Road Train !!!!!!!!!!

by Russell McMahon

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When editing for the web, everyone will recommend you to use sRGB, since a lot of browsers don't offer color management, and most browsers will interpret all images as being sRGB anyway.

This is correct for browsers used on normal gamut displays, which live in sRGB themselves.

Now enter wide gamut displays. These live in AdobeRGB color space, and to my dismay on a wide gamut display browsers without color management will interpret image data as being in AdobeRGB color space, too. What happens if sRGB image data is interpreted as AdobeRGB? The colors are off, too strong, it looks gaudy.

The problem even continues when using a browser with colormanagement like FireFox, but viewing pictures without embedded profile: the pictures will be interpreted as AdobeRGB instead of sRGB.

In short: since I got my wide gamut display flickr looks awful.

Any ideas how I get my browsers (Internet Explorer and FireFox) to use sRGB instead of AdobeRGB for color rendition as default?

I'm using Windows 7.

Funny thing, when I download the images to the local drive and use a file viewer to view them, the color is correctly interpreted as sRGB.

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I'd suspect that Flickr might not include the colour profile when it generates its smaller sizes, as well. –  Rowland Shaw Oct 11 '10 at 11:07
    
The files containing profiles are not my main problem. My main problem are the images which do not contain a profile. –  Sam Oct 11 '10 at 14:13
    
@Rowland Flickr does preserve the colour profile in resized images. –  Mark Whitaker Oct 31 '11 at 9:48
    
That "funny thing" you mention in your last sentence is just because the image viewer is treating the unprofiled images as sRGB and Firefox isn't. See my answer on how to get Firefox to do it too. –  Mark Whitaker Oct 31 '11 at 10:21

7 Answers 7

up vote -3 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do that is practical. To get what you want, you have to set your system profile to sRGB.

The behavior of image color rendition for images with no attached profiles is undefined. Browsers don't guess what color space an image is in, if no profile is attached. The operating system handles that.

The proper way to get color rendition correctly, is to attach a profile to the image. Obviously flickr (and smugmug thumbnails) do not give you this option.

So you have two choices: one, set windows to use sRGB as your monitor profile; then all non-tagged images will look like sRGB, but tagged images will look like crap, and your color management will be wack.

Or, just deal with the fact that unmanaged images are the devil and there is nothing you can do about it.

Perhaps there is a firefox plugin that can auto attach a color profile, but outside of that, it's just a plain old suck that is known as color management.

I've had to deal with this same issue with Smugmug. My images all have attached sRGB profiles, so they look great (in color managed browsers), but thumbnails looks oversaturated. It's because the thumbs are autogenerated, and smugmug refuses to attach a color profile to them, because it doubles the size of the thumbnail. So the thumbs render in whatever the way the OS decides to render them.

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Actually I found my display (Eizo CG303w) offers a mode switch which can be used to switch between AdobeRGB and sRGB which is very handy for browsing. –  Sam Dec 26 '10 at 19:23
    
"To get what you want, you have to set your system profile to sRGB." - that's completely wrong. You should never set your system profile to sRGB, you should profile your monitor with a calibration device. –  Mark Whitaker Oct 31 '11 at 8:37
    
Sorry, -1 as almost everything in this answer is incorrect! You mustn't set your display profile to sRGB, you can attach a profile to an image on Flickr, Firefox can render untagged images as sRGB, and the proper way to get colour rendition is not (just) to tag your image, it's to profile your monitor! In short, there is something you can do about it! –  Mark Whitaker Oct 31 '11 at 10:12
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Sorry, the first part "setting your monitor to rgb" was bad advice "images will look like sRGB, but other images will look like crap." I should have tagged it as such, but I thought it was implied that it was bad advice. Also, in the setting in firefox, it doesn't say which profile it tags the image as. Third fixing color calibration and setting your firefox browser works great for yourself, but try getting everyone who is going to visit your gallery to do the same. That's the real problem with unmanaged images. –  Alan Oct 31 '11 at 20:38

I've had exactly the same issue and it is possible to arrive at a correct and workable solution. There are a lot of misconceptions both in the question and the previous answers (and indeed, around colour management in general), so let me try to clear them up and provide you with an answer.

First, the misconceptions...

