In terms of color management, no photo software is more complete than Adobe Photoshop. It’s easy to take this for granted until you switch programs (which you might do to escape subscription costs).
That’s why this article looks at color management in Affinity Photo, a popular standalone alternative to Photoshop.
Choosing a working color space in Affinity (Photo Persona)
The working color space you use in an editing program is a bit like a box of crayons. You are defining how big a box you use to describe your photos. Even if you can’t see all the colors inside that “box” on your screen, sometimes there is good reason to use them.
Choose your working space based on the likely output for your images. For example:
- sRGB = publishing and printing online
- Adobe RGB = CMYK/inkjet printing
- ProPhoto RGB = archiving and top-quality workflows
Each choice has its own pros and cons.
The ability to make this choice seems mundane until it’s taken away. Some programs force you to use sRGB as the working space, for instance, which means you forfeit many of the colors digital cameras can capture.
So what does Affinity give us here?
Setting the working color space in Affinity is simple, though it’s not labeled a “working space” as such. You simply go to Preferences>Color>RGB Color Profile. By default, this is set to sRGB. You can change it to suit your photography and the purpose of your photos, as detailed above. Do the same with the 32bit RGB Color Profile setting.
Other color preferences
For most of us, the color preference settings in Affinity can be left alone, except perhaps for the RGB Color Profile option at the top.
That said, you’ll generally want black point compensation switched on. You also won’t want the software to convert all open files to the working color space. And it’s better to be warned if a photo without an embedded profile is being assigned the working profile. This gives you a heads-up that the color may display incorrectly.
Note that each of the above options can be ticked on and off in the Color Preferences window.
Affinity Photo accesses the default monitor profile assigned in your operating system. Unlike Photoshop CC (but like Lightroom), I don’t believe you can confirm the prevailing profile via Affinity itself. Past and present monitor profiles appear in drop-down menus, but you should never select these; the monitor profile is automatically applied.
Your monitor profile is a key component of color management in Affinity Photo.
Soft proofing (Photo Persona)
Soft proofing lets you preview the output color of your photos, whether the output is an inkjet printer, an RGB printer like those often used in minilabs, or even a specific audience (e.g., color-blind individuals). Soft proofing is available in Photoshop CC and Lightroom, but isn’t offered by many other programs. What about Affinity Photo?
In Affinity Photo, soft proofing comes in the form of an adjustment layer. You won’t find it among the menus at the top of the screen like in Photoshop. This is quite handy, because it’s so easy to flick layers on and off to see the effect of soft proofing and edits.
Color blindness settings in Affinity are located among the built-in LUT adjustment layers. The LUTs help you visualize colors as seen by three types of dichromats: protanopes, deuteranopes, and tritanopes.
Simulating dynamic range
The simulate paper color option you get in Photoshop is already applied in Affinity. You can’t switch it off.
But you do have the option of switching on black point compensation. This reduces the dynamic range of your screen image to mimic the look of paper and ink. It makes the on-screen photo look duller. That’s why professional photographers sometimes avoid showing clients the comparison.
The Gamut Check option in Affinity Photo shows you which colors are not reproducible with any given output. You can fiddle with the color of the photo until all color is in gamut, but you’ll often do more harm than good.
It’s better to rely on the rendering intent setting if you want colors to be as close as possible to the original. The relative colorimetric rendering intent keeps colors looking relatively accurate and shifts non-reproducible colors back into gamut, but you’re free to pick the rendering intent that looks best to you.
Creating a duplicate
When soft proofing, you may want to work on duplicate images side by side, so you can reference the original color and tone. In that case, create a duplicate image in Affinity by hitting Select All>Copy>New from Clipboard.
You can make adjustments to the soft-proofed image by adding extra adjustment layers to the background layer.
Convert and assign ICC profile settings
As with Photoshop, color management in Affinity Photo includes the ability to assign or convert ICC profiles. The distinction between these two is important. You’d assign a profile if the photo you open has no embedded profile; you give it one that looks okay. This only becomes permanent if you save changes to the image.
When you convert from one profile to the other and know what color space the image is in, use Convert ICC Profile. One way of confirming the current profile is to look for it in the drop-down list. It should be highlighted:
The choice of rendering intents when converting between ProPhoto RGB, Adobe RGB, and sRGB working color spaces is usually moot. By default, these matrix profiles use a relative colorimetric rendering intent. The same situation exists in Photoshop.
The process of embedding ICC profiles is uncomplicated: You just check a checkbox. This is true whether you’re using Save As in Photoshop or exporting files from Affinity. In Affinity Photo, the Embed ICC Profile option is under the More heading when exporting. It’s checked by default.
There aren’t many instances when you’d deliberately leave the ICC profile out of images. Ironically, photo libraries and gallery websites might do this because the profile adds a couple of kilobytes to each file. In those instances, it’s an economical choice. In the past, photographers removed profiles to avoid confusing minilab printer drivers.
Many people’s color woes when publishing photos online stem from not embedding the profile. This is less critical when publishing sRGB images, but photos in larger color spaces will often look dull unless the profile is present.
Simple features, such as the ability to embed or remove ICC profiles, are often absent in photo-editing programs. But here, Affinity keeps pace with Adobe.
Affinity RAW processing color (Develop Persona)
The Affinity Photo Develop Persona assigns the ROMM RGB color space to RAW files. ROMM RGB is the original name for ProPhoto RGB. This color space encompasses the output of a digital sensor, whereas smaller spaces such as Adobe RGB and sRGB do not.
In Lightroom, the histogram is in Adobe’s proprietary “Melissa RGB” space. This is the same as the Affinity histogram, but with an sRGB tone response curve applied, which adds slightly more editing headroom in the shadows. Extra marks to Adobe for cleverness.
The Affinity RAW histogram is more akin to that of Adobe Camera RAW. If you convert to ProPhoto RGB or ROMM RGB in Affinity, the histogram should stay the same.
Recent versions of Lightroom enable users to preview the output histogram by turning on soft proofing. In other words, you’ll see which colors will be clipped, if any, in your destination color space. This might influence the edits you make prior to converting the file or even the color space you select. Does Affinity allow this?
If you select an output profile in Affinity Photo’s Basic panel, the histogram changes accordingly. With certain colors, you’ll see sRGB pixels move to the edges of the histogram. This tells you they are nearly or completely clipped. Running the cursor along the histogram shows you how many pixels are present at any level. ROMM or ProPhoto RGB is especially useful for preserving detail in bright yellows.
A common misconception
You needn’t convert RAW files to the same profile as your working RGB space in the Photo Persona. This is a common misconception. Affinity can open and handle images in any color space, just like Photoshop. The working space only represents your most commonly-used color container.
Color management in Affinity Photo: Conclusion
I’ve used many photo-editing programs, and some are more frustrating than others in terms of their color preferences and controls.
Color management in Affinity Photo differs from that in Photoshop, but it doesn’t cut any major corners that I’ve found. So use it with confidence!
And if you have any questions at all, be sure to leave them in the comments section!