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Does Your Image Look Different In Lightroom & Photoshop? Here’s Why & How To Fix It

By Kishore Sawh on January 7th 2016

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Unless you’ve had your head above the clouds rather than securely on your shoulders, you might’ve missed that print has been enjoying a bit of a revival, a renaissance if you will. In fact, even for myself, one of my primary focuses this year is to return to regular printing. There’s something lasting and satisfying about a print versus the same image in digital that comparatively feels, well, ephemeral.

Part and parcel to printing, however, is the added knowledge base required to execute proper and consistent prints. Knowing how to make a picture and edit it so it looks right on one screen isn’t really going to suffice if you’re thinking about printing, at least on a professional level. That requires and includes having an understanding of color spaces, scaling, correct formatting for a specific print house, and so forth.

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To do this, though, you begin in your editing software, and that means Lightroom and Photoshop. I say this knowing full well there are other options, but for the lion’s share of the photographer populous, it’s the dynamic Adobe duo. And even though the two programs are built by the same parent company, and largely arranged to work together, some of you may find that your images in one look different than the very same image in the other.

It happened to me recently when I was setting up a new computer, and while working in Lightroom decided to shift over to Photoshop for some finer retouching. Upon opening it in Photoshop, I was greeted with the same image, but the color was just off. This is a surprisingly common problem many users run into, but thankfully the solution is an easy one.

What’s Going On?

The answer most often lies with the ‘External Editing’ specification your applications are set to. While you’re in Lightroom, open Preferences, and you’ll see a tab labeled ‘External Editing.’ Within that tab, you’ll see five items you can toggle, and what we’re concerned about for the purpose of consistency is Color Space.

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Lightroom’s default, native, preferred color space is ProPhoto RGB, and that’s not a bad thing, even if you generally export for web or whatnot. However, because color spaces can have such a dramatic influence on how an image appears on your screen, if you’re having an issue where you open an image from Lightroom in Photoshop and it looks different, then it would suggest that likely your color spaces in each application aren’t matched. I’m willing to bet (some small denomination of monies) that this is your problem, and, therefore the solution is to ensure that they do.

How?

Well, first you should check to see what working color space you’re using within Photoshop, since you already know that Lightroom is likely sitting pretty in ProPhoto RGB. Do this by going into Photoshop, Edit > Color Settings.

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When this dialogue box appears, the only section you’re concerned about for this purpose is the top left area, ‘Working Spaces’, and furthermore, strictly within the ‘RGB’ drop down list. As long as it matches that of Lightroom, your images should look alike. In fact, if you’re using sRGB in LR, then open that image from Lightroom via ‘Edit In’ in Photoshop and PS is using a larger gamut RGB like ProPhoto or Adobe RGB, the images, in my experience looks the same.

Truly this is all there is to it, or at least, I hope this solves a query you might have. If I may offer you a few words of advice here, though, is to work backward. It helps to know what your images will be used for before choosing a color space. If you’re going to be exporting them for the web or something inconsequential, then the smaller RGB color space should suffice. If printing, then go with a larger.

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Anyway, if this whole idea of color space is a little confusing to you, that’s ok, you’re not alone. In very basic terms, it’s a spectrum/range of colors that can be represented in an image. As an oversimplified example, imagine a swatch of 100 colors (color space A), and then one of 1000 colors (color space B). If a picture were taken and loaded or printed using color space B, it would have so many more colors with which to render from, so it would look smoother and likely more accurate, whereas color space A would probably look blotchier.

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[REWIND: A Breakdown Of Color Spaces | You Really Should Have A Grasp On This]

That is completely oversimplified especially when you consider that color spaces usually are in the millions of colors. 

If you’d like a more in-depth look at it, with suggestions when to use what and why, then have a quick read over this previous article of mine which should only take a few minutes. If you really want to get into the swing of this whole color thing, then you’re likely going to want to calibrate your monitor, and for that may I suggest this.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Andrés Duran

    Thank you so much for this! I was getting so frustrated with photoshop for displaying my images desaturated with a green cast and this fixed it right up!

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  2. Cliff Fawcett

    Great article and summary of colour space. I have recently experienced a colour/ saturation problem that appears to be unrelated to colour space settings so would be great to get thoughts from this community. I have my colour space settings set to export to Photoshop in Adobe RGB (and all photoshop settings are in Adobe RGB, Gray Gamma 2.2). On a recent set of images I noticed for the first time that on opening in photoshop a high level of saturation was being added to the images (which it shouldn’t be). I tried changing all settings to ProPhoto (and in PS changing this to ProPhoto, Gray Gamma 1.8) – this had no effect. I have not experienced- or noticed – this before. The only other recent change is a new camera (Nikon D810 vs. D7100) but in going through the in camera settings this all seems fine – and as outlined the impact is only noticed in the exporting / importing into photoshop. I’ve also restarted both applications and restarted the whole system to no avail. Thanks and look forward to hearing any thoughts on what might be causing this. 

