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Friday, 18 November 2022


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Hmmm. Interesting. As always, I seem to be off in left field. Nice camera (6Dmkii and L quality lenses), use Lightroom, and almost all my work goes on line. Camera is set to sRGB, and Lightroom exports to JPEG and sRGB. I've done a few prints, and I'm pretty sure I gave the printer a TIFF sRGB file, and they didn't complain.
After some reading, I think that for most of my images, I change nothing. It's only if I want to print, that I should be exporting as Adobe RGB. Right, I hope? So what's the ProPhoto RGB option all about?

I really like the way you discuss the subject. Maybe I'm wrong but I think a lot of folks get confused about color. I could go on and on, Albers, Munsell, Itten, Goethe et al.
That said, I'll throw some tinder on the fire, ProPhoto RGB.

A couple of times in my life, I thought I understood this, but now I'm confused again. If I shoot raw and only ever print from the editing program (Affinity) in which I have been editing my raw file, why would setting the camera to Adobe RGB make any difference to anything?

[I think I answered that...as best I can anyway. --Mike]

Somewhat related: I've recently invested in a wide color gamut monitor which looks glorious with HDR content (DisplayHDR 1400 is a very different beast from most of today's "HDR" TVs).

I thought "there must be a way to make use of this for my RAW files" which have a much larger dynamic range that usually gets compressed to sRGB or AdobeRGB, so I was kinda hoping to use the new display to get to look at my pictures in a different way. Turns out that this is apparently not something that's common (yet?).

Darktable can export .exr files with Rec2020 color space, but I have a hard time even finding a viewer that can display this without applying some tone mapping to compress it down to the usual display requirements.

"HDR + WCG Image Viewer" for Windows seems closest but has an awkward "brightness" slider...

I read that recent iPhones by default take HDR pictures in HEIF format intended to be displayed on basically just that device itself, so there's no real software support for viewing these files elsewhere... or I haven't found it. Maybe someone here knows more?

This is a quibble and you do qualify this as what might reasonably typify the two chains, but still: I think it smacks of a bit of full-frame snobbery to include sensor size in the description of the chain. I'd bet lots of money that a sizeable majority of full-frame users are "Hobbyists" and plenty of smaller format photographers have use cases of the "Maven." Or, I'd be surprised if the percentages of each are really that different.

Very interesting but purely academic for myself and a substantial proportion of the male population who, like me, are mildly colour blind.
I had to give up making my own prints after my artist wife kept commenting on the slightly orange skin tones and other curious results produced by my carefully set up printer.

[I've known two artists like you: Mark L. Power, who was a mostly B&W photographer but did do some color, and Peter Milton the printmaker...you can see his solution at this gallery page:


I was a student at Dartmouth when he was artist-in-residence. He called me over to see a painting one day--he was epxerimenting with color--and the two of us tried to get the color right on the shadow under a woman's arm. It was not the blind leading the blind but the clueless leading the colorblind...together we couldn't get it right. --Mike]

I’m confused! I shoot in raw and edit in Lightroom set to use the ProPhoto RGB color space. You don’t mention ProPhoto RGB in the text but it appears to be the widest gamut in the first graph.
I understood that the camera setting has no effect on raw files. Is that correct?
I print directly from Lightroom to my printer and expect Lightroom to adjust to the full color gamut available in the printer.
I export jpg files from Lightroom for viewing on a display and expect Lightroom to convert them to sRGB appropriately.
Am I a super-maven or just super-confused?

1. IMHO there isn't too much point in specifying color space in the camera when shooting RAW files because (I think) most RAW editors/processors will work in some working color space specific to the tool. The Adobe tools used to use a variant of this Pro Photo RGB for example ... but i guess now they use P3 if your display can handle it.

You then export out of the editing tool to whatever color space you want.

2. HEIF/HEIC has support these days in some tools, Lightroom will certainly read the files

Hi Mike,
Not related to your post but I want to share an info that may benefit several of your readers.
As you know, Adobe does not give access to the Pantone colors anymore. An artist made a one that easily replace the missing palette and it’s free:

Maybe worth a note in a post.

And, since most of us don't have a monochrome sensor, there's a very well-written article on B&W conversions, filters, etc. here: https://www.35mmc.com/31/05/2021/colour-theory-for-black-and-white-photography-part-1-digital-and-analogue-filters-by-sroyon/

...which makes it seem a little more than "simple", to me at least.

Did you forget about ProPhoto RGB? That’s what I’ve been using since Kodak came up with it (in Photoshop 5.0 time) and Bruce Fraser encouraged me.

You lost me at "CIE 1931 is the big color blob in the background."

[There's a Wikipedia article about it. CIE 1931 was the first thorough attempt to quantitatively link wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum with psychologically perceived colors in human color vision. It's represented by the colored background shape in that graph.

All you need to know is that shape represents graphically "all the colors the human eye can perceive." The superimposed triangles then represent the limits of the colors encompassed by the various standard color spaces. Is that clear? --Mike]

Somewhere in all of this, the fun starts to dissipate.

Truly one of your best "primer" articles Mike !
Almost made me want to get back to home pigment printing... right after having eventually dumped my frustrating B9180 just last week.
Brilliant ! Thanks !

[I have to admit the B9180 was what sounded the death knell to my digital printing, as it turned out. Just a Sisyphean level of frustration trying to keep it firing on all cylinders. I think HP replaced mine twice, to a total of three. But such great results when it WAS working. Impressively, it was also the device that made HP give up on that whole segment of the printer marketplace. IIRC, they made one more variant of it and that was it for them in home pigment fine-art printers. (Although as I say that, I realize I have no idea what they're making now.) --Mike]

You left out a big part of color management. No matter what the color space, an image is represented as an collection of numbers. A computer display translates numbers to colors, as does a printer. It's necessary to manage these numbers by calibrating and/or profiling the computer display and the printer, so that the numbers are appropriately translated when the image is displayed or printed. Among other things, editing an image involves changing the numbers so that the displayed or printed image has the right colors. If this is not done, what colors you get are uncontrolled and most likely not what you intend.

