustment isn't as sophisticated as the adjustments made in the Contrast module

Although the Strength slider may seem redundant, it is quite useful for recovering lost contrast in the details when higher values of Denoise have been applied. That way you don't have to jump from one module to another to quickly adjust the image. It also serves to modulate the distribution of the effect on the first 4 levels of the Edge Sharpness.

Denoise chrominance

The chroma denoise is complementary to the Noise Reduction tool in the Detail tab.

Because the wavelet chrominance denoise is at the end of the processing pipeline, it is useful for removing any chrominance noise that wasn't removed when using the noise reduction in the Detail tab, or noise that has been generated by other tools.

In this group of sliders you will find:

  • the Denoise Equalizer Blue-Red: chrominance noise usually comes in the form of red or blue dots and with this slider you can increase the reduction of the blue dots (to the left), or the red dots (to the right)
  • the Chrominance Fine slider: reduces the chrominance noise in the finest details, i.e. at the lowest levels
  • the Chrominance Coarse slider: reduces the chrominance noise in the coarser details, i.e. at the higher levels. This noise can be seen as patches of color that appear to be «dirty» or «do not belong» to the image and that cannot be removed with the Chrominance Fine slider because of their size

Example (applying denoise)

To get a better understanding of the extent to which the noise levels can be improved, it is useful to proceed on a level-by-level basis, taking advantage of the fact that you can view the detail in each individual level on a neutral background (as explained when dealing with the Preview). Turn off Link with Edge Sharpness' Strength and then increase the Strength slider of the level you are working on to the maximum: the noise will become obvious and you will be able to assess how much denoise is needed. Once you have adjusted the Denoise slider, move the Strength slider to the value that suits you best (negative values can also be used) and move to the next level.

  • The original image, enlarged to 300%.
  • The details of level 2, with strength: 100, without denoise. The noise is clearly visible.
  • The same level 2 with denoise applied (30). Don't forget that the Strength is still at 100.
  • The level with denoise applied and Strength reduced to 27.
  • Level 1 details.
  • The details of level 1 with Strength: 100.
  • After applying a slight noise reduction (Denoise: 12) and with the Strength still at 100.
  • The final effect of noise reduction, after having lowered the Strength to -17 (a negative value to lower the initial contrast of the details).
  • The original image, enlarged to 300%.
  • The final image, enlarged to 300%.
  • A more general view of the image, without denoise. Size at 100%.
  • The same view as above, with denoise applied: you can see the reduction of noise in the stone and a slight increase in sharpness in the window.

As a general rule, it is best not to eliminate the noise completely, but simply reduce it so that it is only just visible and at the same time, increase the contrast of the details in that particular level. By amplifying the presence of the details, the noise will be ignored when the image is viewed and the photo will have a light textured look. The procedure is as follows:

  1. reduce the luminance noise slightly using the Noise Reduction tool in the detail tab, taking special care not to lose any detail
  2. select one level, gray background and level 1
  3. zoom in to 300-400% on an area with poor background detail (there must be enough detail with good contrast, but not so much that it masks the noise)
  4. move the level 1 strength slider in Denoise to the maximum (or almost), making sure that the details can still be distinguished from the noise
  5. move the top slider to a point where the noise reduction is medium-low (do not remove noise completely) and then return the lower strength slider back to its original position.
  6. the noise reduction adjustment will result in a loss of contrast in the details. To remedy this, increase the lower slider to a strength level that allows you to recover the initial contrast of the details
  7. switch to level 2 and continue with points 4, 5 and 6, this time adjusting the strength of level 2
  8. continue in the same way with levels 3 and 4
  9. finish the process by selecting All levels in all directions

If the image is not very noisy, you can go straight to step 2. However, if the image is very noisy, it is important to adjust the luminance noise reduction at step 1: you need to play with the Luminance denoise slider and the Gamma slider (in the Noise Reduction tool), to direct the noise reduction to the shadows or the highlights. The more care you take with this step, the better the final result.