  1. Regular (non-wide) monitors do not "live in sRGB", nor do wide gamut displays "live in AdobeRGB". sRGB and AdobeRGB (together with ProPhoto RGB) are known as working profiles: they don't match any real world device, they just provide a standard set of measurements that all devices can be programmed to understand. Every monitor (and every printer) has its own profile, and indeed that profile may change over time as the chemicals in the display age. An individual display's profile may have a large degree of overlap with one of the standard working profiles, but it's incorrect to say it matches it exactly, or even fits completely within it. It's even less correct to say all displays of a certain type have profiles that fit within one of the standard working profiles.

  2. You should never set your display's profile to one of the working profiles (because that isn't its profile!). The correct solution is to use a calibration device to find out your monitor's correct profile, and use that.

  3. Browsers are not the only fruit: you want to make sure your display is profiled in such a way that other imaging apps (Photoshop, Lightroom, whatever) also display colours faithfully.

  4. There is something you can do about unmanaged images in browsers (a few other answers have touched on it). I'll come to it in detail below.

A rough guide to how profiles interact when you view an image on your monitor

In an ideal world, not one but two profiles will come into play when viewing an image. The first is the profile embedded in the image: let's call that the input profile. Remember that digital images are made up of pixels, each containing a combination of red, green and blue. So for a plain red square, every pixel is set to 100% red, 0% green, 0% blue. But what do we mean by 100% red? It's like seeing a sign on the road side saying "You may now drive at maximum speed". What maximum speed? As fast as the car will go? The sign doesn't say, so the actual speed is going to vary from car to car. What the input profile tells us is what that 100% value is relative to: for an image tagged with an embedded profile, your computer now knows that "100% red" means the maximum red value defined by that specific profile. (To complete the analogy, our road sign now says: "Maximum limit 70mph. You may now drive at the maximum.")

So, once an image is tagged with an embedded profile we know exactly what it is we need to display: exactly what shade of red, yellow, or whatever. The next question is: how do we display it? Look at the same image on a few different computers (or just your computer and your phone) and you'll see that no two displays render colour in exactly the same way. This is where we need to calibrate our monitor to produce a display profile - the output profile - that tells us exactly how this specific device renders colours. Now we've got both the pieces of information we need:

  • Input profile: What does this image mean when it says "red"?
  • Output profile: How do I get this hardware to display (as close as possible to) that shade of red?

And what if the image isn't tagged? For all but the most specialist of usage, it's safe to assume that an untagged image is using the sRGB profile.

And now to answer your question

The first step with any monitor - but especially important with a wide gamut display - is to correctly calibrate your monitor. This requires using a calibrator: a piece of hardware that sits over the screen and takes colour readings while displaying a range of test images, to determine what colours your monitor is actually displaying. For a wide gamut display you have to ensure you use a suitable calibrator: I use a Spyder Pro 3 and it works fine.

Once you've calibrated your monitor you should find that any colour-managed application is now displaying colours faithfully. Before calibration, my wide-gamut monitor displayed everything hyper-saturated: skin tones were tomato-red and both Photoshop and Lightroom were unusable. After calibration, they both looked perfect. So, use a colour-managed app to test your calibration.

And now onto the browsers! Firefox is the only browser that works well for me on a calibrated wide-gamut display. By default it uses the embedded colour profile in images to display them correctly, but untagged images still appear over-saturated. But don't worry, all is not lost!

  • Type about:config into your address bar.
  • Scroll down and look for gfx.color_management.mode.
  • Change the value to 1.

This causes Firefox to treat all untagged images as sRGB: exactly what we want to happen. It even works on icons in your bookmarks bar! Unfortunately it still doesn't work on flash video players though.

Both Safari and Chrome are also colour managed but both have their drawbacks. Safari (on Windows at least) doesn't treat untagged images as sRGB; Chrome does, but its colour management is disabled by default and awkward to switch on.

At time of writing, Opera has no colour management at all and IE9 is just downright idiotic: it respects the input profile (the one embedded in the image) but ignores the display output profile! This makes IE9 as good as useless on a wide gamut display.

