Understanding Color Spaces: Why Your Photos Look Different in Photoshop

Have you ever opened a photo in Photoshop and found that the colors were dramatically different? This problem has to do with color spaces, a topic that every photographer needs to understand.

In one of my earliest sessions as a photographer, I noticed this issue. I was learning Photoshop and had to do some basic cleanup to a handful of images in my gallery. I remember going back through the final product and noticed that the colors were significantly different in each of the photos that I took into Photoshop. My subject’s skin suddenly had a green tint making her look sick. The images were unusable as is. As a new photographer, I had no idea what had happened. If you have had an issue similar to this before, then you need to learn about color spaces.

In this tutorial from photoshopCAFE, Colin Smith explains the basics of color spaces and what to do if an image is using the wrong one. One thing that did surprise me was how drastically the different options make your image appear. Smith shares a couple of his own examples side by side to show the effect that it has.

I also will add that if this topic is foreign to you, you should look into the differences between sRGB, AdobeRGB, and ProPhoto. These are the three primary color spaces you will come across. Once you find out what color space is best for you, you should then adjust your software’s settings accordingly. If you want to learn more, the video above is a great place to start.

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9 Comments

Alex Moan's picture

^Useful.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

This happens to me when i edit a photo in Lightroom and then go to photoshop, then i save the photo so i can go back to lightroom. When i return to lightroom the colors are completely different. What am i doing wrong?

I had the same issue. What I started doing was ALWAYS sticking with sRGB. Always. Only exception is if I am doing prints, and even then, I have a chat with my local print shop.

Sticking with sRGB solved all my woes.

Levi Keplar's picture

Joshua, if you want to set everything to sRGB follow this:

In Lightroom, go to Preferences, External Editing, and then under "Edit in Photoshop" set your color space to sRGB.

In Photoshop, go to Edit, Color Settings, and under Working Spaces set RGB to sRGB.

This should keep things consistent between the two. Hope that helps!

The real lesson is: don’t work on untagged images. If your images don’t have a profile the RGB numbers are mystery meat.

ProPhoto in lightroom and in photoshop then save as sRGB for web..

John D's picture

Viktor, I'm relatively new at some of the editing. I used to do this and then save to sRBG when exporting for posting to Flickr and Instagram, but I figured I didn't really know why I should be in ProPhoto first anyway. Can you help me understand why you start with ProPhoto?

John D's picture

Yes, but if your output is going to be to save to sRGB in the end, all those colors will go away again, right?