Santa Fe New Mexico Family and Children Photographer – David Moore» Blog Archive » Color management – an intro to an intro

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This is the photography blog for photographer and writer David Moore. He's based in Santa Fe, New Mexico but speaks with a funny accent.


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    December 22nd, 2007

    Color management – an intro to an intro

    7 StarsI must confess to have been only vaguely aware of the wide differences in the way colours are displayed online – until recently. Or rather, I was aware of the differences from testing sites in different OS and browser combinations, but I was only vaguely concerned – Macs’ 1.8 gamma meant a difference from PC’s 2.2, and every now and again in my work as a web designer, I’d get a photo to edit that had a colour profile attached, but that was it.

    And I was partly right about this – unlike the print design world, where color profiles for monitors, printers and the like are carefully controlled, and there’s a real struggle to get color matching as right as it can be, in the online world, we have to be a little more flexible.

    Almost all of our audience wouldn’t know a calibrated monitor if it ate their lunch, and most browsers (the programs, not the people) are a sorry bunch that don’t support color management anyway. It’s a sRGB world, for better or worse. Or so I thought.

    Aperture to Flickr? Kind of

    Until I started uploading photos from Aperture to Flickr, and noticing that Firefox was rendering them with much less saturation than Safari. A little bit of digging and I found myself at the start of a slippery slope: Safari being one of the few browsers that supports color profiles was displaying the photo pretty much as I saw it in Aperture, because it was reading the profile embedded in the image. Firefox was throwing away the profile and showing it in sRGB which wasn’t that great for me.

    It was a simple adjustment to make sure that I’m sRGB all the way when I’m preparing material for online use, since I need to make sure my monitors display roughly what most of my web design audience are looking at, while also feeling like I have some control on how my photos will display (which again, is mostly on screen).

    But why bring this up now? Partly because as I do more photography, I get more concerned about my photos being as accurately represented as possible (especially when it comes to any adjustments I’m making: it might look great on my screen, but that’s useless if everyone else sees it as cack). But also because of Apple’s announcement of Safari for Windows – which does support color profiles.

    Why I shoot in Adobe RGB

    One other element in all this is that you can choose the color space your camera uses for its RAW or JPG files. I used to use sRGB, for simplicity’s sake, but swapped to Adobe RGB recently. This may sound counter-intuitive, but Adobe RGB has a wider gamut than sRGB – meaning it captures more colors.

    So if you’re ever going to print your shots (and you will), having the shots in Adobe RGB will give you the best quality possible. And don’t you want to have that option, even if most of the time you’re using your pictures online.

    Safari to Windows

    John Nack has a great analysis of this complex topic – with very useful comments – but the upshot (for me) seems to be that I can stick to sRGBing any photos that come my way for online use, especially if I’m using colors from them in the design – CSS 2 only understands sRGB; however, if I want to reflect as closely as possible the photographer’s intent, I can embed the ICC profile and the Safari-users of the world will pick up the profile.

    But I won’t do that, because it seems that in all the other browsers, this could result in the picture looking further away from what was intended.

    All this stuff makes my head hurt. Up until now, I’ve breezed my way through this getting ‘close enough’. But I’m not sure I can keep doing that, so this entry represents a start on me understanding this complex but necessary part of digital photography.


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