Color Space Challenge


Today’s Question: I recently exported files from Lightroom to the JPEG format using Adobe RGB as my color space. When I view the JPEGs on the same screen using Windows Viewer (Windows 7) the colors are different especially if I use the slide show option. It is even worse if I export with the ProPhoto RGB color space, but it seems better with sRGB. I thought sRGB had fewer color choices yet it seems to give better results. My intent was to email photos to family with possible printing. Any suggestions?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The issue here is actually how the color values in the photo are being interpreted, not the overall color gamut available with the different color spaces. Due to a lack of color management in this type of scenario, the sRGB color space is actually your best option, and you’ll want to be sure to embed the profile in the images as well.

More Detail: In the absence of proper color management, the color values in a photo will simply be interpreted based on the current display profile established within the operating system. That could be a generic profile for the display, a custom profile you’ve built using a display calibration package, or perhaps the sRGB color space.

In other words, either the software you’re using is ignoring the actual definition of the colors within the photo, or you didn’t embed the color profile and so the software doesn’t know how to interpret the colors. In either case, the display profile will be used to interpret the color values, which could produce wildly inaccurate results.

The sRGB color space is closer to the typical color gamut of a monitor display compared to the Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB color spaces. As a result, when the color values in the photo are not interpreted based on the correct profile, you will likely see more accurate (and more pleasing) colors if the image had been converted to sRGB.

I recommend always converting photos to the sRGB color space when they will be presented on a monitor display or with a digital projector. I also recommend embedding the profile in the image so that the colors can be presented accurately if the software being used to present the images supports color management. But the sRGB color space also generally provides a good result when the color values can’t be interpreted accurately, by virtue of the sRGB color space employing color definitions that are reasonably close to the display capabilities of most monitors and digital projectors.