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Cliff. I would need some more information really to have proper insight into what’s happening. When you say export to Photoshop from where are you exporting from? Are you developing the image in camera raw and then hitting ‘open image’ in Photoshop? Or from another software like Capture one? 

      Your Gama settings at either 1.8 or 2.2 should not cause a major saturation shift like that one you’re describing, normally. Interestingly, I have been using a Wacom Cintiq recently and have been noticing major saturation shifts opening files in PS also, but closing the program and reopening it seems to solve. I know that’s Nintendo-level advice but there was no explanation for it. I’ll have a look to see 


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  3. Debbie Borato

    My colors are off when going from LR to PSE10.   How do I fix that in PSE10?   Its not about printing, Im just doing some tweaking in PSE10. , but colors are off.

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  4. Helge Jorgensen

    When I export an image from Lightroom to Photoshop – Photoshop always asks if I want to embed the Photoshop workspace or keep the original. I guess that’s just as good?

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  5. Amanda Smith

    Still trying to learn this, so bear with me. If I have Lightroom set to ProPhoto and change PS to the same, and assuming I shoot RAW, when I export my jpg images to print (say Millers or WHCC), will I have any problems with the image not matching up to my screen. (My monitor is calibrated -FYI). I thought I read somewhere that since most printers don’t use ProPhoto RGB, it’s recommended to just leave everything sRGB for easy consistency from editing to final print. Thoughts?? Thanks!

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    • Poul-Werner Dam

      In the export options in Lightroom you can/must set which colour space the resulting jpg-files must be in. And that can either be Adobe RGB or sRGB – depending on the purpose of the exported files.
      As I wrote earlier you cannot set Lightroom to work in a specific colour space.

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  6. Debbie Borato

    I use PS Elements. I do I set the color space?

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  7. Chris Biele

    Great article for a question which often crops up. One thing I’ve always been concerned with though is the color banding which appears when dealing with gradients (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posterization). I haven’t really noticed much banding on my prints and albums, but how much of what we see onscreen actually transfers into the final physical product?

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  8. Barry Tobin

    Thanks a bunch Kishore… very helpful, this issue was literally just doing my head in these past few days :-)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Glad you found it useful. These are the little things that can frustrate anyone to no end. Be well Barry

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  9. Rafael Steffen

    My favorite line of the article: There’s something lasting and satisfying about a print versus the same image in digital that comparatively feels, well, ephemeral. I love this!

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  10. Tyler Friesen

    I struggled with this when I first started, great article

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  11. Hannes Nitzsche

    if you use a monitor that covers 99% of AdobeRGB and print fairly frequently, wouldn’t it make sense to shoot in AdobeRGB and set-up both LR and PS to display the color in AdobeRGB as well? Then you’d have consistency throughout your workflow and AdobeRGB should be great enough for printing as long as your jpegs are exported in the AdobeRGB color space…
    only when exporting for web, you’d need to chose sRGB. Am I correct in my assumptions? Cheers in advance :)

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    • Poul-Werner Dam

      Well, the thing is – you can’t change colour space in Lightroom. Internally it works with the largest colour space (similar to Prophoto).

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    • Joseph Wu

      Yes, if your workflow is entirely color managed, and have a need for wide-gamut photos, then you can work / shoot in 100% AdobeRGB.

      Just note that when you do need to export for the WEB, you must have the ICC profiles be embedded, or export as sRGB jpegs.

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    • Hannes Nitzsche

      Cheers Poul-Werner and Joseph for both your answers! Joseph, that’s exactly what I am doing. Now I just need to get the printer calibration with my local print shop suzzed and then I’m a happy camper :)

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  12. John Cavan

    Had a look and sure enough… I hadn’t thought about it since I had always set up ACR to use ProPhoto and just assumed that the handover from Lightroom would be similar.

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  13. Andrew Bird

    Good read. What do you do when you export as jpegs then bring them back in to LR.

    When I use my phone images or export and bring the jpeg back into Lr the colors shift. Any tips on avoiding this?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Andrew, I don’t want to give you a false answer on this, but I rarely if ever input JPEGs, so let me look into this so I can give you an answer with some sure footing.

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    • Joseph Wu

      Hey Andrew,

      From what I understand you would need to make sure when you export the JPEG, you retain and embed all color space information in the image.

      Essentially retain EXIF & embedded information.

      If you see color shifting that means your application is either not color aware, or that the color information was not properly embedded.

      Example is when you have a wide-gamut image, but your image doesn’t have color information in it.

      Another example is when you’re on a wide-gamut display, but your image is in sRGB space, and your app isn’t color managed. So it washes out the image.

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  14. Joseph Ford

    Good article, preserving the color space when externally editing until you ready to export.

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