Color management is a huge topic in its own right, but Lightroom handles most of it for you. It’s only when you come to export photos that you need to pick the right color space for your purpose. So, here’s a quick introduction to the subject. If you’d like to learn more, Jeffrey Friedl wrote an excellent article on color spaces, which you will find at:
What is color space?
All photos are made up of pixels, and each pixel has a number value for each of the color channels (red, green and blue). For example, 0-0-0 on an 8-bit scale is pure black and 255-255-255 is pure white. The numbers in between are open to interpretation. Who decides exactly which shade of green 10-190-10 equates to? That’s where color profiles come into play: they define how these numbers should translate to colors.
Some color spaces contain a larger number of colors than others, so we refer to the ‘size’ of the color space. If a color in your photo falls outside of the gamut (area) of your chosen color space, it’s automatically remapped to fit into the smaller gamut.
Lightroom is internally color-managed, so as long as your monitor is properly calibrated, the only times you need to worry about color spaces are when you’re outputting the photos to other programs. This may be passing the data to Photoshop for further editing, passing the data to a printer driver for printing, or exporting the photos for other purposes, such as email or web.
Where do I choose the color space?
There’s a few places you might need to choose a color space for your photo…
In the External Editing Preferences, to determine which color space is used when passing the photo to other software (Lightroom Classic only):
Also in the Export dialog:
Finally in the Print module (Lightroom Classic only):
Which color space should I choose?
Your chosen color space will depend on why the photo is leaving Lightroom. Is it for further editing in other software, or as a finished image?
sRGB is a small color space, but it’s the most widely used. It’s a great choice for screen output, emailing or uploading to the web. It’s also the safest choice if you don’t know where the photos will end up.
Adobe RGB is a slightly larger color space, but it’s a good choice if you’re sending photos for printing at a color managed lab, if your editing software can only handle 8-bit files, or if you’re saving as JPEG.
Display P3 is a wide gamut color space used on the latest Apple devices. It’s a similar size to Adobe RGB, but it’s shifted slightly towards reds/oranges and loses some of the greens/blues. It’s primarily useful when exporting photos for display on the latest Apple devices.
ProPhoto RGB is the largest color space available in Lightroom, so it’s the best choice when transferring photos to Photoshop or other photo editing software (as long as they’re color managed). ProPhoto RGB doesn’t play well with 8-bit though, because you’d be trying to jam a large gamut into a small bit depth. This can can lead to banding. So stick with 16-bit while using ProPhoto RGB. ProPhoto RGB photos look dull and flat in programs that aren’t color managed, such as web browsers.
Other (Lightroom Classic Export/Print only) allows you to select other RGB ICC profiles installed on your system. For example, some professional labs may request that you convert the photos to their own custom ICC profile. To do so, select Other from the Color Space pop-up, add a checkmark next to your custom profile and then press OK. Your custom profile is automatically selected in the pop-up.
Whichever color space you choose to use, always embed the profile. A digital photo is just a collection of numbers, and the profile defines how these numbers should be displayed. If there’s no profile, the program has to guess—and often guesses incorrectly. Lightroom always embeds the profile, but Photoshop offers a checkbox in the Save As dialog, which you need to leave checked.
For extensive information on Lightroom Classic, see Adobe Lightroom Classic – The Missing FAQ.
If you have the Photography Plan, then as well as Classic you have access to the Lightroom cloud ecosystem including the mobile apps and web interface. For more information on these apps, see Adobe Lightroom – Edit on the Go.
Note: purchase of these books includes the first year’s Classic or cloud-based Premium Membership (depending on the book purchased), giving access to download the latest eBook (each time Adobe updates the software), email assistance for the applicable Lightroom version if you hit a problem, and other bonuses.
We also have a special bundle offer for the two books. This includes Premium Membership for the first year as described above for the whole Lightroom family!
Originally posted 13 December 2014, updated March 2021.