Color management guide by Arnaud Frich

Generalites about colors Screen calibration Printer calibration Manage the colors with Photoshop Go further and know more

Updated on June 17, 2017

Color management in Camera Raw

Lightroom and Camera Raw share the same RAW files development module. We'll thus now see how to manage colors with Adobe's demosaicing programs, from the assignment of an ICC profile to the camera automatically or manually to the conversion in a neutral color space, and to white balance... 


Key points if you're a beginner...

Here are the key points to remember about color management in Camera Raw. The rest of this page is aimed at those who want to learn more.

Adobe's Camera RawCamera Raw is Photoshop's demosaicing program. It is automatically installed with Photoshop. Its equivalent in Lightroom is called Development tab.

Camera Raw is very powerful to manage colors first-rate! It accepts custom-made ICC profiles for cameras and enables to choose from more color space for your images than just Adobe RGB 98. This parameter alone could justify to rather use it than JPEG files!

But Camera Raw is also very powerful to make white balance and also, of course, any color or level edits on a high definition file, since it is a digital negative: a RAW file.

Color management in Camera Raw or Lightroom (Adobe) follows three main steps:



Assign an ICC profile in Camera Raw

Any color file, in order to display the "right" colors, needs to be assigned the right ICC profile. Since the file is opened out of the camera, this assignment can only happen in a demosaicing program, whichever one. Camera Raw automatically assigns your camera's ICC profile but it is possible to take control on this step. It is even more interesting if you have your own custom-made ICC profiles, as we'll see later.

Automatic assignment of the camera's ICC profile

This assignment is thus done automatically. Camera Raw reads the file's EXIF data to know the name of the camera. If it is part of Camera Raw's database, the photo opens (fig. below):


Assignment of the ICC profile to a RAW file in Camera Raw


Note! If your camera body isn't in Adobe Camera Raw's database, because it is too recent or you never updated your software, you simply won't be able to open it in this application!

Manual assignment of the camera's ICC profile

But in Camera Raw, it is possible, once the automatic assignment performed, to change the default ICC profile for a different one. There are two categories:  

  • Other versions of the default profile: they're more or less saturated (to sum up!) but are still generic profiles, 
  • Custom ICC profiles.

1 - Default profile and its versions (Adobe ICC profiles)  

In most cases, Adobe created several versions of ICC profiles for each camera body. The default ICC profile is called Adobe Standard. Then, Adobe edited this profile to create a few other versions correcting defects always in the same way but with more or less saturated renderings mostly. They're called Camera Portrait, Landscape, etc. The Camera Standard profile is supposed to be the closest to the body's JPEG rendering.

2 - Custom profiles

Custom camera ICC profiles are all stored in the same place once they're installed on your computer, except for one (they're DNG format profiles). They'll have the name you or the service provider gave them, if you had them done externally. You just have to choose the one you want from the list.


Where are ICC profiles in Camera Raw?

Adobe's ICC profiles are in the tab "Camera calibration > Camera profile > Name of the profile" in Camera Raw.

Tab "Camera calibration" in Camera Raw

Adobe's default ICC profiles for a Canon 1 DS Mark III.

Tab "Camera calibration" in Camera Raw

Adobe's profiles + default custom profiles for a Canon 1 DS Mark III.

(Read the page color calibration for your camera to know where the profiles are stored on your computer).



Second step: white balance

To choose your ICC profile right, you should normally make a white balance on a calibrated chart on a reference photo. Here's why.

White balance to neutralize shades...

Not everybody know it but what we usually call white balance influences two different parameters. Color temperature which gives its cold or warm atmosphere to the photo and its shade (green/magenta). Even if the first one is more of a problem of taste and is easy to "correct", the second one is vicious and thus complicated to fix with a naked eye. The famous white balance pipettes are then of great help. You need to perform it on a "real" white though, meaning a white that doesn't just seem white to a human eye but also to this pipette!


Colored predominance shade

Shade predominance: greenish on the left and magenta on the right.


