Photos look different on various devices

Dave asks:

I have a question regarding viewing images on different devices, I used a calibrated 24in Asus monitor and LR5.7 to process my images, I would consider myself fairly conservative with the colour sliders in general, but I’m finding that my images never look correct in terms of colour saturation when viewing on mobile devices, i.e. iphone/ipad/Nexus tablet. Images viewed on these have less colour when compared directly with my monitor.

I have compared my monitor against my ipad when viewing images on 500px, and it doesn’t look too bad – perhaps 500px optimise their mobile app?

Any ideas, is it simply a case of the mobile devices not being able to display as wide a colour range? I’m generally happy with what I’m seeing from my monitor.

My reply:

There are several factors in play here.

Firstly, your desktop display can most certainly output a much wider gamut of colours than most mobile devices. But that’s not likely the issue.

Before I get into suggestions for a solution, there are a few fundamental principles to review:

1. Your photos will never look exactly the same on every device or in every viewing scenario. So forget about that.

2. You need to work on your photos using a good quality display, properly calibrated and profiled, and use software that effective colour manages your on-screen previews. (Sounds like you’ve got most of that covered with your Asus and Lightroom…)

However, you didn’t mention what system you’re using to profile your display. I only recommend the X-Rite solutions. For most people the i1 Display range is ideal; for people on a budget or making their own prints the ColorMunki is very good too.

But unfortunately many calibration systems on the market simply don’t perform well. (The Spyder system is one of these. Avoid it!)

3. When your images are destined to be viewed on any type of display, you always need to embed the appropriate profile for on-screen viewing. This is always sRGB. Using any other colour profile will produce highly variable results. So when you export from Lightroom, make sure you’re specifying the sRGB colour space.

If any of the above conditions are not met, your viewing results will be highly variable at best.

And even if you’ve done all the above, the most you can hope for is to find a comfortable compromise.

This means getting your images to look the way you want in your colour managed environment, and then view them on several other systems to see how they look.

In many cases your images will look darker or lighter, and more (or less) contrasty and saturated when you view them on different devices. And even in different browsers or apps. This is due to the fact that the systems and software are rendering the colour values differently.

And yes, 500px is most certainly processing the photos internally when they’re uploaded, to try and make everyone’s photos more vibrant and punchy.

However, if what you’re seeing is that photos on your own display look one way and on several other systems they look different than yon your display but similar to each other, it’s most likely because your primary display is not showing you an accurate preview. Or you’re using the wrong profiles. Or both.

In my experience, my desktop display looks less contrasty and less saturated than when I view my pictures on non-colour managed systems.

If yours is more saturated, there’s likely something amiss with your colour management procedures.

Let me know what display calibration package you’re using, and try making a better profile.

And be sure your operating system is set to actually use that profile! (And in case you’re wondering, it’s never a good idea to set your display profile to sRGB or Adobe RGB… these are working spaces, not display profiles.)

Locking down your colour management can take time and there are many fiddly little bits that can throw the whole thing off. I’ve written a lot about colour management over the years, and there are many more articles on the subject here on Photography Essentials.

Hope this points you in the right direction; let me know how you get on. And thanks for your contribution!

Struggling to get correct exposure

Terri asks:

“I just purchased the D750; you know the one with great capabilities, but has a flare issue. Nikon repaired the flare and so now all is good as new. Question I have is this: The images taken with D750 (with or without the repair) seems to be on the darker side. In order to get good exposure, I am needing to regularly over expose to get the right balance. I have looked at all the settings that I can think of but to no avail. Any suggestions?”

My response:

Correct exposure is certainly a Photography Essential! If your photos are actually underexposed, it may be your metering settings and/or technique that’s causing it, not the camera itself.

Let’s look at the key factors that most affect exposure and your interpretation of it:

  • Camera shooting mode – basically, full manual vs. anything else
  • Camera metering mode – matrix, evaluative, spot, etc.
  • Camera LCD settings, especially brightness
  • Camera histogram
  • Computer display settings
  • Display calibration and profiling
  • Software (e.g. Lightroom) previews and histogram
  • Software settings, especially camera profiles and adjustment defaults


X-Rite calibration rebates

For photographers, working with a properly calibrated and profiled display is by far the most important factor in maintaining accurate color. You need to be able to trust what you see on the screen!

