About Color Space or Profiles

This article was originally posted to Dave Scott’s website, Northwest Moments.

Frequently, in our photo competitions at the Tacoma Photographic Society, makers have comments like “My image was brighter on my screen at home.”

99.9% of the time the issue is likely caused by the maker exporting the image to an incorrect color space or color profile.

If you are exporting an image to be displayed on a website, it is absolutely critical that you choose the correct color space.

There is only one: sRGB.

Here are some examples. I took this recent image of Liddy and exported it from Lightroom as a JPG using the exact same settings but one. For each one, I chose a different color space: sRGB; Adobe RGB (1998); and ProPhoto RGB.

Before we look at the examples, lets quickly talk about color spaces.

This image attempts to show the difference between a number of popular color spaces.

Notice the three we are concerned with: ProPhoto RGB is bigger than Adobe RGB 1998 which is bigger than sRGB.

This means that sRGB is possibly the worst color space to use when working with your images. ProPhoto RGB is best of these three and why Adobe has standardized on it as the working color space for Lightroom. (You get to choose your working color space in Photoshop.)

So why is sRGB the default color space for the Web?

Because it is the default that all browsers now render images in. sRGB is the lowest common denominator. All computers should be able to render sRGB so all browsers default to the sRGB color space.

If an image has a profile embedded within it, modern browsers will attempt to use that profile. If the computer the browser is running on doesn’t have that profile, or the profile is not embedded, the browser will default to sRGB rendering.

Graphic courtesy of:
BenRG and McGee, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom line. Export for Web using sRGB color space.

Adobe RGB vs sRGB

OK, let’s look at the real world. You have this post open in your favorite browser. Below, on the left is an image of Liddy which was exported from Lightroom using the Adobe RGB (1998) color space. On the right is the same image exported with exactly the same settings except using the sRGB color space.

Notice the muted colors in the Adobe RGB (1998) rendering.

ProPhoto RGB vs sRGB

Again, with the photo of Liddy, on the left; ProPhoto RGB color space. On the right; sRGB color space.

Again, move the slider left or right, and you will see the ProPhoto RGB color space is muted in colors.

Lightroom Export Settings

My conclusion. If you are sending an image to be displayed on a different computer, and you don’t know if it is going to be treated properly, make sure the embedded profile is sRGB!

In the Lightroom Export Panel, under File Settings, set the Color Space to sRGB.

For other software, like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, or whatever your favorite is, remember to set the export setting such that the final image file will be rendered as sRGB!

3 thoughts on “About Color Space or Profiles”

    1. Dave
      I will send your note on to our education chair.

      Where in BC are you located? I was raised (never grew up) in North Vancouver – spent 14 years in the Thompson/Okanagan.

  1. Hello,
    I have inherited some photographic equipment which I am willing to donate. Is that something which your members would be interested in? I like in Lakewood.

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