If you want your files to be delivered in Adobe RGB don’t send them in sRGB

From time to time some photographers ask me to deliver their files in AdobeRGB color space and I have absolutely no problem with doing it. Unless the files I’ve received from them were already in sRGB. That would be a problem, because converting from sRGB to AdobeRGB is pointless.

Let’s establish from the beginning what these fancy words represent. They are color spaces. But what is a color space? Similar to how an artist might mix their primary colors on a palette in order to visualize the range of colors/shades, a color space is effectively just a digital palette — except these colors are much more precisely organized.

The video below shows a three-dimensional representation of the most used color spaces and how they relate to each other. If you can’t watch it on this page, here is a link that will lead you to the source of the video.

After watching the video you should be aware of the fact that sRGB is a smaller color space than Adobe RGB, so converting from a smaller color space to a larger one will have no effect since the extra data is non-existent. You can’t “unfold” the clipped gamut range.

To use a metaphor, converting from sRGB to Adobe RGB (or any other larger color space) is like pouring water from a 0.5l bottle (which is sRGB) to a larger bottle. The content is the same, only the bottle is larger. And the bad news is that in post production a larger bottle doesn’t make any difference. A larger bottle is better only if it has more liquid, not by itself.

So which one is better: sRGB or Adobe RGB?

Mac versus PC, RAW versus JPEG, Coke versus Pepsi – all solid battles, but sRGB versus Adobe RGB is still the one that confuses more people than anything else.

One of the problems is that there are experts on both sides of this debate arguing why their side is right and the other is totally off-base. The only thing everyone seems to agree with is that you must use sRGB for web publishing. Using Adobe RGB for web images leads to washed-out looking colors in applications that are not color aware (i.e. most web browsers). Additionally, sRGB is a very good choice for images that will be sent to minilabs, especially if there is no custom profile available.

There are lots of debates on the “sRGB vs Adobe RGB” subject (a simple Google search shows 1,330,000 results), but if you want to hear the most concise explanation (coming from a professional), check the video below.

As guys from FStoppers say, if you’re still confused and feel overwhelmed about the entire subject, work exclusively with sRGB color space. It’ll allow you to photograph and print beautiful images without too many headaches.

One last thing you need to be cautioned about is this: even if you choose to use Adobe RGB, take care not to give such files to people or clients who don’t understand it and would not be able to take advantage of it.

Don’t send the shoot images all in Adobe RGB to your clients. They will most likely view it on their uncalibrated monitors, post it on the internet or have it printed in a minilab – so they will end up with images full of colors that look way different than what you intended. Convert to sRGB before sending them.

© 2012-2017 Andrei Ivascu