Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I've been using LR3 for a while now and have noticed that when I export a photo to JPG and upload it to Flickr it ends up slightly darker. The exported photo is ok, it's the image when viewed through Flickr that is darker.

I'm exporting the photos as sRGB. I've noticed that in the EXIF data some applications (such as PS Elements) there's a "Color Element" tag that is set to sRGB, whilst my LR3 exports don't seem to have this. I've also read that it can be down to some browsers not supporting color management. I use Firefox 3.6 which apparently does have color management support. I've looked at the image in Chrome and it still exhibits the same problem.

A friend of mine is seeing the same problem when he exports from LR3 and uploads to Flickr, so I know it's not something specific to my PC. Is this a Flickr problem (ie it's doing something strange with the color space), or could it be a monitor calibration problem? I'm not totally sure it's down to calibration as they do look correct on my PC, it's only the images that Flickr renders that are the problem.

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Did you try to open the photos from your PC in a browser? That would rule out both Flickr problem and calibration problem, leaving you with browser problem. Which in turn is not related to color space, as you use sRGB. Could the default bright background play a trick with your perception? –  Karel Aug 11 '10 at 12:01
    
What happens when you view the original size images, as opposed to any downsized images? They might do something strange when they downsize the images. –  mmr Aug 11 '10 at 16:12
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If you're processing photos specifically for the web, you may need to completely remove colour management on the photo. I'm not sure how this works in Lightroom. Safari is the only browser I know of specifically that respects an embedded colour profile. –  Nick Bedford Aug 13 '10 at 5:26
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@Nick Bedford: The OP is correct when he asserts that later versions of Firefox (3.x onwards) also support colour profiles. –  Conor Boyd Sep 22 '10 at 1:28
    
Don't underestimate the power of seeing your image with a bright white background. Does the image still look too light when viewed in lightbox (a dark background) on Flickr? (press L when looking at the image). –  JamWheel Jul 14 '11 at 7:37
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7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Several things:

  • The exif "Color Element" tag is not directly related to ICC profile. Your image can have an Adobe RGB profile, yet still say "sRGB." Applications should use the attached profile, not the exif tag, when determining how to render colors. Ideally the EXIF color element tag should match the attached color profile, but there is nothing that will enforce the behavior.

This is definitely a color management issue. To diagnose try the following:

  • Download the image from flickr to your computer. open it in Photoshop PS and see if the image renders as you expect. If it does, then it's your browser's color management configuration. Firefox 3.6 does have color management, and while it's turned on by default, if you upgraded from Firefox 2.x, color management may be turned off.

To check:

  1. type about:config in the address bar
  2. hit enter
  3. click the "I'll be careful button"
  4. type "color_management" in the search bar

You should see three values:

  • gfx.color_management.display_profile
  • gfx.color_management.mode
  • gfx.color_management.rendering_indent

On my computer the values are (in order from above): blank (nothing),2,0

  • If the image doesn't render correctly on your computer, open the image in PS Elements and inspect the color profile, and ensure it's sRGB. If there is no profile, then LR3 either didn't actually embed a profile, or Flickr removed it.

  • Since the images right out of LR3 look right, double check that the embedded profile is sRGB. If it's not, then you likely have an export issue. If it's there, then Flickr removed your profile (which seems unlikely).

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As Alan pointed out, this is most likely a color management issue. Definitely try to download the image from Flickr, re-import it in LR3 and I'm pretty confident it will look just fine.

There is catch though. I went back & forth for a while reporting this issue in the Firefox bug tracker last year (issue 497363 and 509710) but unfortunately it isn't as easy as enabling an option. ICC profiles differ in structure and capabilities. A few of us had calibrated monitors but Firefox appeared to be unable to interpret the corresponding ICC profile correctly.

It seemed especially true for people using high-gamut monitors, i.e. any monitor that can typically display 95% or more of the AdobeRGB color space. High-gamut monitors are spectacular to use and more and more common but this is the price to pay if your applications are not properly color-managed. Your photos will look great in LR, but not so much outside this app.

I haven't tried any Firefox beta version since then, I just got used to this issue. If you do try a newer version, I'd love to hear about it. Don't lighten your photos and don't use AdobeRGB, ever, stick to the web-friendly sRGB color space. Given time, color management will permeate more component on Windows.

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A common reason for this is that we are viewing these images on an LCD screen, and we have a tendency to crank up the screen brightness. That artificially lightens images seen on them. When those images are moved to a device that doesn't have that backlight, they darken.

The first step for minimizing this is to calibrate your monitor (and then leave it alone; easier said than done). that'll get your monitor close, or at least closer, to what you'll see on other devices.

But after that, what works for me is learning how the monitor is affecting the image and learning to adjust for it. Watching your histogram can help here; the more the luminance of the monitor is tweaking the image, the more an image that "looks right" will have a histogram that slides to the left.

One way to bring this back into sync is to make an image you like, then print it (or upload it) and check it. If it's off, adjust the image and try again. Keep tweaking until the image looks right on whatever device you want it to be viewed on. You now can see how the histogram for the "before" and "after" of the adjustment. Over time you'll be able to make that adjustment on the fly or teach yourself to crank down the brightness of the LCD. I'll regularly do test uploads or test prints just to make sure my processing is working on the output device. You can, over time, make this part of your workflow.