To increase the presence of detail you can use the lower sliders and increase the strength of each level as much as you like, but it is preferable to use the sliders in the Contrast module, as they offer more control and give better results with fewer artifacts. Also, don't forget that in this example only the Denoise and Strength sliders have been used, but the result can be further refined if necessary with the other sliders in this module.

Do not confuse the denoise in this module with the Threshold low (noise) function used for Edge detection in the Edge Sharpness module, which takes noise into account (without reducing it) to avoid highlighting it when analyzing the edges

Edge Sharpness module

This module applies a form of contour detection on the details in each of the wavelet levels.

At first glance it looks like an Unsharp Mask, because decomposition by wavelet levels generates a residual image that looks a bit like a mask, but that's where the similarities end.

If you want results that are similar to the Unsharp Mask or Deconvolution, then you will need to select the Edge detection box and choose a high value of Gradient sensitivity (70 or more; by default it will be 90). It is better not to modify the first contrast levels in Contrast by Detail Levels, because they can impair the way the algorithm works (all of these options are explained in detail below).

Before explaining how to use the module, keep in mind the following to avoid generating excessively strong artifacts or effects: both the configuration of the Edge performance (D2, D4 ... D14) and the strength of each level in Denoise and Refine (when you have Link with Edge Sharpness' Strength activated) have a noticeable effect on Edge detection. Each time you make an adjustment, you need to evaluate the result and readjust everything to obtain good sharpness with the minimum of artifacts.

In the interface you have several control blocks:

  • settings: this first block allows you to adjust the way the tool detects the edges
  • local contrast: in this block you can decide how contrast changes are applied to the details based on their initial contrast values.
  • edge detection: to increase sharpness where it is needed most (i.e. at the edges)


For the time being do not enable Edge detection, as the results will be different if this option is activated.

There are 4 sliders:

  1. Strength: is the amount of contrast enhancement applied to the details. The higher the Strength value, the greater the change in contrast. Its effect is stronger at finer levels and resetting this slider cancels out any changes in the rest of the module.
  2. Attenuation Response: this operates in the same way as the attenuation control described in the chapter covering the attenuation of the Contrast module. It controls the extent to which the contrast values will be modified.
  3. Radius: generates a three-dimensional image effect and may give the impression of more volume in the details, or more pronounced texture and has an influence even if the slider is set to zero. It should also be noted that the effect of the Radius is modified by the value of the Detail.
  4. Detail : changes the way the contrast is distributed between the levels. The effect will be stronger in the first 3 levels if the cursor is moved to the right, whereas if you move it to the left (towards negative values), the contrast changes in the first 3 levels will be practically canceled out.

The following example allows you to see how closely the changes in contrast in each of the levels are related to the values of the Radius and the Detail sliders, and how the effects of the Radius slider are modified according to the value of the Detail slider. To illustrate this we set First level: Unchanged (which will be explained later) and Link with Edge Sharpness' Strength disabled (in the Denoise and Refine module).

  • the Radius-Contrast ratio: changing the value of the Radius modifies the contrast of the details. In general, the strongest contrast changes are observed between radii 40 and 75. Below 40, level 1 is enhanced and above 75, level 3 and to a lesser extent the higher levels (the effect becomes increasingly softer the higher the level and at levels 9 and Extra the effect is negligible).
  • Radius-Detail relationship: depending on the value of Detail, modifying the Radius increases, more or less, the contrast of details in one level or another.

The following is a summary of the main points. The graphical representation makes it easier to understand:

  • Variation of the contrast of the first three levels as the value of the Radius increases, but with Detail: -50. In this case, except for the Radius: 60, the contrast is practically unchanged. However, levels 4 and above have stronger contrast values.
  • With Detail: 10 (the default value) and with radii below 40, level 1 has the strongest increase, while above 75 the increase is much less significant. As the Radius increases, levels 4 and above undergo only a moderate increase in contrast
  • When you choose Detail: 100, level 2 has the most visible effect for almost all radii. With this value of Detail, contrast is increased, albeit subtly, for levels 4 and above as the Radius increases.

