sRGB vs Adobe RGB vs ProPhoto RGB – Color Spaces Explained

colour blocksYou might have sometimes noticed that the colors of a photo you export and upload on the web look off your monitor. A sure reason for this effect is the Color Space of the picture. Color Spaces form some of the most essential parts of photography and apply to every photo captured in some way or the other.

The most commonly-used color spaces are sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB. A basic understanding of what these color spaces are and how they work is necessary to get your color management fundamentals right and result in high-quality prints of your artistic photographs. In this post, we explain the most-used color spaces and see what makes them so important.

What are sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB?
These are three of the most frequently used color spaces in photography. Moreover, Color Spaces is a rather simple term used to mean a container – a set of colors. Consider, for example, that you have two colors and a white canvas, your color space is simply the colors you can create using the two paints.

This also covers painting lightly to show some of the white canvas. You can think of color spaces as a set of all the colors people can envision. sRGB’s color gamut makes only 35% of the visible colors as specified by CIE Lab Color Space.

The standardized RGB color space, sRGB is created to provide a standard working space for different types of display units including television, printers, monitors and cameras. sRGB is introduced by co-operation of Microsoft and HP as the standard working color space to ensure consistency of colors across devices. It is the default color space and makes the color-reproduction process easier. sRGB offers a common working space and allows creating acceptable results even when color management is not considered.

sRGB has the smallest gamut of colors meaning it has a comparatively smaller range of colors to work with despite being accepted as the standardized working space. It is the right working space for digital photographs viewed on monitors or to be uploaded to the web.

Adobe RGB
Introduced by Adobe, Adobe RGB is the working color space with a wider gamut than sRGB. It makes about 50 percent of the visible colors as specified by CIE. Adobe RGB is known to extend the color capabilities of sRGB to create rich greens and cyans. This color space was particularly created for photographers as it allows reproducing accurate colors in their prints. Though the color gamut of Adobe RGB is wider than the display capabilities of popular display units, some modern inkjet printers support the Adobe RGB gamut to make it possible outputting them.

ProPhoto RGB
Developed by Kodak, ProPhoto RGB was intended to provide a bigger ground to the photographers when they reproduce true colors. This color space encompasses 100 percent of the visible colors in real life. Its color gamut extends beyond the visible range specified by CIE. While sRGB and Adobe RGB represent the visual color ranges, ProPhoto RGB covers a set of imaginary colors too.

The wider gamut of colors utilized by ProPhoto RGB makes it possible to retain optimum data your camera captures. When you use ProPhoto RGB as your working color space, you can rest assure that all the original colors are present in the image without any conversion or remapping even though you cannot see the color range on the display unit. There are no monitors or printers capable of outputting this color space. Thus, it is recommended that you convert to the target color space before using an image in the medium of your choice. If your printer is capable of printing in something beyond Adobe RGB range, it is a nice idea to use ProPhoto RGB to retain the photo’s original colors.

sRGB Vs Adobe RGB Vs ProPhoto RGB – Which is the Best?
Each of the three working spaces has its own unique attributes making it suitable for some particular medium. The question is which color space you should use. While selecting Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB enables the photographer to retain and recreate the color information in the output as in the original image, sRGB clips the information to standard RGB.

Firstly, it is a fact that you should consider exporting photos to the internet or clients in sRGB to view them well on computer monitors which use color spaces resembling sRGB space. sRGB images look less bad when viewed using an app without color management. If you interpret a ProPhoto image on a non-color-managed program with such a monitor, it would appear to be low contrast and dull. So it is advisable to export in sRGB for client and web photos.

Next, it is not a good idea to use sRGB for editing photos. This would lead to color clipping for no reason. However, don’t forget to convert images to sRGB when uploading to the web. Lastly, don’t allow an Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB image to go out into the world. This is an essential step to include in any photography workflow.

ProPhoto RGB is an ideal working color space for most images. When editing an image in ProPhoto RGB, you reduce the risk of unnecessary color clipping. You should be careful not to send or publish a ProPhoto image. If your working space is ProPhoto RGB, you might save an image to this space accidentally. But if somebody sees the file in an application without color management, it will be seen as dull and strange. Therefore, it is a big mistake to send your clients a collection of ProPhoto RGB photos. They would, at some time or the other, open the pictures on any old application with no color management to get the impression that you have ruined the entire photo session. This is true for Adobe RGB to some extent. Though the colors will not look so bad on most monitors, you should avoid using this color space too. Always export in sRGB!

If you have a monitor or printer with wide-gamut, Adobe RGB can be useful. If your client has such a system in place and requests the files in Adobe RGB, you can do that. This is a good way to get the output in a better-looking appearance and to get the print matching the original image.

Many photographers don’t understand the meaning and applications of sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB. It is actually one of the lesser-comprehended topics though highly important. But with this tutorial, you should have a good understanding of it and should be able to avoid the mistakes about using the right color spaces.

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