So: calibrate + use Firefox + set gfx.color_management.mode to 1 = you're good. :)

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A useful link: browser check images –  mattdm Oct 31 '11 at 17:49

Modern versions of Firefox have a setting to try and manage non-profiled images as well as profiled ones. You can go into about:config and alter gfx.color_management.mode to '1'. (The default is 2.) A bit of Googling might yield a better explanation, but it has helped me when viewing SmugMug thumbnails, etc.

It's still not a system-wide fix for Win7 over-saturated reds, but at least my browser is sane.

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The "Win7 over-saturated reds" are nothing to do with Windows 7, it's a monitor issue. You're correct about the Firefox setting though. –  Mark Whitaker Oct 31 '11 at 10:14

This is probably a similar question to this one: Lightroom exports are too dark in Flickr. I have two wide-gamut displays (desktop, laptop). You may want to give newer versions of Firefox a try, but I wouldn't hold my breath. A year ago I went back & forth reporting this issue in the Firefox bug tracker (issue 497363 and 509710). Color management in Firefox isn't as easy as enabling an option actually. ICC profiles differ in structure and capabilities. A few of us with wide-gamut displays noticed Firefox was unable to interpret the corresponding ICC profile correctly.

Maybe this problem will go away if I use a different calibration tool to generate a different ICC profile, or a monitor with hardware LUT (i.e. one that can communicate with your calibration tool directly and store the calibration parameters in its hardware). You can use the free ICC Profile Inspector to play around with your profile, and compare it to another profile known to work. Here is the ICC profile spec. Below is a screenshot of my profile, see if there is something in common with yours.

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 in your Flickr photos, ever, stick to the web-friendly sRGB color space.

alt text

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Here's the state of color-management in Firefox and IE as of right now (10/11/2010).

Firefox v3.5.x - supports full color management, but only understands ICCv2 profiles. If your display calibration/profiling software supports creating v2 profiles (look for an option somewhere in the program settings), you should be able get images to display correctly. Note that by default Firefox only uses color management for images tagged with a color profile. Since there are many un-tagged sRGB images on the web, you'll probably want to configure Firefox to manage color for all images. The easiest way to make this change is using the Color Management extension for Firefox.

FireFox v4 (currently in beta) - FireFox4 will finally support ICCv4 color profiles, both for images and for your display profile. Current betas are bloated, buggy, and slow, so I don't recommend them for general use but at least we know correct color management is on the way.

Internet Explorer 8.x - no color management at all. zip, nada.

Internet Explorer 9 (currently in beta) - The public beta has some limited color management support, but it's of no real use on wide-gamut monitors. IE9 (beta) recognizes images tagged with profiles other than sRGB, and converts them to sRGB. Unfortunately it completely ignores the display profile, which means if you have a wide-gamut monitor everything will still be over-saturated. Whether MS will fix this behavior, or whether it was an intentional decision to improve rendering speed, remains to be seen. If any of you are beta testing IE9, I suggest reporting this bug so that MS knows there are people who are unhappy about it.

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I've had the same problem. I think you'll find that if you install Safari then your Flickr pictures will look fine as it supports color profiles.

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As I wrote above, even in FireFox which supports color profiles (yes, I tested it), the problem persists with pictures which do not contain color profiles (which is about 99% of the web). –  Sam Oct 11 '10 at 14:14
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While the default is to only color-managed tagged images, Firefox can be configured to use color management for all images. –  Jeff Kohn Oct 12 '10 at 2:45
    
I don't think "tell everyone to install Safari" is a very practical solution! –  mattdm Apr 24 '12 at 13:00
    
I'm not telling everyone to install Safari. I've just noticed that they do look fine, nothing more, nothing less. –  Sean Apr 24 '12 at 13:02

I believe you're out of luck with IE, though perhaps that may get corrected in IE 9. For Firefox, as you already know, there is some support for profile information and you can get some instructions on various settings that may alleviate the problem you're having with it. Your other option is to use Safari which is supposed to be properly color aware.

Final option, if you can really call it that, is to switch your monitor to the sRGB color space if it supports it.

Our very own jrista seems to be the color expert here, so perhaps he will chime in with either a correction of more ideas.

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As I wrote above, my FireFox does support color profiles, but the problem still persists with pictures without color profiles (which is about 99% of the internet). –  Sam Oct 11 '10 at 14:15

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