Just under the Detail control, you have a drop-down list with 3 options for the First (wavelet) level:

  • Reinforced: the effect is increased at level 1.
  • Unchanged: the distribution of the algorithm is unchanged.
  • Reduced: the modification is reduced for level 1.

Being able to see the differences between these three options will depend on the amount of fine detail in the image, how much contrast there is in the details and the choice of coefficients used for the decomposition (D2, D4, ..., D14): in night photos with overexposed points of light (e.g. streetlamps etc.) the Reduced option will soften any high-contrast noise in the first level. Often however, there are hardly any relevant details in level 1 so the option you choose will probably not be important.

In addition, if you use the option Reduced, you may see a somewhat strange or at least «different» behavior for level 1: the contrast decreases progressively from a maximum at Radius: 0 to an almost total blurring of the details at Radius: 19 and then jumps to another maximum at Radius: 20. It then slowly reduces back to Radius:100. Graphically:

Variation of the contrasts in the levels from 1 to 3, as the Radius increases. Look at the changes in level 1, especially around Radius: 20. The First level: Reduced.

The best thing to do is to choose Unchanged, because with the option Link to Edge Sharpness' Strength the changes will be more progressive and controllable.

Link to Edge Sharpness' Strength

All of the above is valid as long as you do NOT activate the option Link to Edge Sharpness' Strength (in Denoise and Refine). Not activating it means that contrast changes will be made depending on the values of Radius and Detail.

However, if you have activated the option Link to Edge Sharpness' Strength, the strength settings for each Denoise level will regulate the strength of the effect in each of the first four levels of Edge Sharpness. This allows you to adjust the sharpness for certain levels only and use significantly higher increases in contrast than can be obtained with the 10 Contrast sliders.

For example, you can:

  • leave level 1 contrast unchanged
  • increase the maximum strength in level 2
  • reduce contrast in level 4 (negative Strength)

Local contrast

For each level of decomposition, the tool calculates the mean and standard deviation of the internal contrast of the details (also called local contrast) and then uses the results for subsequent modifications.

Remember that a «detail» is actually a group of pixels in the original image. The higher the wavelet level, the larger the group (at level 1 a group consists of 2x2=4 pixels, at level 2 4x4=16 pixels, etc). Because each pixel has a different initial luminance from the rest of the pixels in the detail, the tool can derive and analyze the internal contrast between pixels.

Any modification to these internal or local contrast values is based on a pattern (or curve) derived from the mean of the local contrast values in the level and on their standard deviation. It is applied to the local contrast values in the same way in each of the levels. i.e. centered around the mean contrast values.

So, for example, you can:

  • for low initial contrast values (usually located in the shadows): reduce local contrast to soften the detail
  • for average values: enhance them by increasing the local contrast
  • for high values (usually located in very bright areas): reduce or even remove the local contrast, to avoid clipping the highlights

You can choose between two graphical controls for setting the parameters:

  1. a threshold curve with four movable points that represent (from left to right) the minimum contrast, the mean, the average + standard deviation and the maximum contrast
  2. a curve, which by default is an asymmetrical Gaussian type curve, with the following characteristics
    • the center of the abscissa corresponds to the mean value of the contrast values
    • the area from the center covering one-third of the width of the graph on each side are the details with contrast values that are either higher or lower than the average value and lie within the range of values set by the standard deviation


Wavelet local contrast thresholds.jpg

If you choose the threshold curve, moving a point to the right will increase its contrast, while moving it to the left will decrease it (the whiter the background color, the higher the contrast, whereas a dark background indicates low contrast).

As indicated above, the points correspond, from left to right, to the minimum contrast, the mean, the mean + the standard deviation and the maximum contrast. For example, moving the point that represents the mean of the contrast values to the right will increase the contrast values close to the mean. Similarly for the other points i.e. the tool modifies each group of contrast values (mean, standard deviation, minimum and maximum) in accordance with the position of the adjustable points.

