Color Management and Color Profiles for Photography

Just a quick little blurb on color profiles regarding some information I’ve come to figure out…

First thing’s first. What is Color Space?

A device color space simply describes the range of colors, or gamut, that a camera can see, a printer can print, or a monitor can display. Editing color spaces, on the other hand, such as Adobe RGB or sRGB, are device-independent. They also determine a color range you can work in. Their design allows you to edit images in a controlled, consistent manner. A device color space is tied to the idiosyncrasies of the device it describes. An editing space, on the other hand, is gray balanced — colors with equal amounts of Red, Green, and Blue appear neutral. Editing spaces also are perceptually uniform; i.e. changes to lightness, hue, or saturation are applied equally to all the colors in the image. – Description provided by DryCreekPhoto.com

When you post an image for online purposes, based on the information that I’ve read, colorspace sRGB appears to be the best profile regarding color accuracy. Additionally, when working with images online:
  • Be aware of what browser you’re using. It took me a long time to catch onto this, but it definitely matters. For example, I use Google Chrome (for the time being), and Chrome does NOT support color management like its competitors. Because I’m on a Mac (MacBook Pro), I usually favor three different browsers for different reasons: Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Having researched all three, I can tell you that both Firefox and Safari will display color profiles accurately for any image using the sRGB color space. So keep that in mind when viewing images. Below is a link to a sample photograph of my friend, Jeff, saved in different formats and color spaces (they are all titled correctly). Open this link in the Safari, Chrome and Firefox browsers to see for yourself the difference in color and contrast across the four images.
  • Regarding Facebook: When the four images in question were uploaded and analyzed on Facebook via the Safari web browser it was not possible to accurately test the color spacing because Facebook does not display the title and/or extension of the images uploaded, so there was no way to discern .jpeg from .png files, or sRGB from Adobe RGB (1998) color spacing, although in examining the four images on Facebook in Safari there was a glarring difference between the photos with respect to both color and contrast. However there was no way to measure which result belonged to which image as Facebook did not display the title or extension information.
Background Information regarding this test and its conclusion:
  • Image shot on a Canon 5D Mark II in sRAW1 (9.9 Megapixels) with Adobe RGB as the in-camera color space.
  • Results of the four sample images were compared across the Google Chrome (version 15.0.874.81 beta),  Safari (version 5.1), and Firefox (version 3.6.13) web browsers.

Comparison of Results: 

  • ‘Save for Web’ appears to be accurate with respect to color. There was no noticeable difference between this image and the .PNG file.
  • ‘.PNG’ appears to be accurate with respect to color. There was no noticeable difference between this image and the ‘Save for Web’ .jpeg image.
  • The ‘sRGB’ .jpeg image appeared slightly less saturated with slightly less contrast than both the ‘Save for Web’ .jpeg and ‘.PNG’ files. Even though I use the term slightly, it is a noticeable difference in color and contrast.
  • The ‘Adobe RGB’ image was the worst, in my opinion. This image displayed the most obvious errors in color and contrast, and I would not recommend it for web use.

Final Conclusion: 

  • In my opinion, the Safari web browser appeared to be the best browser to view images because it displayed the most accurate color and contrast when compared to the image as it was edited in Lightroom 3.
When you go to print images, the best color space seems to be Adobe RGB, although I’m not sure of the difference between Adobe RGB (1998), and Adobe RGB, or if they are different at all. Using myself as an example, when I print, I leave my images in sRGB and they appear (to me) exactly as I edited them in my post-production photo software, Lightroom 3.
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