But in quick summary:

calibrate your monitor (and recalibrate it monthly or when the lighting situation changes. When I am on the road, for instance, I calibrate my laptop screen every time I change motel rooms to get in sync with that room's lighting)

use test uploads to compare the screen image to the "real" image (where "real" is whatever oyu're ultimately outputting to). Reduce the brightness on the screen until the difference goes away if you can.

If you can't fully reduce the brightness to match your output device, use a series of before and after tests to figure out what changes you need to make to go from "screen looks good" to "output looks good". Then make those changes on each image before you output. Consider making a preset or action to automate that adjustment.

Learn to read your histogram. It'll help you identify images that are "okay" and which images are in the "looks okay, but will output dark" category. It'll also help you identify what adjustments you need to fix it (what I find is that in most cases, the "okay but will output dark" images are fixed or mostly fixed by adjusting exposure or brightness until the tip of the histogram hits the right edge (effectively setting your white point. that's not a bad habit to get into in your workflow anyway). That presumes an "average" histogram and typical images. For images with strange histograms, you'll have to figure out how to intepret it, but if you know what the typical adjustment is, hitting the image iwth it should get you in the neighborhood.

don't be afraid to test print or test upload. Nobody will laugh at you for doing them. Honest... And they help a lot more than guessing does...

But over time and with practice, you'll get a sense for what an image needs and can "guess" and get it right much of the time....

Generally speaking, it's not you, and it's not a bug. It's that the active lighting of the monitor screen can fool you into thinking the image is brighter than it is.

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If your monitor is "affecting the image" after it has been calibrated and you're using color management aware applications or OS that defaults to correct color space for unmanaged applications, it's time to get a working monitor. Yes, that means throw or sell that TN panel right now. Get a nice VA or IPS panel (preferably the latter) and calibrate it with real tools (that is, use spectrometer instead of colorimeter) and your monitor will not be "affecting the image" anymore. –  Mikko Rantalainen Apr 18 '13 at 5:32
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I am seeing the same thing- it's the viewing application not knowing how to properly do color management. When exporting a JPG from LR3 either via export or publish to flickr, I can then view the JPG successfully in LR3, Photoshop, or in Windows 7' Photo Viewer app.

It fails to render properly in Firefox 3.6, Chrome, and IE 9. This is surprising since Firefox has partial color management and IE 9 supposedly has complete CM support. Yet it still fails with the exported JPGs.

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I had such a problem inside my Windows-VM (VirtualBox). Images were correctly exported to sRGB JPEGs. But in all kind of browsers the images looked considerably darker and maybe a bit shifted towards red. They did not look like this in LightRoom or Photoshop, nor the Windows Imageviewer.

Turned out that I was using a LCD profile in Windows for my LCD which was either broken by itself or in combination with the VM. Images with aRGB worked even in the browser while sRGB Images broke the color management line.

By setting the sRGB ISO default something profile in my Windows color management, pictures returned to the darker look even inside in LR and Photoshop. There I check the histogram and make sure they fill it nicely - then the pictures also look good when exported to sRGB.

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I noticed the same problem of my exports looking darker when viewed in external viewers. Even calabrated ones... but then I changed lightroom 3 background to white (to match flickr and some of the external viewers) and noticed all the photos looked darker even in lightroom.

It's a visual trick of the eye. Objects, even photos, surrounded by white will look darker than they are and objects surrounded by darkness will seem lighter than they actually are.

It's probably best to set the brightness of images with the background in lighroom set to match the kind of background your image will be viewed on. Then switch back to the dark gray and see how they look that way too. Find a happy medium if you're not sure where it will be viewed. I've learned to make my photos look good with white and dark backgrounds for best results.

Hope this helps someone out there! :)

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Unless you have very special needs, always convert to sRGB before uploading any photograph to any site. The changes for remote server understanding color management for automated scaling is pretty close to zero. For best results, remove any embedded ICC profiles from the images if your hardware supports it.

Failure do to this will result in incorrect color rendering in most cases. Possible failure locations:

  1. Server software doing automated rotation or scaling using numeric pixel values and throwing out emdedded ICC profile: the image is really in custom color space but it's lacking the required profile and as a result, viewing software assigns sRGB color space which results in incorrect colors.
  2. Server software successfully rotates and thumbnails the image keeping the ICC profile intact but the viewer software is not color management aware. As a result, the viewing software assigns display profile to the image and resulting image is displayed in incorrect colors. (Technically no software tries to assign a color profile during viewing in this case but end end result is the same as doing this.)
  3. Either the origin software (Lightroom in this case) or the server software understands color management a bit but contains bugs that cause both sRGB tag and custom ICC profile to be embedded in the image. As a result, software that honors embedded ICC profile over sRGB tag will render the image using embedded ICC profile and software that honors tag over profile will render the image using sRGB color space. In both cases, the used color space is assigned to the image.

Except for the case 2 where the problem is that the image is viewed with software that does not understand color management at all and the viewer's current display profile differs considerably from sRGB color space, the problem can be fixed by using sRGB color space for the distributed image. For the case 2, the end user must use color management cabable viewer or the colors will be correct only by lucky accident. Note that it does not make any difference if the viewer's display profile is actual or implicit (that is nobody ever bothered to measure the display and create a real profile - the display would still technically display colors in its own color space which hopefully is pretty close to sRGB).

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