Best Color Space to Work In
What color space should I be working in? When we capture an image, what is the best way to deal with that image from the get-go? Do we want to work in sRGB? After that brief explanation, maybe not so much because we know that sRGB has a fairly small color space. Do I want to work in say Adobe RGB? Is Adobe RGB a good color space? It's bigger than sRGB, would you agree? Yeah, but is it good enough? Or do we want to work in Pro Photo RGB? This is the starting point, understanding where we set our cameras to from the very, very start and how that information is translated across is imperative in having success in color management and the full workflow around that. Let's have a look at what a real-life scenario looks like in color management. We have just a portrait of a child here, just a plain portrait, which I then take into Lightroom. Simple adjustments and I've included this slide to show you that we're not doing anything fancy to the file in any way, shape, or form. Just highlights, ...
a little bit of shadows, change the color temperature because we wanted the skin to appear a little bit warmer, little bit of a contrast curve, and that's it. Now, we're working in Lightroom. Lightroom is my favorite starting point with any image. What you're seeing is the Pro Photo RGB color space. So it maps these images in the biggest color space possible. It is huge. Because you've got to understand that color images, or raw files, we'll talk a bit about this in the next section, but raw files don't have a color attached to them when you shoot them in your camera. We need to be able to assign a destination space to these files, so the best destination space to assign would most likely be the biggest one. I'm going to just jump out of this Keynote and load this image into a bit of software called ColorThink here on my laptop. ColorThink is a bit of software that allows me to basically extract the unique colors of an image and map them on this LAB axis. Three-dimensionally, we've extracted all of the colors and this is processed out of Lightroom and this is what the camera has actually captured. There is a lot of color, there is a lot of information. I'm going to put my glasses on because part of color management is all about being serious with your glasses and also the fact that I'm blind and can't see, but that's another story. We look at the colors that we've captured and we map that against a color space like sRGB. Let's have a look at sRGB here. There's sRGB, but what's happening over here? Around the outside there we're starting to get little bits of information peeping through, you seeing that? When you look at it, and on the side as well. We've got color poking out the side there and we've got color poking out of the top, so if we said to ourselves we just want to work in sRGB, well we're working in a color space that is smaller than what our cameras are actually capturing, so that's not a good way to start things off, is it? Just working in sRGB is not really good. Let's go then down the road of Adobe RGB. It is bigger. I agree, you all agree, bigger color space. It's brought in a lot of the reds from the top, but have a look at that, see that little bit sticking out still, outside there? It still hasn't been contained in the Adobe RGB color space, so even converting to an Adobe RGB color space, you are pushing some of those colors in. Granted that, this just being a portrait, you don't have a lot of colors that are outside that gamut to be able to bring in, so Adobe RGB is a good option, certainly a lot better than working in say the sRGB color space. Then of course if we compare that to our monster at the very end, well this one here is really, let's reduce to opacity of that, so you can see it. There it is; every little bit of color has been contained in that. This basically is how Lightroom works, which is why I love Lightroom so much. It takes the data and what you're seeing is the Pro Photo RGB and the color management side of running Lightroom, which we'll see a little bit later on, is very simple. In fact, you don't have to do anything to it, you launch Lightroom and there it is. It maps everything that you've seen in a Pro Photo RGB color space and that is how Lightroom works and that is what we see. Where we start to run into problems is destinations from that point, where we do take that beautiful information out of Lightroom and we go, "I want to create and 8-bit JPEG in sRGB "and then I'm going to edit it in Photoshop." It's not going to work. It's not going to be a road to great results is what I'm trying to say because we're throwing a lot of the color away, we're then going to do further editing, we are then working in 8-bits, we're losing a lot of that fine color information, so we need to make decisions. It's about doing as much as we possibly can to color and tone in Lightroom and working with it as much as we can, and then maybe either going to say an Adobe sRGB color space or even working in Pro Photo RGB. We'll talk about destination spaces a little bit later on. Taking something that's quite small is an sRGB color space and then of course working with that huge gamut of color of the Adobe and the Pro Photo RGB. Now the sRGB color space originally came about when CRT monitors were first being used for color, like the old Sony Tinitrons and all that sort of stuff, and basically it was a color space that closely matched what the monitor was capable of back then. But it's kind of stuck, the web runs pretty much on sRGB and that's the way that most displays work, but we need to take control of that, we don't just have to accept it. We need to be able to work with it, we need to be able to manipulate color, and we need to be very careful about where we end up with our images and our color. In a nutshell, what we do is we work in the biggest color space that we possibly can and we work with it. We create a master file in that particular color space, and that becomes your master. Then we go to a destination color space, depending on what we're doing and depending on what we're printing, like the first question when you're printing to an external bureau is something like, "What color space do you need my images in?" Some bureaus will ask you, "I want them in sRGB," in which case you will convert those colors, you will convert them to the destination space, but you work with that color and you'll make the conversion accordingly to fit within what the lab wants you to actually produce. If you're printing yourself, it's about understanding how those color numbers translate onto that particular piece of paper and not so much about converting because you're not really converting when you're printing yourself because you can take that beautiful information and map it within the space of what the color that the printer has actually been able to produce for a particular paper and ink combination. That's a lot to take in at the start, but understanding color is the crucial part of understanding printing and understanding how post-reduction works and getting colors they way you want them to look and getting good results. Once we understand color now, in the next couple segments we're going to see how we manage that color to make sure we have color consistency, which is good. Drew, some questions maybe on this topic?
