What Is Color Space and Which One Should You Use?

Do you know and understand the different options of color spaces you can use for photography? Did you know you could set up to the camera to shoot in one mode versus the other? Why does this matter to you as a photographer? Well, if you are not familiar with color space and how it pertains to you, you should watch this video.

Peter McKinnon's latest two-minute Tuesday video is a quick dive into color space, which one you should use, and how to set up your camera and files to the correct one. He does go over the two-minute mark, but the information is very useful and you can spare four minutes to understand the difference between the color spaces and which one you should be using.

If you are shooting in JPG, you should change your camera settings to make sure you are shooting in the correct color space you want, but if you are shooting in raw, McKinnon shows you change your color space using Lightroom and Photoshop. If you use both, you might want to check to make sure they are both set up to the same color space and they are not having to convert between each program. If you are using Capture One for your image processing, you can change your color space under the Recipe section under ICC Profile while exporting. You can jump over to Capture One's website and scroll down to the "specifying color space" section to review the steps.

For those of you who didn't know about color space before, were you using the wrong one before this?

Alex Ventura's picture

Staff writer Alex Ventura is a professional photographer based out of the Houston area that specializes in automotive and glamour with the occasional adventures into other genres. He regularly covers automotive related events for Houston Streets & Spekture with some publications in the United States.

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Good advice! This happened to me years back. One day I got a text that said something to the affect of "dude, your pictures look like shit online, just fyi man". I knew he was on to something because he's a brutally honest type. I checked but didn't notice anything particular (besides my lame shots), so I chalked it up to my less than stellar photography (less than stellar than it is currently). Long story short, my setting in LR was on ProPhoto RGB and interestingly it was only looking like shit on certain devices and tablets... So when he saw it he was like, "wtf is this?", but I was seeing something different.

Oh, and absolutely no shade on Peter whatsoever, just FYI that on some Canon's the Color Space setting is in the first menu, and second sub-menu, all the way down... Probably his point was that it's in the first menu, so I might need a mulligan on this comment.

Great share, thank you!

Lightroom will use ProRGB with raw files and Photoshop shuld be set to use the same if used with Lightroom. Lightroom will print from ProRGB. Web files should be exported as SRGB.

Unless you're printing to a custom ink printer, you should be in sRGB for web or CMYK for print when you retouching and color correcting your images. Retouching in AdobeRGB for print is problematic, although for some product work, like shooting art, can be useful but can still get you into trouble when you whittle your file down into CMYK. Profoto is a complete joke, don't get me started on that.

I've been dealing with this problem for decades (yes, even in the photo-optical era), especially when a client is at a studio where they shoot a product and they show them a beautiful shot in AdobeRGB, the client loves it and approves it, only for it to go to shit when it converts to CMYK. The client then starts blaming either the retoucher (in this case, me) or the agency for screwing the image up. It is a very unscrupulous and deceptive practice of many studios to do this, in my view. We had one photographer flat out refuse to show the client a CMYK version of the shot in their studio when I told the art director to request that on site.

Does not the printing industry have advanced rip software to do the converting to CMYK format? I would expect most files that goes to print is sRGB?

The problem is the gamut, it just doesn't covers a lot of colors. If you're given an ad shot in a cobalt blue motif, for example, you're screwed.

Too often we forget that there are many CMYK spaces, not one single space for print. So, when speaking about going to print, we should consider from what RGB space we are going to convert an image into what CMYK space. For example AdobeRGB matches quite nicely Coated Fogra 39 CMYK, so if a printer conforms to that standard, then we should get solid match. But the problem is that printing service providers too often just fail to meet the standard. Sticking with sRGB doesn't solve the problem, in the end we just get less color mismatches than when going from larger gamuts, because sRGB has lower gamut from the start. And desktop photo inkjet printers are yet another story, as they usually use more than four inks, so they have larger gamut and again, AdobeRGB could match them more than sRGB... Of course there are some RGB colors that never convert to CMYK due to physical differences between those spaces, but reliable designer/photographer should know about it and inform the client about what is and what is not possible when going for print...