Color Profiles Revisited

I just got back from a workshop where the topic of Color Profiles came up and light bulb went off in my brain. Maybe that is why learning is called enlightenment.  Back to the subject of profiles; the ones I have most often have used are sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998).  At the workshop ProPhoto RGB was discussed and recommended for photographic images.

Just what is a Color Profile you may be asking.  It is a set of numbers (data) that allows you to define characteristics of how color on a device will be handled and /or the range of colors that will be displayed or printed. It is an important aspect of color management and an integral part of displaying or printing your imagery.  Below lists some of the main color profiles we use today along with information on when to use them.

sRGB is probably the most widely known and used profile with the most limited color range. It is my understanding most browser (but not all) on the internet display images in this profile. If you ever upload an image to the web without that color profile your work may look rather dull or muted.

Adobe RGB (1998) displays a wider color gamut than sRGB and is often the industry standard for printers and displays.  This is the profile I have historically assigned to my images.

ProPhoto RGB color space was originally developed by Kodak and also known as ROMM RGB.  It offers a very large gamut of color range and capable of capturing more detail especially in saturated colors. It does have its drawbacks though and appropriate for use on 16 bit files only. It is not recommended for 8 bit images.

My workflow is to capture in RAW, where no color profile is assigned yet. I process using Adobe Bridge and in ACR will be now assigning ProPhoto RGB during that process. Prior to printing, I will be converting to Adobe RGB and prior to uploading anything to the web I will be converting to sRGB. The theory it is best to capture and store the widest color possible, especially with the rapid development in technology. This way you have the data for the future when the technology is here.

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Color Profiles

This week I have been wrestling with Color Profiles and Photoshop’s CS5.

Now, my typical workflow is to shoot in RAW, my camera set to Adobe RGB Color Profile.  From what I have read there is a greater color gamut using this profile and my current thought process is more is always better.  My software of choice is  Adobe Bridge, Photoshop’s CS5 along with plugins from Nik and Topaz. I save my files as layered TIFF and prior to uploading to the web, I will re-size, convert to sRGB  and save as jpgs. For some of my  prints, or commercial print projects I often need to convert my files to CMYK.  This workflow has served me well over the last several years.

However, I have just been working on a batch on images and I noticed many of my Tiff files have the sRGB profile as their Working and/or Embedded Color Space.  Initially I wasn’t sure how this happen, thus it motivated me spend time researching more about color profiles.

Now I am by no means a techie person, so I try to decipher things down to simplistic concepts that I can easily remember. Like most photographers I am the happiest behind the camera in my creative zone.  I am however aware of the importance of a calibrated monitor,  printer and selecting correct printer paper profiles and  I do this to the best of my ability. But now I am looking at embedded profiles and working color spaces, what is this all about??

After doing several hours of reading, I found out a few core things that have helped clarify my mind on this subject.

Now we all  know color is defined by numbers and a Color Profile is how color’s numerical value visually appear, however, I didn’t know that a Raw file has no Color Profile and any type of profile is pretty much device specific.

The Working Space defines what color profile is used in the different color models such as RGB and  CMYK. These profiles are specified in the Color Settings Dialog Box in Photoshop (Edit  > Settings) and provides the info for an embedded profile.  Mine was set to sRGB causing the previously mentioned problem.

The Embedded Color Profile is the numeric value a monitor or internet browser uses to display colors and often they display in sRGB, especially the internet.  It is embedded in the image when an image is saved.  The data for the embedded profile comes from either EXIF data captured when your image was taken or what is in your Color Settings Dialog Box in Photoshop if a Raw file is launched into Photoshop without using an interface software program, such as Bridge Camera Raw.

In Photoshop, once you have established your parameters to the Color Settings Dialog Box,  you have the option to use the command Convert To Profile to change an Embedded Color Profile. You can even convert an entire folder easily using the Image Processor. Choose File > Scripts > Image Processor. Another handy tool is the  Assign Profile, which allows you to view how colors in an image will look with a different profile, but this is not an effective way to change an Embedded Profile.

Below is a link to an interesting read about the subject from someone who knows far more than me. I also found some useful information on Adobe’s website.

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