Color space matters. It matters when making a print. It really matters when posting on the Internet.

What is color space?

Color space is the working color that is set either when the photo is made in the camera or while it is being edited in Photoshop, Lightroom or a stand-alone editor like Luminar. Color space represents all of the colors a camera sees, a printer prints or a web browser displays.

Common color spaces

The following are the most common color spaces from the one that sees the most colors to the one that shows the fewest.

  • ProPhoto RGB created by Kodak to show all possible colors in Ektachrome film. ProPhoto RGB is the largest photographic digital color space. Lightroom works in a version of ProPhoto RGB.
  • Adobe RGB (1998) encompasses the CMYK color space used for printing presses. It is larger than sRGB
  • sRGB developed in 1996 by Microsoft and Hewlett Packard (HP) for tube type color monitors. It is referred to as standard RGB. It is the only color space to use on the web. Printing press companies and most photo labs use sRGB.

Color spaces in cameras

Typically, our cameras offer color spaces. These are usually either sRGB or Adobe RGB (1998). Choosing one of these only works on camera-produced JPEGs. RAW files have no color space. When a file of pixels is generated from a RAW processor a color space is assigned.

sRGB rocks the web

ProPhoto RGB (left image) looks just plain awful when it’s posted on the internet.

Working color space

Personally, I edit in the ProPhoto color space. It supports the most colors available digitally so it just makes sense to me. Here’s why — over time, the quality and number of colors that can be displayed on a monitor or printed on an inkjet printer have gone up. Today, many monitors and some printers can show or reproduce more colors than sRGB has in it. Editing in ProPhoto RGB means that my files will have the most possible colors for reproduction. It also means that when a ProPhoto device, monitor, printer or browser becomes available, I won’t have to re-edit my photographs to take advantage of the increased number of colors.

Converting color spaces

Lightroom saves photos in a flavor of ProPhoto RGB unless it’s told otherwise. Photoshop’s standard color space is sRGB due to the predominance of printing presses that have standardized on CMYK from sRGB. Let’s begin in Lightroom then move on to Photoshop.


Color space conversion in Lightroom takes place in the Export dialog. Highlight the photos you want to use. Click the Export button in the lower left-hand side of the Library module. When the dialog opens, choose File Settings > Format > Color Space. Select the color space you want then click Export.

Changing color space when exporting in Lightroom

There is one more way to manage color spaces in Lightroom. That’s from the Print module. Set the Print Job sidebar to Print to: JPEG File. In the Color Management section click on the double-headed triangles and choose the color space.

Setting Photoshop’s working color space

This can get complicated. Keeping it simple means not explaining everything in the Color Settings dialog. Go to Edit > Color Settings… Change the working space to ProPhoto RGB. Click on Save… on the right edge of the dialog. Name your working space.

Photoshop’s default color settings are on the left. I work in ProPhoto RGB so my RGB working space is set to ProPhoto RGB. That is the only change.

Converting a color space in Photoshop

Check which color space a file is using by looking at the bottom left corner next to the viewing percentage. If it doesn’t show a color profile, click the disclosure symbol and choose Document Profile from the menu.

For a photo going on the web, the color space must be sRGB. The example above is in ProPhoto RGB. The 8bpc notation tells that the file is in 8-bits. Convert this one to sRGB by going to Photoshop’s menu Edit > Convert to Profile… The dialog shows the Source Space and the Destination Space. Choose the new profile for the destination from the drop-down.

It’s not hard to do. It is hard to remember. Now, when one of your photos looks wonky on the web, you know what is wrong and how to fix it.