Seeing in Full Colour

test 2 no profileDepending on what platform and browser you’re using, you may be looking at this post thinking that I’ve gone totally nuts and posted the same picture twice…

I haven’t.

What you’ll see depends on which platform and browser combination you are using. Anybody using a PC or Mac running an out-of-the-box install of Firefox or a PC running Internet Explorer will be seeing two identical pictures. If you are using Safari on the PC or Mac, Internet Explorer on the Mac, or you’ve made certain changes to the configuration of Firefox 3, you’ll be able to see a difference between the two images.

The difference is down to colour management. The two images were posted to Flickr by user jamieourada, who had always put the fact that his pictures appeared badly on PC’s down to lousy or mis-configured monitors on the PC’s that were viewing the pictures, but had just discovered a relatively unknown fact, which is that Safari honours the colour profile embedded in an image.

test 1 with profileEssentially colour management is about ensuring that colours appear the same across multiple devices, so for example the colours that your digital camera records are the same colours that are displayed on screen when you are working with the picture, and that are printed out when you print your picture on a printer. This is dealt with by embedding a colour profile into the image file. Tools like Photoshop can work with, and even change these colour profiles for a particular image, which is what has happened here.

The problem is that most web browsers totally ignore the colour profile that has been embedded in an image, and instead apply a generic profile, so whilst this doesn’t much matter in an average web site, when you’re looking at photographic images it becomes a noticeable problem. If you look at the second image here, which is the one that is using a colour profile the colours look a lot more vibrant than they do in the version without a profile – but only if you’re using Safari, or have enabled colour management in Firefox 3. Of course a lot of the time the differences can be quite subtle, but the differences in this image, particularly the areas of rust, are really quite striking, really highlighting the issues.

So, if you’re serious about wanting to see pictures online as was originally intended, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of Safari, or enable the colour management settings on Firefox 3.

test 1 with profile and test 2 no profile originally uploaded by jamieourada. Hat tip to regularjen for twittering the picture.

One thought on “Seeing in Full Colour”

  1. Cheers for the link!

    It’s a shocking difference between the two images and proves that colour management makes or breaks a digital photo. It’s a shame that most web browsers are giving us such a bland visual diet.

    (Thankfully, I use Safari for nearly everything I do on the web.)

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