In practice:

  • Using the default values, the position of the points on the threshold curve usually gives a more natural look at the expense of exaggerated brightness, and in particular, specular brightness. Details however are enhanced more naturally and with more definition than with the Gaussian curve, without excessively highlighting noise or grain
  • in daylight photos, which have a predominance of mid-tones (as in cityscapes), the default settings will highlight details without exaggerating their contrast (however reflections will be more pronounced)
  • however, in high contrast photos (night photos with artificial lighting, astronomical photography) the default settings tend to exaggerate the contrast values of bright points of light
  • in photos with high contrast (with a lot of contrasting noise): if you have selected first level reduced the effect on level 1 decreases and the noise is quite smooth. However, in photos with moderate contrasts there is practically no difference


Wavelet local contrast gauss.jpg

In this case the shape of the curve serves as a visual guide when modifying the contrast values of the details. Remember that the standard deviation of the contrast values are one third to the right and one third to the left of the center of the graph.

Compared to the threshold curve, this graph allows you to not only modify the range of local contrast values that will be affected but also the strength of the modification: if you move a point on the curve to the right or left, you will change the range of contrast values that will be affected (as with the slider points), whereas moving it up or down will increase or decrease the strength of the changes in detail.

With the default curve shape (which you can reset with the ResetButton.png button) the effect achieved is similar to a HIRALOAM: it enhances the contrast values by controlling the shadows, while making strong contrasts less prominent. It is like highlighting the volume of each detail, keeping both noise in the shadows and overexposure in the highlights under control (especially with specular highlights). However, the grain and noise of the medium contrast values are excessively enhanced.

The threshold curve and the Gaussian curves will give different results with their respective default values, so the choice depends on what you are trying to achieve. However, when using the Gaussian curve the Strength of the tool should be kept low to avoid overly exaggerated results. With the threshold curve you can use higher strength values and still achieve natural results. However, you can achieve the same effect by adjusting the Gaussian curve, with the added advantage of being able to vary the contrast values to either increase or reduce them, or even flatten them completely by moving the curve below the horizontal line).

  • Original image.
  • Variation of the local contrast with the sliders: the edges are highlighted in a more natural way.
  • Variation of the local contrast with the Gaussian curve: there is a relief effect on the edges

Edge detection

Before you start using this part of the module you need to adjust the above parameters carefully, especially the local contrast. You should only make subtle changes, as it is easy to generate exaggerated effects and artifacts in the image.

By activating the edge detection, the result obtained will be different from those of the traditional algorithms (unsharp mask, deconvolution...), as the tool performs a series of operations on the details of each level to highlight the edges without enhancing the noise: it intensifies the details of the decomposition, blurs them to remove the noise and selects those details that are considered to be part of an edge.

The process is based on the Sobel-Canny algorithm, customized to fit the components of the decomposition and reduce the necessary variables to 3 sliders:

  • Gradient sensitivity: the more you move the cursor to the right, the more the detection algorithm will focus on sharp edges and the less it will take into account the local contrast values of small areas (such as noise or small details). Conversely, moving the cursor to the left will detect more edges, even the smallest ones, but it will also highlight noise.
  • Threshold low (noise): this slider configures a Gaussian filter that does not directly modify the image, but rather the decomposition coefficients. On the left it acts on a 3x3 matrix, while on the right it acts on a larger 5x5 matrix. By blurring the image, noise and finer or lower contrast details are lost or obscured. This is good for mitigating noise, but it also results in less accurate edge detection. The farther to the right the cursor is, the better the noise will be mitigated, but fewer edges will be detected. A value around 3x3 is better for detecting fine edges, but is more prone to interference from noise. A value of 5x5 is better for wider or more prominent edges, at the cost of losing the finer edges and making detection less accurate.

In addition, in a later step of the algorithm, this threshold will remove those edges that, although detected, are unlikely to be true edges. The lower this threshold is, the more it will detect low-contrast edges. However, it will also be more likely to interpret noise as a probable edge.

  • Threshold high (detection): once the edges of the image have been detected, this slider allows the tool to analyze the reliability of the edge detection (i.e. whether it is a sharp or blurred edge) and then either attenuate or enhance the local contrast changes depending on how sharp the edge is. Moving the cursor to the right will enhance the contrast of the sharp edges and moving it to the left will attenuate it.

