Canon Picture Styles Help You Make Your Images Less Boring

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Canon cameras are pretty great at what they do. But sometimes they stick to a very old-school idea of perfection in their images (well, their sensors do). And if you use cameras from Panasonic, Olympus, or Fujifilm, it’s easy to get spoiled with the unique image quality. But lots of folks forget you can tweak Picture Styles in the Canon menu. What’s more, that image quality will mostly translate into the RAW files. So you can tweak as much as you’d like and still enjoy what comes out. In my explorations, I’ve tried to find ways to make the images look like a film stock of some sort, and have come pretty close to Fujifilm Superia. Here’s what I did.

The Picture Styles

Canon’s Picture Styles are synonymous with other things. Leica has film standards. Fujifilm has Film simulations. Each company has its own nomenclature. But the Picture Styles are pretty specific to Canon. Most folks just leave it on Standard and edit their work in post-production. However, we like to spend as little time as possible on the computer and as much time as possible shooting. After all, why do all the creativity in 13 hours of work when you can get it done in a two-hour photoshoot instead?

As you cycle through the Canon Picture styles, you’ll see some pretty distinct differences. I’d never use the Landscape setting for portraits, for example. I typically stick to the Portrait picture style on both the Canon EOS R5 and the Canon EOS R. (Shoot with the RF 50mm f1.2 L USM lens and a flash for a perfect balance between sharpness and character.) 

Years ago, with my Canon 5D Mk II, I used to do this with Sigma Art lenses for an even better effect. Sometimes, life just needs a bit of hot sauce!

You can read up on the full Canon documentation on Picture Styles here.

What to Adjust

First off, leave the original Canon profiles. They’ll be useful to come back to. Canon lets you add your own user-defined profiles, and I base all mine off the Standard profile, then press the Info button. Here’s what I do:

  • Sharpness strength: -2
  • Sharpness Fineness: +2
  • Sharpness threshold: Same
  • Contrast: -1
  • Saturation: +1
  • Color tone: +1

This combination does the following: 

  • Lessens the sharpness and smooths out skin a bit
  • Dials down the contrast slightly to make the photo look less digital
  • Saturates the color a tad to emulate well exposed and processed film
  • Makes skin tones a bit more yellow than red: this balances the extra saturation

Basically, if you do this right, you’ll get a look that resembles medium format film. Combine this with film white balances like 3200K and 5500K for even better results. Though, to be honest, I also just really like Canon’s color rendering naturally. 

Why Do This?

You’re probably wondering why you’d do this instead of just shooting and editing in post-production. Well, it saves a ton of time. One of the biggest problems with lots of photographers is that they have a slow delivery time. So why not cut it down and give yourself a leg up? Also, lots of newer photographers tend to machine gun shoot everything. A photoshoot that only needs 36 images will end up with 1,000 images in the end. But why? I understand the idea of overshooting, but there’s a difference between overshooting and not knowing what you’re doing. If you’re all about doing it in post-production, then anyone can do exactly what you do. If you can make magic happen in-camera, then you’ve got something special. 

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