Color Space Compromise


Today’s Question: It seems that the standard color space is Adobe RGB. But if the vast majority of my photos are printed by a lab that will only accept images in the sRGB color space, it seems to me that I should synchronize the color spaces on my camera, monitor, and software to sRGB. But if I do, how much do I lose when viewing images on a monitor or projecting them to a plasma or LCD TV?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If most of your printed output is generated with a workflow that revolves around sRGB, it is perfectly reasonable to standardize your overall workflow on the sRGB color space, with very little risk of losing significant color or detail in your photos.

More Detail: The sRGB color space is often referred to as being a “small” color space, when in fact it is simply smaller than the other commonly used color spaces of Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB. The sRGB color space is still perfectly adequate for printing photos and is especially well-suited to images being displayed electronically, such as on a monitor or digital projector.

There’s no need to set your camera to the sRGB color space if you are shooting in raw (as I highly recommend doing). You can, however, set the in-camera color space to sRGB to get a bit of a more accurate preview of the image based on the sRGB color space.

In Lightroom Classic you don’t have control over the color space being used within Lightroom Classic, as a variation on ProPhoto RGB is always used in the background. When sending images to Photoshop you could certainly use the sRGB color space.

My personal preference in this type of workflow would be to use the ProPhoto RGB color space in Photoshop. Then use sRGB whenever you are exporting photos to be printed by the printer, or for digital sharing.

There’s no inherent benefit to using the sRGB color space through your full workflow, as color management in your workflow will ensure you are getting an accurate preview of the colors in your images. So, my recommendation in general is to use a larger color space for editing, and then the appropriate color space when preparing photos for specific output. That said, there’s certainly not any significant risk in converting photos to the sRGB color space when they will ultimately be printed or otherwise shared using that color space.