Enhanced algorithm

Activating this part of the module allows you to configure certain aspects of the edge detection algorithm:

  • Edge sensitivity: this value allows you to discard details that do not have a higher contrast than the value set by the slider. The more the slider is moved to the right, the higher the contrast in the details must be for them to be considered as a possible edge (lower-contrast edges will be ignored).
  • Base amplification: this slider intensifies the initial values before starting the calculations to improve edge detection. The further to the right, the better the distinction between edge and non-edge, but the greater the risk of artifacts.
  • Neighboring pixels: here you decide what influence the pixels surrounding the detail will have on edge detection. You have 3 options: None, Low, High.

Example (modifying noise reduction and edge sharpness)

  • Original image.
  • The image after applying the modules described above, including noise reduction and edge sharpness improvement.

Blur levels module

This module allows you to selectively blur («defocus») the details of selected levels. The result is stronger in the higher levels (from level 7 upwards) and is especially useful in astrophotography.

The Attenuation Response slider acts as described in the chapter on the attenuation of the Contrast module.

The Blur by levels curve modifies the luminance of each level: it is divided into 10 zones, with level 1 on the left and Extra on the right. Raising the curve in the area of a level will increase the blur for that particular level.

The Blur Chroma slider blends the colors with their surroundings, creating a subtle smudge effect. It acts on the same levels defined by the previous curve.

Sharp-mask and Clarity module

The Sharp mask feature is a new way of enhancing sharpness alongside the other methods available in RawTherapee (i.e. Unsharp Mask, Deconvolution and Wavelet Levels Edge Sharpness). It can be used in conjunction with them or on its own.

The Unsharp mask is the method that has been traditionally used to accentuate edges and increase the impression of sharpness in an image: it is based on the creation of a blurred Gaussian type mask generated by taking each pixel and recursively blurring the neighboring pixels. This mask is then subtracted from the original image to emphasise the edges. The radii used with this method are usually small (in the order of less than 1 to a few pixels).

The mask in this module is based on part of the wavelet decomposition and can be used in two ways:

  • enhancing the finer levels using the Sharp mask option.
  • enhancing the coarser levels using the Clarity option, which increases the impression of local contrast and local saturation in the image.

When you activate the module, the general configuration of the tool will automatically change to:

Sharp mask Clarity
Background: Residual Image Residual Image
Levels: Levels with fine details Levels with coarse details
Level: 3 7

In either case you can change the reference level. In the case of the Sharp Mask the change of level is similar to changing the radius in the Unsharp Mask and you can choose any level between 1 and 4. For Clarity a level change results in a greater or lesser three-dimensional volume effect on the image. In this case you can select the levels from 5 to Extra.

When you deactivate the module the merge values are not lost and you will only have to re-select the desired level when you re-activate the module.

The merging in the Sharp Mask consists of enhancing the details below the selected level and merging (blending) the result with the remaining levels: if you have selected level 3, the details of levels 1, 2 and 3 will be enhanced and then merged with levels 4 and above (including the residual image). The merge slider allows you to adjust the mix, giving more or less relevance to the enhanced details with respect to the rest of the image.

Similarly, in the case of Clarity the coarser levels are enhanced and merged with the rest of the photo.

In both cases you have 3 sliders to adjust the changes:

  1. Merge Luma: by moving it to the right (positive values) the contrast of the details is enhanced, while with negative values the image becomes blurry, like a dream.
  2. Merge Chroma: by moving it to the right (positive values) saturated tones are enhanced more than the less saturated (pastel) tones. With negative values, the image becomes less vivid and the pastel tones remain virtually unchanged.
  3. Soft Radius: high merge values can generate halos around the contrasting areas. With this control you can smooth them without affecting the image too much. However, it does have side effects: the dark areas become darker and more and more areas will be considered as not having sufficient contrast to be enhanced, so they remain unchanged.
  • Original image. Courtesy of Photographyblog.com
  • Applying the Sharp Mask, setting Merge Luma: 60 and Merge Chroma:30. The effect is rather subtle, but you can see an increase in the sharpness of the small details.
  • Applying Clarity, setting Merge Luma: 60 and Merge Chroma:30. In this case the effect is more pronounced because the contrast values are higher.