For many years I’ve been using and recommending the line of color management products from X-Rite. (And frankly, you don’t need to look at any other brands for color management …)

X-Rite has been announcing many new and updated products over the past several months. Of particular interest to photographers are the brand new ColorMunki Display and i1Display Pro, both of which are getting rave reviews.

More exciting is the fact that X-Rite is offering rebates when you trade in your old profiling solution. Details on the trade-in program are here.

I’m trading in my trusty old i1Display 2 for the i1Display Pro. If you’re a photographer, I strongly recommend you consider the excellent new monitor profiling solutions from X-Rite as well.

When you’re ready to buy, you can use these links to purchase at B&H:

i1Display Pro

ColorMunki Display

Monitor Envy

I’ve been very happy with my LaCie 321 for the past few years but now am lusting for a monitor with full Adobe RGB coverage. Here’s one from NEC that looks really nice and I think is very reasonably priced:

Lightroom Tip: Prepping Photos for Printing

If you print your photos from Lightroom, you may notice that with different papers, the color and tonal output varies, even if printing on the same printer.

This is because all different printer/paper/ink combinations result in varying range of colors and tones that can be accurately reproduced.

In other words, if you print the same photo from Lightroom (or any other program, for that matter) on glossy photo paper, cotton rag art paper and canvas, each print will look different.

So what’s a photographer to do?

The answer is simple, but the implementation is not: you need to make adjustments to the photo for each substrate prior to printing. (more…)

Using Lightroom for reproduction of original fine art

These days I’m doing a lot of “giclee” reproductions of original fine art in a variety of media including pastels, watercolor and oils.

I’ve found that Lightroom is an ideal environment in which to work up my master images. In particular, the HSL panel is an extremely useful tool when it comes to matching colors in the original paintings.

I begin with a digital capture, either a raw image from a Canon 1Ds Mark III or a scan of a transparency (from  my Epson 750M Pro). Whether working with a raw capture or a TIF scan, I’ve found that I can match colors much more easily in Lightroom than in Photoshop.

For color management on my Mac, I use a LaCie 319 display, X-Rite EyeOne and Pulse. I’ve found that I really can trust what I see in Lightroom to match the print (of course, this also involves soft-proofing for the chosen media in Photoshop prior to printing.)

If you do fine art reproductions, consider integrating Lightroom into your workflow. It’s made a world of difference in mine.

*I will be publishing a white paper on Fine Art Reproduction with Lightroom this summer… stay tuned!


An industry group has published an excellent – and FREE – resource detailing current Universal Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines (UPDIG). A must read!Download PDF

Lightroom Color Management and Soft-Proofing

Many people ask about soft-proofing in Lightroom. The simple answer: there isn’t any. At least not yet.

However, Lightroom is a color-managed application. So if your monitor is properly calibrated, you can trust what you see on screen – that is, until you need to preview the printed output for a specific printer/paper combination.

For this, you still need to go into Photoshop. My workflow:

1. Perfect the image as much as possible in Lightroom

2. Select the “Edit in photoshop CS3…” command from the Photo menu.

3. In Photoshop, perform sharpening, soft-proofing and make any necessary adjustments for print.

You can then either print the image from Photoshop or go back into Lightroom for printing.

Tip: when you’re done editing the file in Photoshop, make sure to use the Save… command and not Save As… This will update the linked file in the Lightroom database.

Color Management 101

Using color management is a critical element of getting your digital photos from capture through print. If you want your prints to look their best you should establish and follow a color-managed workflow.

Color management refers to a system of computer hardware and software working together to translate color from one device to another in a controlled way.

A digital image file contains a defined range of colors, described mathematically. In Photoshop, this is referred to as the file’s Working Space. The most common working spaces are sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998) and ProPhoto (I prefer the latter). (more…)

Use Black Backgrounds for Soft Proofing

When soft proofing an image, it’s best to use a black background to surround both your working file and your reference image. In Photoshop, the only way to do this is to change the color of your desktop to black, and use the standard window mode to position your work and reference images side by side.

Rendering Intents

Picking the correct Rendering Intent for soft proofing and printing isn’t difficult if you remember these two points:

1. If you care most about maintaining the color relationships in the picture, use Perceptual.

2. If you care most about maintaining the tonal relationships (dark-light), use Relative Colorimetric.

Important Note: if you are using custom printer profiles, you should use separate profiles for Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric rendering intents.

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