Color space sounds complex but it’s really very simple. On the computer, colors are made with math. As we add more math to add more colors, we are creating what is called color spaces. That’s really all it is — a mathematical space where certain colors are rendered visible. The more variations we add, the bigger the space. In the illustration on the left we can see the horseshoe shape that represents what part of the color spectrum humans can see.
The triangles represent the color spaces created with math to show these colors on the computer. ProPhoto is huge and would take a lot longer to load whereas sRGB is small but shows fewer colors. For best web display, we use sRGB. However, for best photo adjustment, we may want to use a different color space. It can give us more control in making adjustments without ‘clipping’ or losing color information.
The photo below shows an experiment in color spaces. The photo was exported from Aperture as a TIFF in the ProPhoto color space. This color space is huge and preserves reds, pinks and orange tones that are clipped in Adobe RGB1998 and clipped much more in sRGB IEC61966. ProPhoto is the perfect working space for print destinations but far too large a space for web. When uploaded to the Internet, it is displayed within an sRGB space and that results in huge color shifts and loss of information. Converting from ProPhoto to another space before uploading solves the problem.
From left to right, sRGB IEC61966, Adobe RGB1998 and ProPhoto. You can see the dramatic color loss in Adobe RGB1998 and the vibrant colors of ProPhoto are deadened completely.
Processing the same image with lowered exposure in RAW to try and lower the amount clipped during conversion to smaller color spaces resulted in more detail maintained. There is much more detail in the three bud group in the center of the photo.
This time the image was saved as a JPG in the Adobe RGB1998 color space. There is significantly less image loss in the reds though some clipping does occur and all channels are blown to some extent but only in limited areas.
After checking the color yet again, what looks good on the Mac is very washed out on a Windows browser so I tried the same technique as before with the initial adjustments, then exported from Aperture into Photoshop and immediately converted to Lab Color to adjust Curves and Sharpening.
Then it was switched back to RGB mode and an immediate conversion to sRGBIEC61966 color space for web before resizing and saving as a JPG.
Colors seem more intense on the Mac but in this case, it seems way over the top on newer Windows monitors, too.
This time, the only change was to reduce the LAB color adjustments by 50% and once it had been converted to the sRGB space, to confine the saturations boost to 8.
This looks better on the Mac but on Windows?
Now that I have a PC, I can see that the color in this image is really much closer to the colors in the actual photograph.