I have a photo (photo_A.jpg), taken on a post-sunset beach, for which I want to reduce some noise. I do so using the luminance noise reduction technique from Adobe Camera Raw, open the image in Photoshop CS5, and save another version (photo_B.jpg) of the photo. The settings used to save the JPEG were: maximum quality (12) and the Baseline("Standard") format option.

Now when I observe both the versions using Picasa 3, I see that there is quite considerable color loss in photo_B. But when I compare them using Windows Photo Gallery or even Photoshop CS5, I don't see any color loss!

In fact, the only change I see between A and B is the exact noise reduction that I'd hoped for. So, I decided to upload both the pics on Flickr and see what it looks like. And guess what... I see the same color loss for photo_B on Flickr as well.

As a result, I have the following questions:

  1. Should I trust Picasa more than Photoshop to 'view' my images?
  2. What would be the best software to view the images, so I can expect that that's exactly how they'll look online?
  3. Am I missing something very basic while saving the images from Photoshop?

I hardly dabble with color profiles etc. and hence have little knowledge about them.

  • You need to make sure the programs and the browsers you view your images in are colour managed. I've lost track of which browsers actually work though. Color management is where you need to look into though – Dreamager Oct 12 '11 at 10:10
  • gballard.net/psd/go_live_page_profile/embeddedJPEGprofiles.html this might make some sense. A quick test of mine shows only my IE9 is colour managed, with the latest Chrome and Opera not – Dreamager Oct 12 '11 at 11:04
  • are both pictures using the same colospace? Adobe RGB/sRGB/... – bengtb Oct 12 '11 at 12:32
  • Picasa doesn't handle CMYK JPEGs. Photoshop may be creating CMYK JPEGs... Picasa doesn't display them properly. That's documented here: picasa.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=32690 – user38258 Mar 7 '15 at 10:08
up vote 15 down vote accepted

Since you can't do anything about the color management of other people's monitors, the best you can do is:

  1. Make sure your own system is properly color managed (see other questions here on color management). That way, you are at least certain that you're starting from a known point. This is really worth doing even though it takes some effort and probably a small expense (which could perhaps be shared with a friend.) If you're hesitant to go down the whole rabbit hole, both Windows 7 and Mac OS X come with basic tools for visually winging it — better than nothing. (Or use http://displaycalibration.com/.)
  2. Work in the sRGB color space. I know this seems uncool given that there are wider-gamut spaces with names like "Adobe RGB" or "ProPhoto" (and pro must be better, right?), but I find it best to work in the space that is the target. That way, you don't get surprises due to gamut clipping or shifts when you go to make your final output. (See note below.)
  3. Save in sRGB. This is the defacto standard — that is, by industry agreement, it is the assumption that any uncalibrated setup should do a decent job of displaying sRGB images to a reasonable approximation of the original. Sometimes the approximation is awful enough to make color fanatics cringe, but that's the cruel reality of the world.
  4. And then, make sure you look at your images in various web browsers on as many different systems as you can to make sure they're okay. Or at least approximately okay. Uploading to Flickr and looking at it there is exactly the right thing to do, if you expect the photos to be viewed on Flickr as the final presentation. To answer the "what software" question directly, the answer is the software that will be used in the end — a web browser.

Oh, and in case it the above doesn't make it clear, my guess as to what's going on is that your JPEGs (either originally from the camera or from a setting in the RAW conversion) are using a color space other than sRGB — probably Adobe RGB, since that's the most common alternative. The programs where the photo looks as you expect understand how to properly deal with that, and the programs where it looks wrong are rendering the data as if it were sRGB.

Footnote: If you're worried about working in the constrained sRGB color space instead of a wider gamut, keep your RAW originals. Then, you can redo this decision later for a different output medium. There are good reasons for the other color spaces and I don't mean to disparage them or their use. They're just not what you want here.

  • I've always worked in the sRGB space in Lightroom, on my camera, and also have managed to calibrate my iMac rather accurately using only the Mac OS X colour calibrator and my eyes. I can export an sRGB photo on my iMac and it looks almost identical on every display, from cheap LCD monitors on Windows XP to iPhones and even my plasma TV once I calibrated it using a few reference photos. – Nick Bedford Oct 13 '11 at 2:04
  • Thanks mattdm... I knew it has to do something with the color space. Will pay closer attention to it now on. – Tushar M Oct 18 '11 at 17:26

The symptoms you are seeing sound like a colour space issue. At the moment you should only assume that browsers will render your images with sRGB. If you save a .jpg file with a different colour space and then view it with an sRGB only capable viewer (in this case the browser) colour loss or saturation changes are what you will see.

I suspect that your second save action in CS5 did not save the .jpg in the sRGB colour space. Look for a "Convert to Profile" option in the save for web dialog box.

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