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sRGB vs Adobe RGB colour space explained

Digital images are everywhere, both offline and online. Each digital image is made up of a large number of square sized individual pixels. Zoom into an image at 2000 % or more in any of the viewers, you will see these pixels. Here is an example:

Colour pixels in a digital image

In order to categorize pixel colours, RGB and CMYK are the two widely used colour models. According to the RGB colour model, each pixel colour can be considered as an addition of different shades of red/green/blue light. These light shades are calculated according to the bit depth of the image. Jpeg images are usually 8 bits per colour channel (red, blue or green), which means 2^8 ( 256) different shades of each red/blue/green colour are possible. Few examples to make it clear how different colours shades are represented:
Red: (255, 0, 0)
Green: (0,255,0)
Blue: (0,0,255)
White: (255, 255, 255)
Black:  (0,0,0)

RGB and CMYK Color Model

What does CMYK do? It is a subtractive colour model for printing purposes and stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. According to CMYK model, black ink is a combination of all four colours unlike the RGB model. This is due to the fact that RGB model is for screens where we deal with light, whereas printing is done using ink on a white paper. During printing, the colour our eyes see is the wavelength reflected from the paper (other wavelengths get absorbed or subtracted out).

Colour space:
Human eyes can see and perceive way more colours than any display device or printer could ever replicate. Due to this, red might not always look like red when viewed across different devices and printed using a given printer.  All the digital devices have different sorts of display settings, colour gamuts, etc. which can possibly lead to inconsistent viewing perspective. In order to keep the view similar to human eyes, we need colour space. To make the look consistent for both viewing and printing, there are two main image colour space types:
sRGB: Created by HP and Microsoft. It is also known as IEC61966-2-1:1999
Adobe RGB 1998: Created by Adobe Systems.
Basically, Adobe RGB covers the same colours over a larger area. This means you might see some colour shades that went unnoticed in sRGB. Example: Nature green. A small thing to note is that colour depth refers to the count of colours possible, but colour space is the coverage of these possible colours. In Adobe RGB, colours are separated farther and thus more banding.

Color management profiles: sRGB vs Adobe RGB

Display monitor:
Dell U2413
Dell UP2414Q
Dell 3007wfp-hc.
These 3 monitors cover a wide range of colours but they need calibration for good results. This can be done by a factory default reset followed by calibration using Spyder5 Pro. If you feel not so satisfied with these three, there are more expensive Eizo monitors too. 
Shooting jpeg:
If you don't know which one you should be using, just use sRGB as it is still an extremely widely used colour space profile. Of course, it can be switched later on while processing or exporting the image after editing. Even if you shoot Adobe RGB, never forget to convert the images to sRGB for usage where colour management is not possible such as websites. Adobe RGB looks strange when rendered by a web browser.
Shooting raw:
DSLR camera raw files have no colour space, it's the exported/converted jpeg file that has colour management applied to it by the editor. Shooting raw in either of the colour profiles will have no impact on the raw file sensor data. The slight change in camera image preview when changing in-camera colour space is due to the embedded jpeg preview of the raw file. If you can't view (monitor) or print full gamut, there is not a lot of benefit working with Adobe RGB as a digital photographer. 
Adobe RGB is quite useful for printing purposes, but the printer has to be adjusted too according to the paper used.  Most wedding and other photographers don't do this much as most of the work is delivered digitally. They just shoot, edit and export it in sRGB for online purposes. For Adobe RGB to work properly for printing, you should inquire about the colour space used by print shop too. If they use sRGB, exporting images with Adobe RGB will produce strange results. Sending images to a professional printing press? Adobe RGB should be fine as it encompasses most of the CMYK printer colours.
Hope this post helped you to figure out the confusion of which colour space to choose and when. Share the photography love by sharing this post. :) 


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