We do, yeah. And you guys be thinking about your questions here in the studio too. Gordon asked: "Is it best workflow practice to start out "with every image as if you're going to make a printed "version of a raw image in 16-bit Pro Photo RGB TIFF "and then make a copy of that, "that can be 8-bit sRGB JPEGs for the internet?" Is that a good workflow?
That is a good workflow. In fact, the workflow really happens all out of Lightroom, and we'll talk about that a little bit later in this course, but Lightroom becomes your central hub of everything you do because you're working in such a big color space and then you go from destinations. I know with myself, with Lightroom, I will do color adjustments and the likes and then I might do an sRGB 8-bit JPEG output to preview with my clients because I know that if I give them an sRGB color space, their domestic monitor at home can handle the colors a lot better and they'll see something close resembling to what I'm seeing, so that is one destination. Then there is a destination of the fine art HD printing, that perhaps I'm doing with my album company, in which case then I will still maintain a Pro Photo RGB color space in TIFF, export those, work them and do whatever I need to do, save the master files. Then with those, I import those back into Lightroom, and then once again I've got retouched master files and then I can go into maybe Adobe RGB, if my manufacturer wants that, and with the graphic product I'm using now, which is HD fine art printing, I can print the Adobe RGB color space, in which I'll give them that, an Adobe RGB JPEG that I've created, and it's beautiful and it contains all that beautiful color. Or if I'm doing my own printing and I'm creating stuff like this, then I'll have my 16-bit Pro Photo RGB master file and I'll go directly from this to my preferred paper stock that will best suit that image. That is the work around, but Lightroom does become your friend, it becomes the center of your universe when we start talking about managing images.
Very good. We're getting a lot of questions about raw files and specific color spaces. This is one is: "A raw file has a specific color space, "in other words, when I shoot only in raw "I need to select an Adobe RGB or sRGB in camera?" Do you do that in camera? Do you do that in the software?
We're actually going to deal with that question in the next segment.
Okay, so stay tuned (laughs).
But, stay tuned, you'll see why it is important to set your color space in your camera, but not for the reason you think it is. So stay tuned because that's coming up.
If you work with a Pro Photo color space, but you see that photo on your monitor, and I assume, I don't believe there's any Pro Photo monitors yet, how do you see those colors that are not displayed by the monitor even though you have those colors in your file?
The thing is, unless you're shooting like very saturated, underwater photography kind of images where you have really saturated blues and cyans, remember we talked about that gamut, let's bring that up. That's a very, very good question, you know. Let's bring this up. Here is the Pro Photo RGB color space and you've got colors that are outside what we can see, what we can see. Those colors, no, you will never, ever see those. No monitor could ever display those. But when you think about the image of the boy here, that was pretty much contained in the Adobe RGB color space and there are monitors that can display the Adobe RGB color space. What we don't want to do, regardless of what our monitor is displaying, because we know monitors have limitations, we want to know that the file has the color that we want to have in it because that color is going to be crucial at the printing stage. The way we manage that color and we bring it into color space when we do the conversions, and then later on in this course we'll talk about rendering intents, perceptual, relative colorimetric, these are all words that we need to become familiar with, that is also important. But no monitor can see the Pro Photo RGB, and not even our eyes can see Pro Photo RGB.
So when you're shooting raw, you don't have a color space, it's just there. Then you transmit it to the monitor and the monitor you choose, Pro Photo, Adobe, or sRGB. Is it fair to say then that when you're going to paper, papers kind of have their own color space in a way?
So you have an Adobe RGB color space, does your paper have an Adobe RGB capability to print, to keep the integrity of all the colors you worked so hard to maintain?
Absolutely. Because you saw earlier in the example where I showed you the Pro Photo RGB space and then I showed you a paper profile that was a custom profile for a particular stock of paper that actually could print colors outside of this incredible big color space, especially in the greens, for this particular paper stock. So, definitely. Some paper gamuts and ink combinations are certainly larger than others and different custom profiles can encompass a lot more of that color volume, which is why you'd custom profile your printer paper combinations to get more of that color.
