Understanding color space

When I upgraded to the new Adobe Creative Cloud and starting using Lightroom to edit my photos, I noticed a little discrepancy with the colors in my images. I was ALWAYS editing my photos EVEN MORE when I posted to Instagram or any social media platform. To be honest, I was kind of stumped with what was wrong. I mean, I was spending ALLLLL this time editing my images and then I would go to post it to Instagram or wherever and the colors were just wacky. So I did some research and reading found that there was most likely a color space discrepancy between my edits and my phone. Today I thought I would share what I've learned about color space and maybe help you understand it too. (And just FYI, I definitely DO NOT consider myself an expert on this matter....).

What is color space?

Color space is a range of colors that is represented in an image. In this digital age, the spectrum of colors is incredibly diverse and depending on your camera, editing programs and WHAT you plan to do with your photos, your color space will likely need to vary. 

The most used color spaces are sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB. They each have a different range of colors and will give you different results. Let's take a closer look at each.

sRGB - sRGB (standard red, green, blue) is based on a color gamut of red, green and blue, and is the world's most recognized color space. It is most likely the color space on your monitor, tablet and cell phone (unless you have the latest + greatest). Your local print shop is also very likely calibrated to sRGB.

Adobe RGB - Adobe RBG is also based on the red, blue, green gamut, but includes a wider range within each color (see the photo below for example). The colors within Adobe RGB will have more vibrancy (saturation) within the shadows, mid tones and highlights. 

ProPhoto RGB - ProPhoto RGB was created by Kodak and includes the largest range of colors within its color space. There is more luminance and vibrancy within the colors of ProPhoto RGB. (again, see photo below for comparison).

Image: GBallard/Photoshop

Image: GBallard/Photoshop

Which color space should you use?

Ok! So now that you have some idea of the various color spaces available, which one should you choose?? Sadly, there is no easy answer to this since it all depends on WHAT and HOW you use your photos. ProPhoto RGB includes the largest spectrum of colors, so it seems that would be the natural "best" choice, however, monitors, phones and even most commercial printers are not able to accommodate this color space. The "gold standard" of color space is sRGB so if you upload a photo using ProPhoto RGB color space to Facebook, Instagram or anywhere on the web, your monitor or device is going to convert your photo to sRGB to display and let's just say that's not going to be good because basically your monitor/device is going to change all of your colors to fit the sRGB space and all that time you spent editing and getting that "green" just perfect was wasted. Same thing goes for printing. If you edit and save your image in a different color space than your printing company, you image will likely be desaturated, muddy and totally not how you edited it. So it seems like you should use sRGB, right?? (Are you confused yet?).

Not exactly.

Here's what I do + why. My camera has two options when it comes to color space - sRGB and Adobe RGB. I have my camera set to capture images using the Adobe RGB color space so I can get the widest variety of colors possible in camera (remember - I shoot in RAW. If you are shooting in JPEG, your camera will likely default to sRGB). In both Lightroom and Photoshop, I edit using the largest color space possible (Lightroom uses Adobe RGB, I have Photoshop set to ProPhoto RGB) to ensure I am editing with the widest range of colors, and then convert my final image to sRGB before saving and uploading to the web or to a client gallery. If I am posting online or providing images for my client's to print, I want what others view or print, to match my edits exactly. By saving those files for sharing in sRGB, I can make sure the photos are pretty much identical.

If you use a professional printing company like Millers or H&H, just be sure to check what their recommended color space is for printing and save your files in that manner. 

How to change your program's color space

If you use Lightroom for all your editing, then you are already using the Adobe RGB color space. If you want to save your edited images as sRGB for sharing and local printing, then just be sure to save it as sRGB when exporting. 

If you edit in both Lightroom and Photoshop and go back and forth between the two, you will need to specific what color space you want the external editing program to use. You can see what you currently use by going to Lightroom - Preferences - External Editing.


To check or change your color space in Photoshop, go to Edit - Color Settings. 

And if you want to convert your color space to sRGB for sharing and posting online (or local printing), you will go to Edit - Convert to Profile, and then select sRGB. Since I convert all of my files for sharing and clients, I created an action for this step (check out this post to see how easy it is to create an action in Photoshop).

Whew! Color space can be kind of confusing altogether and I definitely don't know that I have the BEST understanding of it, but I have learned that sRGB is the most widely used color space and is likely the best option when uploading to websites, blogs or social media platforms. When it comes to printing, it's best to double check with your printing company and see what color space they recommend!