Color workflow – Image Editing and output

In the previous segments, we have discussed color spaces and profiling your monitor. Now we will discuss how to set Photoshop and Lightroom for best color space use.

First, Lightroom. Lightroom actually doesn’t use a colorspace profile for an image until it is exported to a different image editor. So the setting of a profile is actually which profile will be assigned to the image when it is sent to an external editor.

To set this up, we go to Lightroom> Preferences

Once here, you pick the External Editing tab at the top and then proceed to the settings for Photoshop at the top. These are my settings. Some people choose TIFF as a file format but I choose PSD as it is the native Photoshop format. Under that is Color Space and you can see that I have chosen ProPhoto RGB. I want to represent the largest color space possible. Even the monitors that will show Adobe RGB colors won’t show you all of the ProPhoto RGB palette, but maybe someday. I also set the bit depth to 16 bits/component, as this can give you smoother editing in Photoshop.
Below this the Additional External Editor. You can see that my  Preset is Color Exef Pro 3.0 (no, I haven’t upgraded to 4, but I hear it is fabulous). I choose TIFF as my file format here and again a Color Space of Prophoto RGB along with a 16 bit depth.

When these are set, anytime you ask Lightroom to Edit In > and then pick Photoshop or another external editor (this is also where you can Merge to Panorama or to HDR in Photoshop as well as open as Smart Object or Layers in Photoshop). Lightroom then tells the External Editing software to use the file format, color space and bit depth that you chose earlier for that image.

Now let’s talk about Photoshop alone. It seems that every version of Photoshop, setting color preferences seems to move around a bit. Now in CS5, we will set up these preferences by going to Photoshop>Edit> Color Settings. This opens the Color Settings dialogue box which allows you to set your Working Spaces. The one we are most concerned with now is the RGB color space. This is the color space that all images brought into Photoshop will use. You see that I have again picked ProPhoto RGB.

One of the more important aspects to look at is the 3 check boxes in the Color Management Policies. They control Profile Mismatches (say you have an image from somewhere else that had an Adobe RGB color profile assigned to the image, then Photoshop would tell you that the Working Profile doesn’t match up with the image’s assigned profile) and allow you accept the mismatch or change the color profile to the Working Profile. This also helps if you are compositing images that might have several different color profiles. You won’t really see a difference on screen, but once the composite is output to print or web, a difference in color profiles can change the look of the images in a composite.
The last check box, Missing Profiles, alerts you that your imported image had no profile and will now be set, if you want to, to the working profile.

These small attentions to how your color space is set up and how Photoshop will compare color spaces when opening or pasting images can be a life saver.


Lightroom- to output an image with the correct color space is critical. If you export a file with a ProPhoto RGB color space to an image and then take that image to Walgreen’s for a print, it won’t look the best. Most printers like this in your local neighborhood and many online, use an sRGB color space for their printers. Why, well many of the compact cameras out there (not everyone shoots a dSLR like you do) are set to sRGB without a way to change it. And even if they could, most people using compact cameras wouldn’t know how or why. They just want a good picture. Hence the printers are set to the lowest common denominator for color space: sRGB.

But if you are sending your image to a high end print company, they will probably want an Adobe or ProPhoto RGB color space assigned to the image.

The other consideration is if you are exporting images that will go to the web (your website, Facebook, Flickr) you should use the sRGB color space. And if you are entering a contest, make sure you read the instructions on whether they want a sRGB or an Adobe RGB color space. Having the wrong color space may mean the difference between and great image and one that falls flat on it’s color.

For more information on all types of Digital photography workflow, go to This is an ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers initiative and was funded by the Library of Congress.


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