Finally, under the Soft Radius you have the option to Show wavelet 'mask', which allows you to see which details will be enhanced:

  • in the case of the Sharp Mask, an image will be displayed with a black background and the details will be highlighted in white (if you have ever seen an Unsharp Mask, you will find it similar).
  • however, with the Clarity option, the mask is different and is based on Guided Image Filtering and is less intuitive. In general, the white areas (although blurred) are the ones that will be highlighted.

Residual Image module

You will recall that the residual image corresponds to the original image minus the details that were extracted in the levels. Any changes made in the levels will therefore have no effect on the residual image and the more levels you select in the general settings of the tool, the greater the difference between the original and the residual image. Furthermore, when you select more than 6 levels, the residual image will contain almost no noise, so changing the global contrast or chromaticity in the residual image will have almost no effect on the noise.

  • Original image. Courtesy of Photographyblog.com
  • Residual image when decomposing to 5 levels of detail.
  • Residual image when decomposing to 7 levels of detail.
  • Residual image when decomposing to 8 levels of detail.

It is important to note that to avoid artifacts and out of gamut tones, you will need to closely observe the adjustments you make on each of the levels and on the residual image: if the original image already has tones close to the boundaries of the color space, significantly increasing the contrast or chromaticity of the detail will almost inevitably result in artifacts or tones outside the color range. In this case, increasing or decreasing the residual image contrast and chromaticity will allow you to keep the colors within the range defined by the color space.

As you can see, residual image adjustments are a fundamental aspect of wavelet level processing. They allow you to:

  • work with shadows and highlights regardless of the details they contain,
  • reduce overall contrast and chromaticity, to better perceive micro-contrast,
  • change the chromaticity to reduce artifacts resulting from excessive modifications in the levels (e.g. in the skies)
  • etc

Shadows/highlights of the residual image

Moving the sliders for Shadows and Highlights to the right increases the luminance of those areas; to the left (negative values), it reduces it. This can be used to further darken the shadows and increase the brightness of the highlights:

  • Original image.
  • Residual image with Shadows: -20 and High lights: 50.
  • The resulting photograph with the changes in the residual image.

The effect of these changes is influenced by the threshold sliders, which have a luminance scale ranging from 0 to 100: for the shadows, moving the threshold slider to the left will progressively limit the action of the slider to the darker luminance values. Similarly for the highlights, moving the threshold slider to the right will progressively limit the action of the highlights slider to the higher luminance values. To help decide which threshold values to use you can check the luminance values by hovering the mouse over the relevant area in the image and reading off the L* luminance value in the Navigator panel. These values correspond directly to the scale used for the threshold sliders.

If sliders for shadows and highlights have positive values, you can only recover the shadows (lightening them) or highlights (darkening them). The result is similar to the Shadows/Highlights tool in the Exposure tab. However, note that this tool does not have the ability to Reconstruct Highlights.

  • negative values have a strong impact on the residual image
  • highlights are darkened if negative values are used
  • highlights are lightened if positive values are used
  • shadows are darkened if negative values are used
  • shadows become lighter if positive values are used
  • Original image.
  • Residual image using negative values in shadows and positive values in highlights
  • Residual image using the same values as before, but without negative values.

The last option in this group is the Radius Shadows/Highlights. Note: this slider will be hidden when the Algorithm using negative values option is activated.

This slider applies Guided Image Filtering that attenuates the transitions in the shadows and the highlights caused by the previous adjustments. It controls the area of influence of adjustments made in the shadows and highlights to improve the way they are integrated into the rest of the image.

You can adjust the shadows and highlights to:

  • add impact to shiny objects,
  • prevent the highlights from becoming saturated,
  • lift the shadows,
  • etc

Residual Image Contrast Compression

This is one of the key aspects of wavelet level processing: the Contrast slider allows you to make changes to the contrast of the residual image separately from contrast changes to the details in the levels.

