Color Management

While judging a photo contest this past weekend and seeing a number of images that were over saturated and sometimes with a weird color shift, the judges (Pat Cory, Harold Stinnett and I) all mused as to the reason. At first we were thinking that some people might just like their images to look “different”. Then it dawned on me that it might not be their fault at all.. Well, not consciously. Color management, I think, was the problem. When I mention the colors and the thoughts on color management, the onlookers in the gallery gave up a collective sigh. Several responded out loud that they kinda remembered something about that, but didn’t have any consistent workflow. This blog is for all those who don’t have a consistent workflow.

Items to be addressed in a good color management workflow:

  1. Camera and color space
  2. Monitor and profiling
  3. Image Editing software
  4. Exporting for specific use
  5. Printer/ paper profiles

Because topic can be fairly extensive, I will cover the first 2 items here and then each of other items in separate blogs.

Camera and color space:

For quite a while now, we have been able to set a specific color space on our camera. When we first started out with digital cameras, they were all confined to the sRGB color space. Now you have a choice of sRGB or Adobe RGB color spaces.

This diagram represents the visible colors in the spectrum with an outline of the colors included in the sRGB and the Adobe 1998 RGB color spaces. Think of color spaces as a box of crayons. The sRGB is the 16-color set that we all had to have in kindergarten. The Adobe 1998 RGB is the 64-color set that one or two people in the class had and we all went to their box of crayons to find the specific color we wanted. Think of it this way, the 16 color set had one green; the 64 color set had 4 greens.. More choices.

Bottom line is that if you pick sRGB, you will be capturing fewer colors in your images. So, unless you like limiting your options at the beginning, choose Adobe RGB on your camera setup. We will discuss later when to use sRGB, but those are all output concerns, not capture concerns. There is occasionally a specific need to capture in sRGB, but the general rule is to capture in Adobe RGB. Now, go get your camera out, find where to set the color space, set it to Adobe RGB and forget about it.

Monitor calibration:

You don’t need learn to do monitor calibration if you don’t care what your images look like when displayed or printed. BUT, if you do care, monitor calibration is very easy to do. Not all monitors are created equal and some of the very best have built in calibration.  Some of the EIZO ColorEdge monitors (CG275W and CG245W) have built in calibration sensors and some of the best color rendition monitors you can buy. But they will set you back a pretty penny. If you don’t want to spend $2000-3000 on a single monitor, consider getting a display calibration system.

There are several on the market and all do a great job. Both the Datacolor Spyder and the X-Rite i1 Display Pro do a great job. I use The Datacolor Spyder and have just gotten the Spyder4 Elite. I will be posting a how to with screen captures and a video on Vimeo later this week on the new Datacolor Spyder4 Elite. Stay tuned.

This post was written by

bcampbellbcampbell – who has written posts on Photo Tips from Jerry Monkman and friends.
Capturing the natural world in images is a passion that has driven Bill Campbell to photograph since he was very young. Believing that images can inspire others to understand and respect the fragile nature of our world, his mission has been to weave together elements of the beauty of our planet to represent the splendor of our temporary home. Bill feels that the ability to see, capture and share this majesty of life is a gift and hopes to continue using this gift to open eyes and hearts to the beauty that surrounds us until his dying days. As a nationally recognized and award winning nature photographer, Bill’s credits include magazines such as Outdoor Photographer, Birders World, Backpacker, PCPhoto and various others. Clients include the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife and Nikon. He was the Second Grand Prize winner in the Digital Division of the Valley Land Fund Photo Competition in 2004. His images have graced several solo and combined exhibits including the largest natural history museum in the Southeast, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. His teaching credits include the Great American Photo Workshops, Rocky Mountain School of Photography, and NANPA Roadshow and Regional events. His first book, The Smoky Mountain Photographer’s Guide, has been a best seller since 2004 and his second book, Cumberland Odyssey, was released in October 2010. He has been represented by KAC Productions Stock Agency and is President –elect of the North American Nature Photography Association, the largest association of nature photographers in the world. He is also a member of the American Society of Media Photographers and the Wilderness Medical Society. Besides being a nature photographer, he practiced Emergency Medicine for 15 years after 6 years as a family physician. He now concentrates his medical expertise in wilderness medicine as this combines his nature photography career along with this expertise in wilderness medicine. He resides in Oak Ridge, Tennessee with his wife Rebecca and, periodically, his three sons and two step sons. His photography can be viewed at and workshops at


5 Responses to “Color Management”

  1. Rich says:

    Thank you for color management tips!! One question regarding color space–if your output is for prints via a service like MPIX,I have read or been told that you want to use sRGB and not RGB. Is that correct?? Also, I do monitior calibrate with the xrite–if I do use RGB, would choosing “color correct” from the lab help or hurt in the RGB mode.It does certainly look like adobe RGB is the way to go with the wider array of colors.

    • bcampbell bcampbell says:

      Many of the online services use sRGB as a color space because many consumer cameras only have a sRGB colorspace, so they play to the lowest common denominator. If you are calibrating your monitor with
      the X-Rite (good choice as this is a great piece of equipment), and have your colorspace on your camera set to Adobe RGB AND the colorspace on your editing software set to Adobe RGB (the next step after color monitoring in my blog series), then you can simply set the export colorspace to sRGB when you create your jpgs to upload to any service. This includes if you create jpgs to to quick prints from places like Walmart or Walgreens. If you have already gone through your editing software to correct to your liking before exporting, don’t ask for color management (their “Color Correct”). If you are taking them straight from the camera, then selecting “Color correct” usually helps set whites and blacks and exposure correctly. Most printers from Epson, Canon, and HP that I know of use the Adobe 1998 profile when they printer.. But we will talk about that when I discuss printing out from Lightroom


      • Rich says:

        Thanks for explaining. I look forward to your blog posts. I’m also a fan of Jerry’s work and have purchased books and a print from him. I’m real excited about his new blog and photo critique.

  2. Maurice says:

    Typically, an image viewed on a website appears less vivid when profiled with Adobe RGB compared to sRGB. When judging photo contests, do images with sRGB profile appear different on your monitor compared to those with Adobe RGB profile?

    • bcampbell bcampbell says:

      Yes. And that is why it is so important to know the viewing system for a contest and profile your image correctly. A stunning image can look somewhat blah in the wrong color space..

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