Question of the week: why do my Jpegs appear with different colours?

It’s quite common for photographers to use multiple image editing applications for different purposes, handing image data from one to the other to access different and unique editing features. In this case a problem arose when images were handed off from Lightroom to Photoshop before being saved as a Jpeg. The Photoshop generated Jpeg had distinctly different colour appearance than those of the same file exported directly from Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. This was quite an interesting issue to troubleshoot as it took a bit of detective work using some less well known Photoshop and Lightroom tools.

Image comparison
Compare the three sample Jpegs below. In the one generated by Photoshop, the blues of the sky, water and boat hull are different to that in the files created by Lightroom and Photoshop Elements.

'Exported' from Lightroom
Jpeg ‘Exported’ from Lightroom. Image courtesy of Tom Flint
'Save As' from Elements 11
Jpeg ‘Save As’ from Photoshop Elements. Image courtesy of Tom Flint
'Save As' from Photoshop CC
Jpeg ‘Save As’ from Photoshop CC. Image courtesy of Tom Flint

This is a colour settings issue and the 3 applications are each doing something slightly different with the colour data.

Analysis

Each application has a predefined set of colour rules for creating and converting colours. Lightroom is  proprietary and cannot be user-adjusted, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements are configurable by the user. The rules are applied whenever you create a new colour, do a mode change, print a file or export to a different format. In each case, the applications are configured slightly differently so are producing slightly different results.

I made a colour sampler reference point on the boat hull of each of the images, the results are in the screenshots below:

Save as from PSE
Colour sampler from Photoshop Elements
exportfromLR
Colour sampler from Lightroom
Saveas from PSCC
Colour sampler from Photoshop CC

 

The colour data (denoted by #1 in the screenshots) is quite different in the Photoshop CC version, which has higher red and green values but lower blue values.

I then checked the colour profile of each image (using the Photoshop Document Profile setting), Lightroom is sRGB, Photoshop Elements is Adobe RGB and Photoshop CC is ProPhoto.

Each of these has a distinctly different range of colour. You can choose the colour profile that is attached to a Jpeg either on export (with both versions of Photoshop) or under the Export panel settings in Lightroom.

Lightroom defaults to converting Jpegs to sRGB on export. sRGB is quite a small colour space and the RAW data of the original image will most likely be outside its range hence, Lightroom will perform a colour conversion on saving.

Screenshot of Export settings Adobe Lightroom
Export settings Adobe Lightroom

Photoshop Elements defaults to Adobe RGB which is a much bigger colour space. Note the values here are fairly close to the Lightroom output. Photoshop Elements either maintains the existing colour profile of the image or converts to either sRGB or Adobe RGB on export, see below. Photoshop Elements normally converts RAW images into Adobe RGB when converting from the Camera RAW processor. Adobe RGB will then be used by any subsequently generated Jpeg.

SCreenshot of Photoshop Elements 'save as' settings
Photoshop Elements ‘save as’ settings

The Photoshop Jpeg is saved as ProPhoto which is the default colour space used when Lightroom hands over the image to Photoshop. This colour space is vast and maintains (more or less) the colour data present in the Lightroom/RAW original. When you save this as a Jpeg, Photoshop keeps the profile unless you decide to change it.

SCreenshot of Photoshop CC 'save as' settings
Photoshop CC ‘save as’ settings

To change the colour profile in Photoshop you can select Edit>Convert to profile and choose the appropriate profile from the list as below:

Screenshot of Convert to Profile, Photoshop CC
Convert to Profile, Photoshop CC

This can now also be automated by using Photoshop CC’s new ‘Export As’ function which is useful for batch processing export of Jpeg and PNG files.

Screenshot of Photoshop 'Export As' function
Photoshop Export As function

By setting up each application to convert image data using the same colour profile, each application creates a Jpeg with the same colour appearance and values.

Colour management can be a tricky business and I often find that people find it confusing and technical. The inexplicable colour differences in the examples here illustrate what happens when colour management settings are not set up consistently.

If you have colour issues or would like to know more about colour management please contact us at info@creative-lab.co.uk

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