Predominance is important in this example but it is very difficult to fix when it is just played 5 points close. One pipette measurement on a calibrated chart of good quality (TrueColors or Refcard 6) does the trick!

... and incidentally color temperature

Here we're talking about something we know... and a matter of taste most often. Except when it is about reproducing a work of art, and in this case it is compulsory to make white balance with a white chart, a simple pipette measurement on a white subject in real life on the scene shot will be more than enough to neutralize shades and color temperature.


Choose white balance pipette


Before clicking on the "white" wall, at least to the naked eye! the photo looks very "warm" hence very yellowish/orange. So warm we can't even see if there's a shade predominance!


After white balance


After clicking on the wall (white in real life!), the overall predominance is neutralized as well as the shade, at the same time. I would agree to rewarm this photo a little bit before delivering it... It it not a painting to reproduce for the Louvres museum, but just a very beautiful hotel where people need to feel welcome hence... warm. Technical perfection is sometimes a bit "cold"!



Color conversion

Once you applied your optimizations and settings to your RAW file, you'll be able to open it in Photoshop or another program thanks to the button "Open an image". But before that, you'll have to choose your destination color space and the final number of bits in your image. It can be done at the extreme bottom of the window in Camera Raw (fig. below):  


Options of destination color spaces


I won't go into details about the choice here and I recommend you to read, among others, my pages "Choosing your workspace" and "Choosing your color space between sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto", but you'll be able to choose from four possibilities in this program, from standard sRGB to the extremely broad ProPhoto and even more in the last versions of Camera Raw:


Workflow options in Camera Raw


VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE! MISE À JOUR TRÈS IMPORTANTE ! Until version 14.0 of Photoshop CC, you only had four destination color spaces options as I just stressed above, but it just changed with the update 14.1. It is now possible to choose from all the profiles on your computer! If you installed a DON RGB, a MELISSA RGB or even a BEST RGB, you can now convert your RAW file directly in these color spaces.

Several remarks!

It is thus possible to develop the same RAW file several times with different color spaces, really as if you'd shot the photo in sRGB or ProPhoto. It is thus very easy to adapt your colorflow to each photo depending on its needs. If you open a photo for the web, shot on a foggy day or to be printed on matt paper, sRGB will be perfectly fine. But if you shot a poppy in full sunlight, that you shot something not especially saturated but you want to saturate it in post-production and you want to make a nice print on a glossy paper, ProPhoto is imperative so as not to risk desaturating a part of the bright red petals and to keep a maximum potential of edits! Under these circumstances, I recommend you to work in 16 bits and not 8 bits anymore, of course. Here again, you won't always see the difference if you test it but it is more logical to prefer this depth, just in case.

It is possible to choose from more possibilities than the classic sRGB and Adobe RGB we have on our camera bodies, even the professional ones. Even if Adobe RGB 98 was interesting in 1998 (back then, it was the common space to all American offset printers), it is quite small compared to recent bubble jet printers' gamuts on glossy paper. Moreover, it has another drawback compared to sRGB, it is only broader in green tones. Spread the word!

My recommendation! Choose to choose sRGB and if you need more "space", favor ProPhoto. In 2016, I really can't see the point of choosing Adobe RGB 98 anymore if you're working in RAW and you want a broader space than sRGB. 

Choosing your workspace Suivre


To be remembered!

Color management in Camera Raw or Lightroom is very easy because it has all been foreseen and often automated!

ICC profile assignment at the opening of the RAW file is automatic (if your software is up to date). It is very easy to change it afterwards for a custom profile you would have created yourself (... or not) though. 

White balance on a calibrated chart (or not, by the way) on a reference photo is child play from a RAW file.

Conversion can finally be made towards a broader space than Adobe RGB 98: ProPhoto. In 2016, favor sRGB or ProPhoto depending on your needs but avoid Adobe RGB 98 that doesn't have anything better than ProPhoto.

If you choose ProPhoto, you should also preferably choose the 16 bits more although you won't often see the difference with 8 bits, except if you perform big edits on your images.

And all of this with a minimum waste on the photo. The final result can beat the quality of a JPEG file developed in your camera by far.

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