The old colour space chestnut

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 at 09:19pm

Along with which program to edit your images, another contentious topic that comes up in regard to digital photography is what colour space to use. Initially it starts out as someone being told that they must change their camera from sRGB to Adobe RGB, it snowballs from there.

A couple of years ago I did some research and tried to write up a post about it, I didn’t get very far because it is crazy complex, you need to consider an entire colour managed workflow from the camera, through editing and then output somewhere on a webpage, on another device, as a print, etc. Fortunately others have gone to the trouble of explaining colour management.

Cambridge in Colour is an excellent resource for Photographers and one of its tutorials is on Color Management & Printing that is worth reading all of the way through. If you only want to read one thing, then make it the page that compares sRGB vs. Adobe RGB.

Another example of how complex colour spaces are to explain is a seven part series of articles titled Digital-Image Color Spaces which also includes quite a number of example images. Note that this series is now almost eight years old, so be aware that web browser support for colour profiles has improved a lot since then.

On the topic of web browsers, the International Color Consortium (ICC) has a test page so you can see what version of ICC colour profiles your browser supports. Though if you want an extreme example, computer forensics researcher Neal Krawetz shows how one image can display in ten different ways depending on what you use to view it.

Want to read more about sRGB vs Adobe RGB? Stop. Don’t do it. There are countless articles (yes, I know you are reading one of them right now) where people give their opinion about whether your should use sRGB or Adobe RGB. Many of them are pure opinion without any supporting information, or contain information already covered by something like the Cambridge in Colour tutorials.

So what do I do? I avoid the issue… I shoot in RAW to capture as much information as possible, adjust (on my calibrated and profiled monitor) in Lightroom with all that image data, and only at the end discard data when exporting to an 8-bit JPG in sRGB for the internet. When I print I trust that Lightroom and the Epson printer driver are doing what is best.

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