Moderate reductions in the residual image contrast will make the contrast in the details stand out more clearly and give a greater impression of depth and relief. This allows you to limit increases in contrast for the details to avoid generating artifacts and at the same time, produce an effect that is visually equivalent to a greater increase.

However for certain images, drastic changes in the contrast of the residual image will allow you to achieve some interesting effects:

  • Dreamlike effect, by drastically reducing the residual image contrast (-80).
  • Result of increasing the residual image contrast to 90.

To help you control the effect of this module, there is a set of options that allow you to adjust the dynamic range of the residual image. These options are grouped into Contrast Compression and Tone Mapping Compression.

Compression Method: Contrast

The effects of the contrast slider are immediately visible and vary almost linearly depending on the position of the cursor: to the right the contrast will increase and to the left it will decrease. The action of the slider is limited internally to avoid artifacts.

The Compression strength modifies the dynamic range of the residual image: moving the slider to the right reduces it (shadows are lightened and highlights are reduced) and to the left, increases it (shadows are darkened and highlights are slightly intensified).

The Compression gamma modifies the distribution of light and shadow, effectively moving the histogram to the left or right.

With these controls you can, for example, reduce the effects of fog or compress the dynamic range of high dynamic range images.

Compression Method: Tone Mapping

In this case the compression method used is the same as the Tone Mapping tool and its sliders act in the same way. It acts only in the residual image and will make in-depth modifications to the contrast (in the same way as Tone Mapping). Because of this, you will most likely have to readjust any changes in the levels as well to ensure that the overall image remains balanced.

Although you are applying tone mapping to the residual image, this doesn't prevent you from activating the global Tone Mapping tool as well. In this case, care is needed because using both tools at the same time can generate artifacts.


This group of two sliders may seem trivial, but it can be an interesting aid to improve the bokeh of the image, by blurring the luminance of the residual image (Blur Luminance) and its color component (Blur Chroma).

The result is closely linked to the values and to the number of Wavelet levels: to obtain a good bokeh you need to be able to adjust the amount of detail in the image depending on whether you want the background to be partially recognizable or completely blurred.

Normally the best results will be obtained with 7 or more wavelet levels and with modest blur values (around 50), as it is easy to generate halos and artifacts with lower levels or extreme values.

Chroma of the residual image

The Chroma slider works on the same principle as described for the contrast slider above, except that in this case it will change the saturation of the residual image tones.

The Intensity control is linked to the values set in the sky hue protection range as explained below.

Sky hue

The title refers to sky hue, but you are not restricted to sky colors and can adjust the color tones without limitation. As mentioned previously, the colours are linked to the Intensity control.

The default range covers the usual shades of blue in the sky.

Sky targetting/protection

With this control you can decide whether you want to modify, the chroma of areas containing colors defined in the previous range:

  • with the slider at 0 the changes made to the chroma control will be applied equally to all tones in the image
  • selecting -100 (sliding left) centers chroma changes in the selected tonal range
  • on the contrary, selecting 100 (sliding right) will modify the tones that don't match the selected range.

In the intermediate positions between 0 and ±100 the changes are made progressively towards the chosen range, or towards the rest of the tones.

This control is very useful to prevent over-saturation of human skin tones, which results in an immediately noticeable «carrot look».

Residual image curve

This is a Flat Curve with colored vertical lines and sliding dots and is independent of the sky hue range and the Chroma Intensity control: you can use it to modify the tones so that they take on a dominant color, independently of the rest of the controls of the module.

It works as follows: if you move a dot upwards, the areas of the image with the color of that particular line will take on the hue of the line immediately to the right. If you move it down, the dominant will be the color of the line immediately to the left. For example: by moving the point of the yellow line up, the yellow areas of the residual image will take on a greenish hue (the line to the right of the yellow), whereas if you move the point down, the dominant will be orange (the line to the left of the yellow).

