Making the Right Color Space Choice

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Most cameras also offer Color Space options that are different from a Color Balance setting that adjusts the color balance of the light you’re shooting in so that it appears neutral in color.

How I made this shot: The above photo was made at the San Diego Automotive Museum using a Canon EOS 50D and EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens with an exposure of 1/13 sec at f/4.5 and ISO 400. Color Space used was Adobe RGB; the Color Balance setting was Auto White Balance.

The Color Space options that are available in a DSLR or mirrorless camera’s custom settings are typically Adobe RGB and sRGB, so it seems simple, just pick one. But here’s the problem in a nutshell:

sRGB (Standard RGB) was created in 1999 and had a goal of producing color consistency between hardware devices. It defines a gamut* of colors that represents each color well and can be used by monitors, scanners, printers, and digital cameras. sRGB has been incorporated into most Web browsers to make sure the colors on Web pages match the color scheme of the operating system. Because of the color consistency it creates, most hardware devices that work with images now use it as the default setting. All of which sounds very inviting, doesn’t it.

Adobe RGB is designed for photographers whose work will appear in print and offers a broader range of colors than sRGB. If you want to really make yourself crazy, you can Google “sRGB vs. Adobe RGB” and read opinions about it from a wide range of viewpoints. Being a pragmatist, I suggest that you shoot some tests, make some prints, look at image on the web, especially your website, and then make up your mind. This is the kind of methodology that photographers used  back in the film days and it’s still valid today, even if the tools are a lot different.

*What’s a Gamut? In color reproduction, gamut represents a complete subset of colors that can be accurately represented under specific conditions, such as within a given color space or by a certain output device. Converting a digitized image to a different color space, typically alters its gamut, i.e, some of the colors in the original will be lost in the process.


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Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print but new copies are available for $21.88 or used copies for giveaway prices—less than three bucks—from Amazon, as I write this. Kindle version, for some reason, is really expensive.