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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mysteries Of (Color) Space

We've covered it before and we'll cover it again because the ins and outs of color management begin with a firm grasp of how devices handle color space

The Mysteries Of (Color) Space Technical terms are frequently tossed around like a Frisbee in a park on Sunday. In digital imaging, three such terms are color space, color gamut and profiles. “Use this color space—you'll get better results.” “Is this color within the color gamut?” “What profile are you using?” All are valid questions, but what do they actually mean?

The industry's top hitters—Gretag-Macbeth, ColorVision, LaCie, X-Rite and others—have made analyzing color spaces, creating profiles and viewing a color gamut so user-friendly that what was untouchable to all except the über-geek a few years ago now is accessible to all photographers who want complete control over their images. By making color management easier, manufacturers are helping to demystify these concepts. Color management is so increasingly commonplace, even among hobbyist consumers, that it has become a fundamental requirement for imaging professionals.

What Is A Color Space?

In general terms, a color space is all of the possible colors that an image can contain. Think of it like a box of crayons. If you use an eight-pack of Brand X crayons to sketch a bowl of fruit, your color space is that box of crayons. This color space will give you different options for creating your sketch than would a 16-pack of Brand Y crayons. A 64-pack would blow both of these away. You may not use all of the crayons for a given image, but it's nice to have the range. Think of color space as the digital equivalent of your box of crayons.

This is a simplistic analogy, but it helps to comprehend this basic concept before we dive into the more technical aspects of color spaces and color management. I base my understanding of color spaces and how they're used on a simple three-part workflow principle. You need to know: 1) from where your file came (source); 2) its present state (edit); and 3) to where it's going (destination).

There are two types of color space: working space and device space. Device space is the box of crayons to which you'll be limited when using a specific device, such as a camera, scanner or printer. We'll talk more about device space later. Most of the time, when people are talking about color space, they're referring to the working space.


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