A Beginner’s Guide to Colour Space

9 July 2020

When it comes to taking accurate colour photography, there’s no stand in for learning a little bit of old fashioned photography theory. From understanding the importance of colour theory in photography to learning the difference between various colour spaces, understanding how colour works is essential to taking great photos.

As a photographer, learning the difference between sRGB and Adobe RGB colour spaces can help you set up accurate profiles for your monitor and printer, giving you full control over the colours in your images. Ready to dive straight in? Scroll on to read our beginner’s guide to colour space.

Understanding the basics

If you’re new to colour space, chances are your first question is “What does RGB stand for?”. The answer is simple: “RGB” simply means Red, Green, and Blue. In photography, all colours are created using a mix of varying amounts of these three colours. These amounts are usually measured in terms of percentages.

Once you know what RGB means, it’s time to familiarise yourself with the basic concept of a colour space. While a colour space is technically just an organisation of all the colours contained within an image, the reality is a little more complicated. Certain colour spaces have a wider spectrum than others, meaning images captured in this space tend to have greater subtlety and are closer to how the image appears in real life.

A Beginner’s Guide to Colour SpaceA Beginner’s Guide to Colour Space

Although these advanced colour spaces are best for creating artworks to be hung on gallery walls, they aren’t necessarily the best option for posting images straight to Instagram.

sRGB vs Adobe RGB - and why it matters

As a digital photographer, you’ll encounter two main colour spaces: Adobe RGB and sRGB. Although there are some similarities between the two, they serve slightly different functions and have different features. Below, we sum up the key points to know about each of the two colour spaces.

A Beginner’s Guide to Colour SpaceA Beginner’s Guide to Colour Space


Perhaps the most basic form of colour space, sRGB does a great job at meeting the needs of most casual photographers. All computer systems and monitors are built around this colour space, meaning you won’t have to worry about compatibility. For this reason, sRGB is particularly ideal if your work is only going to be viewed digitally or uploaded and shared online, rather than printed or enlarged. 

As a bonus, most digital cameras come with this colour space set as the default, so you won’t have to alter your photo editing workflow at all.

Adobe RGB

In addition to sRGB, most digital cameras come with this colour space pre-programmed. Developed by the leaders of digital photography editing software, Adobe, this space has a much wider spectrum than sRGB, making it a great option for photographers who want to produce detailed, accurate colour prints.

If this sounds like you, then Adobe RGB - or better yet, the newer, wider spectrum space ProPhoto RGB - is your best bet. It’s worth noting, however, that all online sources present images in sRGB as a default. In a practical sense, this means that images produced in Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB will not be displayed to their full quality online, and can suffer from compression and rendering issues during the upload process.

Top Tip: For best results across all media, shoot and produce your work in Adobe RGB and convert images to sRGB before sharing them online.

Establishing a colour management workflow

Beyond thinking carefully about your colour space, a number of other measures can ensure that you get the best possible results from your colour management and photo editing process.  

The first of these is ensuring that you always shoot in RAW. Shooting in RAW allows your camera to capture all the colours it can without assigning a colour space. At the editing stage, you can then use software such as Lightroom to assign the appropriate colour space to your image. Shooting in RAW also allows you to adjust the white balance in your photo manually and take full control over the colours in your photograph.  

Another way to maximise efficiency in your colour management workflow is by using a monitor calibration device to carefully calibrate your monitor and make sure that the colours on your screen are as true to life as possible. If you’re printing at home, similar devices can also be used to calibrate your printer.

A Beginner’s Guide to Colour SpaceA Beginner’s Guide to Colour Space

Manage your colours with these products

Take control of your colour photography

While the acronyms and jargon associated with colour space can seem daunting, it’s one area of photography theory that’s well worth understanding and mastering. Learning which colour space to use and how to switch between spaces can help you take detailed, accurate images that shine in any context, whether that’s online or in person.

Feeling inspired? Put your new knowledge to the test on your next photography adventure, or visit our blog for more photography tips and tricks today!

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