Which color profile should I use for online photos?

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Sunday June 1, 2008.

Like a bunch of people who care about presenting photos the right way online, I have always hated the fact that I can work on developing a shot (I shoot almost exclusively in RAW) only to upload it and have it look totally washed out. I started doing a little bit of research into why that is and may have broken through.

Here’s what I did:

  • Took one photo that was previously developed
  • Opened it in Photoshop under each of the four available profiles that the RAW developer offers
  • Resized it to 500px on the long edge
  • Saved each photo with the name of the profile as the filename
  • Uploaded to my Flickr account
  • Compared them to the original

Take a look at this set of photos and I’ll do what I can to explain what I found out.

sRGBsrgbPro Photo RGBpro photo rgbColor Match RGBcolor match rgbAdobe RBGadobe rgb

Under each photo is the profile I set using Photoshop CS3’s RAW developer. There are many more within Photoshop itself, but for ease of workflow, I tend to rarely mess with the photo once I’ve developed it in RAW. Here is what I learned:

  • The look of the photos depends on which browser you’re using
    • In Safari, they all looked very similar to me
    • I use Firefox almost exclusively on a Mac, and the difference is dramatic
  • The point was not to see which was truest to real life, but which was truest to the original photo
  • The “Color Match RGB” profile was truest
  • The “Pro Photo RGB” profile was very different from all three
  • The “sRGB” and “adobe RGB” profiles washed out the color a little more than the “Color Match RGB” profile did

I once heard someone say that when individuals design websites for themselves, they tend to make it look the best in the browser they use personally, and can live with it looking a little off in others. I definitely resemble that. And there’s not much I can do that I want to spend my free time on to change it. So for that reason, I’ll be using the “Color Match RGB” profile from here on out.

To anyone else thinking about why their photos are different online, try it out. It’s a very easy test.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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