Wide Gamut Color Shifts Driving You Mad?

Wide gamut color shifts. Are you seeing it? Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Let me explain. But before I do, let me point out that this post is from the standpoint of using your images for displaying on the WWW and computer/device displays. It is not intended for a CMYK/ ad printing flow.

Keep in mind that I’m writing this from a relative newbie point of view. I’m not an expert color guy. I don’t have a background in the science of color, display profiling, color management and calibration etc. I’m just a photographer who wants his photos to show on various displays reasonably close to what I produce in my photo editing software of choice. That software is Photoshop and Lightroom.  That’s why I got a wide gamut monitor and a calibrating/profiling device. Note I said reasonably close not exactly. That’s because, unless they are all calibrated and profiled exactly, no two displays on two different computers are going to display an image exactly the same. So, if you post your favorite pic on a website, the colors on that pic are going to vary a bit from person to person depending on what they’re using to view it.

A fellow photographer may be viewing that image on an accurately profiled wide gamut display of their own. The schmo down the street may be looking at it on a computer/monitor that has never been nor never will be calibrated and that is only capable of displaying sRGB. The kid on the other street may be looking at it on a smart phone that may or may not be wide gamut. You get the idea.

What’s the difference between a wide gamut display and a sRGB display? I’m not going to get into all of that, but basically, a wide gamut aRGB display is going to be able to display a broader range of colors than a sRGB display. A good place to begin getting a basic understanding is here. If you really want to dive headlong into the whole color thing, go here  and have at it.

But that isn’t what this post is about. This post is about the very basic head scratching things you experience when you first acquire a wide gamut monitor and for some reason it’s so damned difficult to get answers for. One shouldn’t have to become a rocket scientist to get their head around basic stuff and, indeed, you do not need to become a color management expert. Besides, I’m a photographer, not a freaking color management professional.

Which then brings me to the whole wide gamut thing and the headaches it produced and the struggle I’ve had getting my head around it. I’ve visited various forums, asked various questions, etc. And the one thing that I found out is that people that really know what they’re talking about rarely have a clue as to how to dumb it down to the essentials needed to get from point A to point B. OK, I have my fancy new car, what are the directions to the local grocery store? Do I really need to know how an internal combustion engine works from the ground up?

No.

Which is what this post is about. For color management gurus, this post is ridiculous. For those of you who just got a wide gamut monitor AND properly calibrated it, here you go.

My photos look all wonky when I look at them in xxx!

That’s because what you’re looking at them with is not color managed. Usually they will seem wildly over saturated. The reason being is that, in a nutshell, the non color managed app–like Windows 10 Photos App–will simply incorporate your display’s gamut into the image without any consideration of your calibration or the ICC profile you embedded into the photo when you saved it (you are embedding the profile, right?). However, if you view the image in an sRGB/standard gamut display in the Windows 10 Photos App, it will most likely be largely the same as when you view it in the color managed program you used to edit it; say Photoshop or Lightroom.

If you’re trying to look at an image on a wide gamut monitor in an app that is not color managed, it will look like crap; over saturated crap.

To add to the misery, some browsers are color managed, some are not and some are sort of. For example, Internet Explorer and Edge, from what I can tell, are not color managed at all. I’ve heard that Safari is color managed. Firefox on the other hand is color managed if  you enable it in the settings. Chrome, however, is sort of color managed. What I mean by that is that if you access an image with an embedded ICC profile (You are embedding a profile, right?) it will display correctly. However–this is where the sort of part comes in–if it’s not embedded, it will display the image like Internet Explorer and Edge do; displaying over saturated crap (remember this is if you’re using a wide gamut monitor). Keep in mind that, currently, Chrome has something like 74% of the market share in browsers. That’s a lot. You may think that it’s no big deal because you’re embedding the ICC profile, but there’s a catch. Some websites that you upload your photos to will strip the ICC profile from the image for the sake of saving space. For example, 500px does this. If you have a wide gamut monitor and you’ve spent hours editing a photo to where it looks just right, you save it in sRGB with an embedded ICC profile, and then upload it to, say, Flickr, facebook, and 500px then visit those sites in Chrome to check out your pic, you’ll notice that Flickr and facebook will display as you edited it. But on 500px, it will look like unholy hell. That’s because 500px removed the ICC profile and Chrome chokes. At first glance you might want to rag on 500px for stripping the ICC profile–and I kind of agree–but the issue is really Chrome. Google needs to fix Chrome to behave as a fully color managed browser. A fully color managed browser will default to sRGB when the ICC profile is not present.

Keep in mind, that for those viewing the images on 500px via a non wide gamut monitor will see pretty much what they’re supposed to see in Chrome (or any other browser). It’s just for those who are using a wide gamut monitor.

The takeaway is that the use of wide gamut monitors is mostly the realm of photographers and graphic designers. Such a demographic will most assuredly view images within color managed applications.

Firefox

Firefox, by default, is not set to be color managed. Why is that? Hell, I have no idea. But to set Firefox to full on color managed glory do the following:

  1. Open up Firefox and type: “about:config” without the quotation marks into the URL address bar. Hit enter.
  2. Read the warning and proceed.
  3. In Filter List, type in “gfx.color” again sans quotation marks.
  4. Double click “gfx.color_management.mode”.
  5. Enter 1 in the pop up. Close and confirm.
  6. Restart Firefox.

You now have a fully color managed browser. When using your wide gamut monitor to view images on the WWW, you’ll see them in their color managed glory even if they are without an ICC profile, say on 500px.

Remember, this is IF you’re using a wide gamut monitor. Otherwise don’t worry about it.

The big takeaway

If you’re using a wide gamut monitor:

Calibrate it.

Give yourself access to a fully color managed browser and applications (presumably your photo editing software will be color managed. For example, both Photoshop and Lightroom are color managed).

When saving images, ALWAYS embed an ICC profile.

At that point, don’t worry about it because:

Those viewing your images on a standard gamut sRGB monitor are likely to see mostly what you’ve created no matter what. Beyond that you have zero control over what others are going to use to view your images with.

As I write this, the vast majority of images will be viewed on standard gamut sRGB displays. Save your images to sRGB and then don’t worry about it.

See, it’s not really that complex.

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