Is What You See Really What You Get?

If you are interested in photography you might also have heard about color management, color spaces and ICC profiles. The sRGB color space (read more about all the technical stuff here) was developed 1996 as the standard default color space for the internet. Later it was found that a standardization for all the devices in a color managed workflow would be very helpful: digital cameras, scanners, computers, monitors, printers and editing software like photoshop and of course web browsers should be set to the same color space (of course advanced users can convert to the right color space, but that might be tricky). The idea was that the sRGB color space should be the standard for all these devices and software. Using the same color space on all these devices and software is already a good step toward seeing the same color on all theses devices (that every device itself has to be calibrated is another complicated story, but you get the point).

So now comes the truth. After so many years that the sRGB color space and profile is used worldwide, it is still not sure that your web browser like Internet Explorer (hopefully not!), Safari or Firefox will support ICC profiles and show sRGB pictures correctly.

Test yourself. Are the three words Green, Blue and Red in the above picture written in the corresponding color? If not, you have a problem. It means that your web browser does NOT support ICC profiles.

With Safari you should be OK, Internet Explorer maybe not and Firefox? Firefox 3.x can support ICC profiles, but you have to be an advanced user to activate the support in the preferences.

Read more about how to change the settings of Firefox in THIS ARTICLE on the website of color control specialist Datacolor, the creater of the Spyder calibration tools. By the way, Datacolor is a swiss company :-)

Ever wondered why your photos get a slight color shift when you first view them in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom and later in your web browser on your blog or website? This might be the reason. That your web browser doesn’t support ICC profiles (or that you have to enable the ICC color profile support in Firefox).

Another mystery of color management solved. Don’t worry, there are still a lot of stumbling blocks left.


[UPDATE] You can find a quick introduction to color management here. If you are a photographer and want to dive deeper into the subject, I recommend that you visit the website of the European Color Initiative ECI. The best thing I ever read about color management is the Digipix brochure on their download section. You can download the PDF here in English or German. Also don’t miss to download the calibration wallpapers for your monitor for PC or Mac. They give you a quick daily check if the calibration of your monitor is OK.

2 thoughts on “Is What You See Really What You Get?

  • In fact in practical situations it does not make much sense to suggest to people/general users/clients to turn on color management in firefox or therefore not use Internet Explorer. These facts actually rather ask photographers and web designers to prepare their images accordingly, which means converting them into the sRGB color space.

    Programs like Lightroom, Apperture and Save-For-Web in Photoshop allow you to do this conversion easily on the fly when exporting for web-use. And otherwise it makes sense to just build it into an action. My final web-use-actions first convert the color-space to sRGB, then convert them to 8-bit, resize depending on the need/action and then sharpen for this specific size – all in one click. The users / clients / web-visitors see it as correct as it gets with their screen set-up.

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