Embrace your inner sRGB
Do you spend hours creating vibrant, colorful photos in Photoshop or Lightroom, only to have them appear dingy and lifeless when you post them online? If this is a problem for you, it may be your color space. Read on!
Misunderstanding Photography Advice
Like you, after I’ve spent a ton of time and effort on my master works of art, I like to share them online. Maybe I’ll post them at my Facebook page for my friends and family to ogle, or post them as products at my Zazzle store. But every time, I am disappointed at the drabness I see. The colors I worked so hard to create simply wink out of existence. What’s wrong? Is it my internet personality? (I assure you, no amount of counseling will cure my photo editing problems.)
So I started thinking about my childhood. Ok, my photography childhood, which began when I was 35. Back then, I read everything I could from the best photography websites and took it all as gospel. Everyone said the same thing – if you want to print great photos, you should save your files in the Adobe RGB color space. (Note that the operative word is PRINT.) Thou shalt not use sRGB. Ever. I dutifully set both Lightroom and Photoshop to work in Adobe RGB, snobbily gloating at all of the poor fools who were still using sRGB. My mistake!
Fast-forward to a few years later, after I posted countless glorious photos that appeared more faded than my stone-washed jeans from the ’80s. As I was perusing the rules of Zazzle, a strange thing caught my eye. It said they preferred sRGB for submissions. And I said to myself, “What? Don’t they know anything about colorspace? sRGB has like 8 colors! And Adobe RGB has 10 billion zillion colors! I know, because I read that somewhere!” But I wanted to give Zazzle what they wanted, so I took one of my Adobe RGB photos and changed it sRGB. And an amazing thing happened.
First of all, I want to remind you how to do that if you’ve forgotten. I’m using Photoshop CS5, so you may have to do something slightly different.
1. Open a file in Photoshop
2. Edit->Assign Profile
3. Switch back and forth from Adobe RGB to sRGB
Note that the sRGB looks quite different than the Adobe RGB version. If you’ve been working in Adobe RGB, then sRGB will definitely work worse. I believe this is exactly what happens when I post a picture to the internet. I send it out in breathtaking Adobe RGB, and it ends up as mind-numbingly dull sRGB.
But…wait a minute…you said…
So why on Earth am I telling you to ’embrace your inner sRGB?’ Because this is exactly what the internet EXPECTS when you post a picture. Adobe RGB is simply too fancy for some internet sites. Notably Facebook, Zazzle, and Pixoto to name a few. There are other ways to get around this problem, but I have found it is simply easier to work in the sRGB color space to begin with. Then no conversion takes place, and the picture looks exactly the way I intended for it to look. Maybe some people will argue that the Adobe RGB color space (or even better, ProPhoto) will give you a better looking picture when you print. That may be true if you own a much more expensive printer than mine. And on the rare occasion I do print, I can flip back to the Adobe RGB space. But currently my work is completely internet based, so I am going to stick with sRGB.
So how do YOU do it?
I want to leave you with my workflow, so you can see one way to make sure you are working in sRGB. I import all my photos into Lightroom 4 first. When I am happy with how they look, I go to File->Export. Under File Settings, I make sure it is set to sRGB. Then my files will always end up in the sRGB colorspace when I open them in Photoshop.
When Photoshop opens the file, it may give you a choice:
If you choose ‘Use the embedded color profile’ then you can continue to edit the photo as an sRGB file. If you convert the document’s colors to the working space, it will put you in whatever Photoshop is set up to do, perhaps Adobe RGB. This is what we don’t want, at least if you are doing what I am recommending.
So I hope that clears up a few things about color space on the internet. Please feel free to ask questions or correct my faux pases. I don’t know everything, but if you ask the right question, I might just know something!