Lab... Is it worth it...

Image "Jonah" by Bruce Hood


Around 2012 I was a huge proponent of using LAB for colour adjustments within my editing work flow. I was using it mainly as a tool to increase colour intensity as you would use a saturation slider. It got to the point where I would use it in every image that I edited within Photoshop to some extent and I am sure many can remember me banging on about it relentlessly Ad nauseam.


Somewhere between then and now I have found that I don’t even touch it. Over the past years I have spent many hours researching different techniques for colour, contrast and detail and had been so side tracked by other editing avenue’s that I hadn’t given LAB a thought until about a week ago.


Firstly for those not familiar with LAB it is a colour space which very few well know applications let you edit within, Photoshop being one of those few. For those that want a deep dive into LAB  you can read “Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Color space”. Be warned it’s a tough technical read and will most likely do your head in before the end of the first chapter. I will try to briefly summarize what LAB is below.


LAB is wide colour gamut, wider than sRGB, RGB and CMYK. It is broken down into 3 channels. The first is Lightness the second a channel is aqua / magenta and the third b channel is blue / yellow. Here lies within the power of the colour space. The Lightness is separated from the colour channels. This means you can work on colour without affecting brightness. It can really help bring out colours without introducing nasty artifacts that could be created when carelessly using other tools such as selective colour and saturation sliders.


So why did I stop using it? Because the way it is implemented in Photoshop is fiddly and painful to incorporate into a work flow.


A lot of people including myself like to do the majority of their colour work late in their work flow. You have to flatten your image to move into the LAB colour space in Photoshop so you lose all your previous adjustments. Of course there are ways to preserve all that info however it’s clunky. Then you have to move back to RGB complete any further adjustments. So again the LAB adjustments are gone.


The second point and a pet peeve that I have when working with LAB in Photoshop is that when working in curves adjustments, (which is the best place to do the majority of the LAB adjustments), I find the interface just too finicky to get any sort of repeatability or control.


Thirdly I have found that other tools such as NIK, selective colour and saturation masks usually get me to where I want to be.


The second point above ironically is also the reason why I have now started to think about LAB again. Over the past few months I have started to really master Luminosity masks and more recently started to venture into saturation masks. I believe this could be a really powerful combination with LAB. I intend to investigate the possibilities a little more over the next few weeks. Until then for me the Jury is still out on LAB.


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