#CreativeFriday – Lightroom and Photoshop RAW Workflow Colour Space and Bit Depth Tips

As photographers we always want to be working on our images, with the highest quality settings possible. A natural starting point for Photographers is Lightroom and one of the key benefits is that it manages our images for us and makes our life really simple.

Lightroom Workflow

When a RAW file is imported into Lightroom and worked on, not only are we working with the RAW data within a natural non destructive workflow, but also in the largest colour space possible, known as ProPhotoRGB (ProPhotoRGB is larger than AdobeRGB and this in turn is larger than sRGB). Lightroom also automatically selects and works in the correct bit depth 8bit, 16bit or even 32 bit depending on the metadata (lens, image details, shooting details etc) from the camera.

When a picture travels between Lightroom and Photoshop, Lightroom manages the colour profile and bit depth for us, but this is configurable inside the Lightroom Preferences, under the ‘External Editing’ tab.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 18.00.49

You can see above, the preferences for Photoshop CC are TIFF, ProPhotoRGB and 16bit, these of course are changeable to PSD if that is a preference. The second option is for configuration with other editors that might be used.


There are quite a few Photographers that are using Photoshop or Bridge and Photoshop directly and not Lightroom. In this case, the RAW files will be opened using the Adobe Camera Raw plugin and they can have the same settings applied (as with Lightroom). Once the settings have been applied, the file is then opened in Photoshop for full processing.

I’d like to focus on the way that files are sent to Photoshop for editing from ACR. when opening RAW files direct in Photoshop, the following screen might be familiar. At the bottom of the screen (marked in Red) is a hyperlink, with some data displayed. This data tells Photoshop the colour space, bit depth and resolution that should be used. Notice that on the screen shot below, the settings are configured to be sRGB, 8bit and 300ppi. Ideally when working with images in Photoshop, a higher resolution can be beneficial. So in this case, i’d like to make sure that Photoshop opens the file as ProPhotoRGB and 16bit (the same as Lightroom’s default configuration) . To do this, and configure the settings, click on the hyperlink, marked in red.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 18.11.49

Once clicked, the following screen should appear, showing the colour space, bit depth, as well as an option to open in Photoshop as a Smart Objects.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 18.09.20To make sure that every time an image is opened in Photoshop in the desired colour space and bit depth, a custom preset can be created.

By selecting the preset combo box, the ‘New Workflow Preset’ can be chosen (marked in Red). This opens a dialog box asking for a meaningful name, i’ve called mine ProPhotoRBG 16bit. Press OK.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 18.09.20 v2

At this point the presets can be chosen. In the example below i’ve chosen the ProPhotoRGB and 16bits per channel, as well as always open using Smart Objects in Photoshop (Smart Objects enables a non destructive workflow. Smart Objects allows any edits made in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) re-editable directly inside Photoshop if required, even after adjustment and other layers have been added to the re-touch).

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 18.18.05

When changes have been made, the preset can be updated by choosing ‘Update’ from the preset combo box (marked Red below). The current profile will now be used inside Photoshop.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 18.26.45

Once in Photoshop, you will be able to confirm the changes. The data marked in Red shows the bit depth of the image (top = 8bit and bottom = 16bit). Also, the file is twice as large (marked in Yellow).

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 18.18.57If you are working direct in Photoshop, just check your settings to make sure you are taking advantage of the largest colour space, and maximum bit depth that is required. (Remember 32 bit is useful for HDR images, not single 14-16bit images, which is typically from a modern day camera).


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