Mmm, type 55 pos/neg...
Try Christopher Thomas, his books on New York, Venice, Paris, L.A..
All taken on type 55, deserted cities, mainly at night, I think they're wonderful.

All the best, Mark

I’m puzzled by the recommendation to use AdobeRGB if shooting RAW. Mike, can you explain why the need to worry about a color space in camera if your intent is to process a RAW file? Does the color space in a RAW workflow not come into question until the end when exporting to Photoshop for printing?

[The explanation I saw was that it makes the histogram more accurate to the colors that are being captured. I don't know if that's true; the source also referred vaguely to "other camera settings" but I don't know what those are. Of course you don't really have to set it to Adobe RGB. I don't actually know why the Adobe RGB setting is available in cameras...I guess for people who are taking JPEGs but then also printing? Other than that I don't know. --Mike]

At this time of year (mid-November), my students see their final projects for the first time in draft form on the 12" x 18" paper we use for the final prints. Without fail, there will be a few who do not understand why their prints look the way they do. It can be colour problems, sharpening problems, blown highlights, you name it.

I grit my teeth whenever the questions start as we're looking at their prints because all questions -- without fail -- were answered in the readings, in my lectures, and in the lab sessions.

Students will be students (and I'm sure I didn't read everything either when I was a student). But it's yet another example to support your point about needing to learn what you need to know to do good work.

It's not just photography either. Is there an art or craft that can be practised at a high level by people who know nothing about techniques, materials, etc.?

"As I tried to reaffirm at the end of this piece, color management is actually not simple."


It is fairly easy - if - you don't care about absolute accuracy.

Were I a catalog photographer, this would be crucial knowledge and skill. My employers would not want returns; "Not the color in the catalog."

An argument may be made for photographing art for reproduction. But, do I want to have the reproduction in a book to look like the original in the quite dim, oddly balanced lighting in many museums these days? Or perhaps in the lighting in which, for which it was originally painted? In the bright lighting museums used to use, to make the art pop.

Same problem with color portraiture. Hold up print next to subject; but our skin colors vary, with age, time of day, health, and so on, and is it in the light in which the photo was taken?

Who can know exactly what color that dahlia, that house, that goldfinch, those fall leaves, that water, actually was. The answer is No One.

Then (sigh), if you follow recent developments in human vision, it becomes clear that we see color in a very different way than do cameras. It is far from the neat, three color model we tend to imagine.

The often touted idea that what the camera saw is somehow accurate is wrong, and particularly wrong when the result is intended to reproduce, to at least some extent, what a person would have seen, and felt about it, were they there when the photo was taken.

Three comments to the last post address this rather well:

"To make a meaningful photograph you have to show what you feel, not necessarily what you see."
— Posted by: Bob Johnston

"But Mike, this is nothing new: theory, science and mathematics operate on a level removed from the artistic."
— Posted by: Rob Campbell

"As photographers and printers we are not duplicating ... we are interpreting."
— Posted by: Speed

Going a bit further in their direction, it seems valid to me to adjust the photo, including color balance, saturation, etc. to reproduce what I saw in my minds eye, even as I knew the camera would not capture than, but would capture the raw material for creating something close to it.

So, sure a reasonably well calibrated monitor, and decent printer profiles, etc. are useful, but not worth obsessing about. Use that time and mental energy to take and make pictures. \;~)>

It was a good essay Mike. May I add a few points that might clarify some things.

All this stuff is there because each component in the chain 'sees' colours differently. When you look at your monitor you are seeing in the monitors colour space. Your processing software, such as Lightroom or Photoshop converts the colours to your monitors space on the fly. Your calibrator creates the profile that enables this.

Yes, Adobe rgb is there for those that want to print without using raw. It gives a somewhat more accurate camera histogram if you are using raw. Raw does not have a colour space as it's just a bunch of bits that have not yet been arranged into an image file - a process called demosaicing.

There is no such thing as a single CMYK colour space for inkjet printers. The colour space (at this point usually called the gamut) depends on the printer/ink/paper combination. Hence profiles are available for those combinations. Profiles tell the software how to convert one units space to another. Note that you can convert the larger prophoto or argb, for example, to srgb, although you will lose colour information in doing so. It's pointless to try to convert the smaller srb to the larger argb because the colours are not there.

SRGB is limiting for printing because high end inkjet printers, like Ctein's P800, can print colours that cannot be contained in the srgb space.

Prophoto is used by mavens because they do not lose any data. All the colours that the camera can record are in there. So, when the processing software or printer improves they can reprocess the file. However, if you want to use Prophoto, it's necessary to convert the raw to a 16 bit file.

Of course, for black and white from your camera Mike, it matters not a jot what you use. Srgb is perfectly OK.

I should add that the other reason for 16 bit prophoto is that you can make large changes to the file in your editor without running into banding and colour clipping that you might get in 8 bit srgb.

1. Excellent article,though I use ProPhoto RGB space for editing. 2. What Mark Rochkind said.

Mike, I do understand that the final paragraph was written with tongue in cheek, but there are color management issues within B&W printing.

The tonal scale of a good B&W print is rarely pure white through neutral grays to pure black. Ansel Adams prints were processed to a slightly purple tone. Agfa Portriga prints are more of a cream&light brown tone than a pure black and white tone.

Alas, I don't know of any way to get these effects in the digital world short of a lot of trial and error.

How's about a primer on the steps you take to go from a monochrome sensor through your editing software, with a final goal of either print or Web?

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