Selecting the Best Color Space: sRGB or Adobe RGB?

 

A fairly common question among photographers these days is which color space they should use to shoot or edit their photos: sRBG or Adobe RBG or something else? Great question but let’s start with the definition of color space for those of you less familiar with it.

SELECTING THE BEST COLOR SPACE: SRGB OR ADOBERGB?

 

COLOR SPACE TYPES:

As you might have guessed, color space refers to a specific range of colors represented in a photo. You can count on up to about 16.7 million colors in a JPEG image but the various spaces allow you to use a narrower or broader range within that number. 

There are three more popular color spaces: Adobe RGB, sRGB and ProPhoto RGB. In Lightroom, and usually on your camera, it’s easy enough to select one. Simply go to Export while you’ve got your image open and under “file settings” select the one you want to use. Ah, but which one to use??

ProPhoto RGB and Adobe RGB give the photographer a larger or broader segment. sRGB, on the other hand, offers the most flexibility across various platforms and that can make a difference depending on the printer you are using. Many computer monitors and printers don’t have the ability to recognize or print Adobe RGB. 

It goes beyond monitors and printers, unfortunately. Many social media platforms can distort the color profiles of an Adobe RGB photo and, thus, prefer sRGB images instead. 

So does this mean that it is easier and better to go ahead an shoot in sRGB to avoid complications later with respect to your image’s color ranges? Maybe, but not necessarily.

sRGB vs AdobeRGB in Lightroom

ADOBE RGB & sRGB:

Let’s discuss just Adobe RGB and sRGB as these are the two most common color spaces. To shoot in either of these, go to your camera’s settings to set it for either one before you even take your picture! If you’ve already shot your image, you might be able to convert to one during the editing process. It’s a relatively straightforward process in Lightroom or Photoshop, and you can retain a copy of each of these color spaces.

But back to our original question of which should you use - AdobeRGB or sRGB?

KNOW THE COLOR RANGES:

You’ll find plenty of photographers arguing that this one is the best of the two. It offers the widest range of colors - maybe up to about 35% more than sRGB. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is best to use given that sRGB is more compatible with a broader range of platforms making it more flexible. 

Pretty much anything you can do on a computer monitor or personal device is centered toward sRGB because it was the first one developed and much of today’s technology still relies on it. That’s not to say that things aren’t changing! Many computer monitors today will only display about ⅔ of AdobeRGB’s color space but almost 100% of sRGB’s color space. Those numbers alone should begin to sway you toward sRGB! But, as you can imagine, things are never that straightforward with technology so read on.

WILL YOU BE PRINTING:

More and more printers have begun adopting AdobeRGB color space so that your colors print far more vibrant than your monitor might even indicate. So shooting in AdobeRGB could be prudent so you don’t lose anything. Leep in mind that if your monitor isn’t adapted to AdobeRGB, but your printer is, your images will come more vibrant than they appeared on your screen. 

sRGB vs AdobeRGB option in Photoshop
sRGB vs AdobeRGB vs ProPhoto RGB IN PHOTOSHOP

SHOOTING:

If you shoot in AdobeRGB, you can easily convert back to sRGB at any time without losing any precious color in the image. sRGB, as we have stated, is itself the most versatile for social media, computer monitors, and printers. Remember that you can’t convert back from sRGB to AdobeRGB, though! 

Unless you rarely print out your images, your best bet is to select AdobeRGB as your color space. You can easily convert to sRGB if you need to transfer the picture to social media or print out on a printer not yet adapted to AdobeRGB. Most professional or serious hobby photographers these days, however, will want to invest in a printer fully adapted to printing out in AdobeRGB and, thus, printing the images at their most color vibrant. It’s the most versatile of the two offering the richest colors.

CONCLUSION:

This can be a bit confusing as things often are with photography, however, to simplify:

  • You can shoot on sRGB if you don’t plan on printing out or don’t care if your colors print muted.
  • For those perfectionists out there for whom color vibrancy does matter, then you’ll need to shoot in AdobeRGB for the full effect of color richness. You can always convert an image over to sRGB if you need to but you can’t convert from sRGB to AdobeRGB.