Toning and Color Balance

Activating this option presents 3 pairs of tone controls for Highlights, Midtones and Shadows, respectively, which can be used to color tone the residual image.

The controls modify the a* and b* components of the Lab color space, so the changes will be:

  • for component a* = from green to magenta
  • for component b* = from blue to yellow

The results will depend on the intensity of the changes:

  • with high values you can create special effects, similar to those achieved with the Chroma Module, but focused on the residual image. You can use it in combination with that module if you wish
  • with moderate values you can manually correct the white balance: for example, imagine a scene where the main details are in a shaded area which has a blue color cast and the background is in full daylight and has a different color temperature. In this case you can adjust the white balance for the details (and remove the blue cast) and then readjust the background (the residual image) and customise the white balance for each area (highlights, mid-tones and shadows)

Note that the residual image contrast compression controls, which modify the luminance values of each area, will have a direct influence on the results achieved with this part of the module.

Final Touchup module

In this module you can apply small touch-up adjustments to the image. However because it is located at the end of the Wavelet levels tool, any significant modifications carried out here may mean that you have to readjust the rest of the modules.

Directional Contrast

In general, the initial balance between the 3 directional components of image decomposition is respected throughout the tool: vertical, horizontal and diagonal. However, with this module you can increase the weight of one over the other, to achieve a different result.

Contrast Balance Method

This balance control changes the balance between diagonal decomposition on the one hand and vertical and horizontal decomposition on the other. Its principle is similar to that of the edge-preserving decomposition which is based on the Cholesky factorization and linearly modifies the luminance values of the image.

This module allows you to modify the effects of the following modules: Contrast, Chroma and Residual Image Tone Mapping.

You have two choices:

  • Slider: with this option, the Contrast balance d/v-h control appears allowing you to modify the contrast values in the image. Moving it to the right intensifies the overall image contrast, whereas moving it to the left reduces the contrast. Bear in mind though that you are acting on the balance between the different directions of decomposition, so with extreme values you'll introduce important artifacts.
  • Curve: In this case the curve Contrast balance d/v-h balance curve appears, which acts on the balance of the luminance values of the image.

In both cases, there is an additional control: Delta balance levels. When it is set to zero (default), all levels of the decomposition are processed in the same way. If it is placed on the left, the lower levels are emphasized (the fine details) and the upper levels are reduced (those that give volume to the image). On the other hand, if it is placed to the right, the lower levels are reduced and the upper levels are increased.

You also have at your disposal an Attenuation Response slider, which will act as described in the chapter on attenuation of the Contrast module.

Finally the option Chrominance balance allows you to modify the d/v-h balance of the chromatic components of the decomposition using the same controls as above (slider or curve).

Final Local Contrast

This curve is located at the end of the processing pipeline, just before recomposition and acts non-linearly on the contrast of the decomposition levels.

Please note that this curve, which acts on the initial local contrast and not on the luminance, does not duplicate the previous one (Contrast balance).

On the graph, the center of the abscissa corresponds to the mean value of the local contrast and a third of the way on each side there is a point corresponding to the mean plus one standard deviation of the local contrast values. By changing the shape of the curve you will reduce or increase the effects of the modulus of Contrast, the Edge sharpness, the Balance method and even the very principle of decomposition - recomposition.

By default the curve is flat (i.e. it has no effect), although you can modify it to your liking to e.g. further reduce the value of low local contrast and thus soften the visibility of the noise, or reduce the values of high local contrasts and avoid artifacts.

In addition, there is also a Attenuation Response slider, which will act in the same way explained in the chapter on the attenuation of the Contrast module.

After Contrast Curve

This curve is not related to the previous curves. It is at the end of the wavelet levels processing pipeline, after the recomposition of the levels plus the residual image, and allows you to modify the global contrast of the image.

It acts on luminance and its use is similar to the other tonal curves found in RawTherapee, although in this case you will not see a background histogram.

Finally, you also have a Soft Radius slider that allows you to apply a blur to selected areas so that they blend in better with the image.

Final comparison


  • Original image
  • Final image