So which category of papers would you say have probably the biggest color space (laughs), in a way?
I think you're looking at always your coated stocks of paper, like your baryta kind of papers, like that was an example of Canson Platine, being able to achieve extreme blacks, extreme color saturation that it can handle, beautiful clean lights. There is a certain appearance to that type of coated stock, art stock, that is quite beautiful and having the ability to handle this incredible amount of color. When you then look at the matte papers, I know we've discussed this before as far as different papers doing different things, but the matte papers, the color gamut is still big, but not quite as big. But because, when we're working images, we don't really know at the end of the day where we're going to print and what sort of stock we're printing on, whether we're printing it through a commercial bureau or whether we're printing it ourselves, so we want to make sure that we deal with that color, that huge color, as much as we possibly can. We want to maintain it, we want to treasure it, we want to protect it, and then we make the decision of where that color goes. With printing bureaus, and labs, and album manufacturers, they will give you a specific color space that they want you to supply the files in, which is a good thing because they're telling you, "The papers that we're printing on "are capable of this gamut." And most commercial papers for commercial printing do work around sort of an sRGB color space, that is what the machine can print. Then you go into fine art HD printing, with the graphic books, that can actually print the Adobe RGB color space, giving you more saturated color, giving you incredible depth in these images and they will ask you, "Give me the Adobe RGB color space." But what happens is, you can send an sRGB file and print it on a wide gamut machine like this HD fine art printing, and that's okay, but you can't go the other way where you send an Adobe RGB file that's huge into an sRGB machine because then colors have to be converted and then you're allowing the machine to convert those colors, and it doesn't always do a good job, we have to make that decision. The destination space is always a question that you need to ask. For ourselves, as far as doing fine art printing at home and in our studio, we can work with the color any which way we see fit. Working in the biggest color space is the best option because from there we can then manipulate the colors to fit within a color space, or we can see how those colors are going to be mapped on paper with tools like soft proofing, which we'll discuss a little bit later in this course. Soft proofing is one of the biggest things when it comes to printing and seeing how a particular device is going to interpret that color. The amazing thing is that the minute you start talking about color management, I knew this would happen, you open up this can of worms and everything comes out. It's wonderful because everything that we've talked about and everyone's concerns, these are all things that we're going to deal with over the duration of this course. Beginning of course with how we deal with color at the capture stage and how we move forward from that point on, so there's a lot of pieces that will come together for this incredible jigsaw puzzle that will make sense by the end. But, this section was all about understanding how color works and how we look at color and color spaces because a lot of people don't know. I've asked photographers before, "What space are you working in?" And they've been photographing for years and don't know what a color space is. "I don't know, I've never set Photoshop up. "I don't know, what should it be set to?" Because they've opened Photoshop and they started working and chances are Photoshop was just set to sRGB. These problems are always creeping in. I remember in the day when the big change came in the late 90's, early 2000, where we went from printing analog to printing digital. When you had to print analog, I mean my background was in the lab so I printed color, I printed black and white, and even then in those days we had color problems. We had color problems because mainly due to chemistry and how we control chemistry to get a consistent result each and every time. Even with negatives we used to do densitometer testing and all that sort of stuff, but there was a process in managing the color. Usually if the color went bad it was because the chemistry was bad. We threw all that away in the digital world, and the first thing we did and the first thing I did was learn color management because I needed to know how these pixels were going to be translated onto a page. Photographers did that because back in there was no Facebook, there was no social media, I didn't have to post anything. The images I did, I did for my client and it was a personal thing and that's the way we thought photography was going to go forward, so photographers back then learned color management and they learned it well because they still needed to print. I remember laboratories running information nights on color spaces and things like that, I mean that stuff doesn't happen anymore because people have forgotten that aspect, they've forgotten how to print. This new generation of photographers that are producing incredible work, but have never understood how all that color is managed, or comes together, or is even printed. Even if you're printing a postcard, you still need to know how to contain that color, and the capability of your output device, and the color specs. It is a journey. We knew it because that's all we did was print, no USB sticks, we went to digital, we still did it, and then as we started to get older and photographers retired, it was kind of forgotten, and now printing is coming back and it's coming back in a big way, but the frustrations of everyone is: "My color isn't right." I don't want to print because I'll send some stuff to the lab and wow they are just atrocious results. Or sometimes you get good results and you go, "Wow, I don't know what happened, "but the image looks great, I want to print that again." "The image doesn't look the same. "What happened?" These are all the frustrations that everyone has. This is the can of worm that we've opened and I'm glad we did that because this is going to make you understand now how we manage color in the next section, which is all about capturing it right from the get-go.