Lightroom Color Spaces: Everything You Need to Know

The post Lightroom Color Spaces: Everything You Need to Know appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew S. Gibson.

How to manage color spaces in Lightroom

Color space is a technical topic. Unfortunately, it’s also essential to every photographer’s workflow. If you want to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your images when editing and that you’re presenting your files so they look their best, you must have a basic understanding of color space. You must also understand how color spaces are used by your post-processing programs.

In this article, I explain – in simple terms! – how Lightroom handles color space, and I offer recommendations for how you can work with Lightroom to get top-notch results.

Let’s dive right in!

How Lightroom works

One of the key differences between Lightroom and Photoshop is the approach to color management. Once you’ve opened an image in Photoshop and moved past Adobe Camera Raw, you can choose Edit>Color Settings and set the color space independently.

Lightroom color spaces
The color options in Adobe Photoshop.

Lightroom works differently. When processing RAW files, Lightroom uses the ProPhoto RGB color space the whole time, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. The benefits of this method are:

  • Less color information is lost during the processing stage. ProPhoto RGB is the largest color space, so it is the optimal one to work in.
  • You can export multiple versions of the same photo, each with a different color space, if necessary.
  • No monitors or printers currently support the full ProPhoto RGB color space. However, if one of these devices does support ProPhoto RGB sometime in the future, then your photos will be ready for them.
  • Color management is greatly simplified. You don’t have to make any decisions about what color space to work in until you export your photos. This is the biggest advantage of all.

Therefore, when processing RAW files, Lightroom (and Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop) provides a large color gamut to work with the wide range of colors that digital sensors are capable of recording.

Note: Gamut is the term used to describe the range of color values that fit in a color space.

Exporting photos in Lightroom

Lightroom color spaces
This diagram shows the three common color spaces that Lightroom works with. Photo from Wikipedia.

When you export a photo in Lightroom, you’re not forced to use the ProPhoto RGB color space. Instead, the program gives you the choice of several different color spaces, including these three popular options:

  • ProPhoto RGB: As mentioned above, ProPhoto RGB is the largest of the color spaces. It roughly matches the range of colors that a digital camera sensor can capture.
  • Adobe RGB (1998): Adobe RGB (1998) is smaller than ProPhoto RGB but larger than sRGB. It roughly matches the color gamut of CMYK printers used to print books and magazines.
  • sRGB: sRGB is the smallest color space of the three. It represents the color space that most monitors are able to display.
Lightroom color spaces
When you export your files from Lightroom, you’re given a variety of color spaces to choose from.

Comparing color spaces

These two graphs show the colors my monitor is capable of displaying compared to the sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces:

Lightroom color spaces
The green triangle shows the sRGB color space. The red triangle shows my monitor’s color gamut. The two are nearly identical.
Lightroom color spaces
The purple triangle shows the Adobe RGB (1998) color space. The red triangle shows my monitor’s color gamut. My monitor can’t display all the colors within this color space; in fact, only a few high-end monitors can display all the colors within the Adobe RGB (1998) color space.

Once again, I’m going to display this diagram, which compares the ProPhoto RGB, Adobe RGB (1998), and sRGB color spaces. You can see that ProPhoto RGB is the largest by far:

Lightroom color spaces
Photo from Wikipedia.

Armed with this knowledge, here’s a guide to the color spaces you should select when exporting your photos from Lightroom:

sRGB: Use this color space when exporting photos to be displayed online, printed at most commercial labs, or printed with most inkjet printers. In short, if in doubt, use sRGB.

Adobe RGB (1998): Use this color space only if it’s requested. If you’re not sure, ask. If you’ve been asked to submit photos to a magazine, for example, then ask them which color space is required. It will probably be Adobe RGB (1998). Submitting photos to a stock library? Again, it will probably be Adobe RGB (1998). It’s the color space most likely to be used for commercial purposes.

You would also use this color space if you have an inkjet printer that utilizes the Adobe RGB (1998) color space or you are using a lab that accepts and prints photos with the Adobe RGB (1998) profile.

ProPhoto RGB: Use when exporting a photo file to be edited in another program such as Photoshop or a plug-in. The file should be exported as a 16-bit TIFF or PSD file. There is little point in using the ProPhoto RGB color space with 8-bit files, as they don’t contain enough bit depth to utilize the full color range.

Note: If you import a JPEG or TIFF file into Lightroom, the program uses the file’s embedded color profile. If there is no color profile attached, Lightroom assumes that it’s an sRGB file. If you choose an alternative color space when you export the file, Lightroom converts it to the chosen space.

Color spaces and compression

The reason that Lightroom uses a version of the ProPhoto RGB color space is that it doesn’t compress the colors captured by your camera’s sensor.

When you export a photo, if you select either the Adobe RGB (1998) or sRGB color space, Lightroom compresses the photo’s colors to match the chosen profile. That’s why selecting color space is best done as close to the end of the post-processing workflow as possible.

While Lightroom does its work within its version of the ProPhoto RGB color space, your monitor isn’t capable of displaying all those colors. Instead, your computer’s operating system uses the monitor profile to convert the colors to ones that your monitor is capable of displaying.

Note: All monitors have a color profile, regardless of whether they have been calibrated. But your monitor will only display color accurately if it has been properly calibrated. You can learn more about the calibration process in this article.

Exporting photos with Lightroom

To manually set the color space when exporting a photo in Lightroom, select the photo (or photos) you want to export, then choose the Export button:

Lightroom color spaces

Go to the File Settings section of the Export window and set your desired color space. If you select the ProPhoto RGB color space, make sure you set Bit Depth to 16 bits/component.

Lightroom color spaces

Transferring photos from Lightroom to Photoshop

To open a photo in Photoshop, right-click on the image and select Edit In>Edit In Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop will then open the photo using the color space indicated in Lightroom’s preferences.

To adjust this setting, go to Edit>Preferences and select the External Editing tab. Under Edit in Adobe Photoshop, set Color Space to ProPhoto RGB. You can choose another color space if you wish, but ProPhoto RGB is the best one to use.

Lightroom color spaces

Opening photos in plugins

To export a photo from Lightroom to a plugin, right-click on the image, choose Edit In, and select the plugin you want to use to open the photo.

In the Edit Photo window, if you select Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments (the only option available if you are exporting a RAW file), you will be able to select which color space you want to use. The menu might be hidden under the Copy File Options label:

Lightroom color spaces

Again, go with ProPhoto RGB for the best results.

Lightroom color spaces

If you are exporting a JPEG or TIFF file, Lightroom gives you the option of selecting Edit a Copy or Edit Original in the Edit Photo window. If you choose either of these, the option to select a color space is grayed out and Lightroom opens the photo in the plug-in using the embedded color profile.

But if you select Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments, you can select any color space. Lightroom will then convert the photo to that color space when it opens the photo in the plugin.

Manage your color spaces effectively in Lightroom

Confused? I hope not, because color management in Lightroom is very simple. It’s essential to calibrate your monitor, but after you’ve done that, Lightroom takes care of all color-related issues for you until you export your photos.

And then, when you are ready to export files, it’s just a matter of selecting the appropriate color space based on the recommendations I shared.

Now over to you:

How do you feel about color spaces in Lightroom? Do you have any advice that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The post Lightroom Color Spaces: Everything You Need to Know appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew S. Gibson.

The post Lightroom Color Spaces: Everything You Need to Know appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew S. Gibson. Color space is a technical topic. Unfortunately, it’s also essential to every photographer’s workflow. If you want to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your images when editing and that…

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