Picture Styles: useful?

BKKphotographer asks:

“Are Canon’s Picture Styles important in your workflow? Do you, for example, create your own and download them to your cameras? I started to get interested in them, until I started using Lightroom. LR does not understand them per se but it attempts to approximate the standard Canon styles with its Camera Calibration Profiles.

If I make my own Picture Style and use it on my camera it gets lost when I import to Lightroom. I think they are only useful in a workflow that is based on Canon Digital Photo Professional.

I find that whole subject very confusing – for example how those profiles relate to LR’s Develop Presets.

I think this area is a prime candidate for your clear concise explanatory skills!”

Well, I’ll do my best. Although In fact I think you are doing very well yourself, in the explanation above.

What are Picture Styles?

Camera Picture Styles are ways to handle (a.k.a. edit) the information that comes from your sensor. You can set these styles on your camera. Contrast, sharpening, colour balance, saturation, even curves are all part of such a style. If, for example, you set your in-camera style to “Landscape”, you get sharper images, with a tad more contrast and ever so slightly enhanced blues and greens. Portrait Style means less sharpness (who wants to emphasise wrinkles!). In a sense, these Picture Styles are like choosing a particular film.


What happens to you image in camera?

If you shoot JPG, your chosen Picture Styles settings are applied to the sensor information, and the resulting JPG has them incorporated (e.g. it has enhanced blues and greens, and is sharpened).

But if on the other hand you shoot RAW, the style settings are not “applied” – instead, they are “attached”. (The RAW file contains a field that says “oh, and the user set the camera to Landscape Style when he took this picture). It is then up to the software you use at the other end (on your PC or Mac) to apply the settings.

What happens afterward?

If you use Canon DPP (Digital Photo Professional), it knows the camera’s built-in Picture Styles. So if it sees a RAW image with style “landscape” set in the attached info, it knows exactly how to apply that style. And it automatically does that, so the RAW image looks the way it looks on the back of the camera.

If on the other hand you use Lightroom, or Photoshop, or some other software, it does not know the exact meaning of Canon’s “Landscape Style”. Your camera maker, of course, in its usual controlling manner, does not share this information. (Hey – why would you share stuff that would make your photos better and hence your cameras more popular!)

So now what?

So now you have to do it yourself in software. Take the unaltered file, then enhance the sharpness, apply the right contrast, and so on. This is inconvenient. So Lightroom attempts to do it for you. Adobe has built in (for RAW files for some, but not all, cameras) its own camera-specific develop settings. When I import an image from my 1D, for instance, I can now set it to “Camera Landscape”. That approximates the in-camera setting very well.

But when you have made your own Picture Styles and uploaded those to the camera, as indeed you can, then these are not known at all to Lightroom, so you have to make your own develop settings in Lightroom to mimic your self-developer camera Picture Styles. You can – but is it worth it? It would take a lot of time.

So what does Michael think?

I think Picture Styles are only really worth it if you stick to DPP. I also think that if you shoot RAW,  the main advantage of these Styles is “how you see the image on the back of your LCD” and “how quickly you get to an OK-looking JPG later”. Other than that, why not just do it on  your computer? The Lightroom styles are a good approximation of the Canon styles, I feel.

Important note: I do think it is very important when importing into Lightroom to use the “Camera Normal” (or if you wish, “Camera Landscape”, etc) develop setting (you can do that automatically upon import, or set it later in the Develop Module), and not ACR (the Adobe Camera Raw profile, which does not look as good). When I show photographers this, and the resulting significantly better colours, they usually say “wow!”

So if you ask me “are Picture Styles important to you” I would say “yes – I only set them, or an approximation to them, in software later”. I can do it while shooting but find I might as well save myself the time and do it later.

I could of course write my own, as you have and upload those to the camera, and then approximate them in Lightroom as well. I commend anyone who does – but I have insufficient time to do it myself.

Does that help?

8 thoughts on “Picture Styles: useful?

  1. Thanks! You confirmed that my limited understanding is on the right lines – insofar as it goes. My confusion comes at the next level: the multiple ways LR gives a photographer to tune her pictures and the relationships between those approaches.

    The Camera Calibration Profiles in LR seemed to me to add another ingredient to this already complex mix.

    In Camera Calibration profiles I get controls for “Shadows – Tint” and Hue and Saturation (but not Luminance) for the R G and B channels. (I assume they are the same as Photoshop’s notion of a channel.) That’s what Adobe uses to approximate the settings from my Canon Picture Style. Nothing about sharpness you note – which you mentioned when you discussed the Portrait and Landscape Picture Styles.

    Those concepts are completely differently named to the terms Canon uses in setting or modifying a Picture Style in camera. Canon defines its styles in terms of Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and Colour Tone.

    So I don’t see how I can make my Landscapes sharper and my Portraits more flattering using the Camera Calibration Profiles.

    Then I get some very similarly named controls in LR’s Develop module: the HSL / Color / Greyscale Panel. Does changing something in the Camera Profile alter the HSL Panel settings? No it doesn’t!

    This is all a bit complex for my old brain so I have tried to simplify in my workflow. Here’s the way I approach it for RAW pictures.

    – I always use Canon’s Standard Profile. I don’t play with Canon Picture Styles any more.

    – When I import to LR I use “Adobe Standard” by default and don’t fiddle with the controls in the Camera Calibration tab.

    – If I am shooting Landscapes or Portraits I will set the LR Profile to “Camera Landscape” or “Camera Portrait”. I regard those as a starting point for my LR adjustments. Far better I agree than the ACR profile.

    – After that I ignore the Camera Calibration tab and make any fine adjustments the old way.

    — First I get the White Balance correct. Then I try to adjust for the optimum exposure.

    — If I am still unsatisfied I use the Tone Curve just like in Photoshop. My preference is to start with LR’s “Strong Contrast” preset curve.

    — The only time I have ever gone “down” to the HSL / Colour / Greyscale tab is when I am making a Greyscale (see how LR3 Beta has changed the terminology to B&W?) conversion.

    It would be great if you’d share your approach to adjusting your pictures in Lightroom. I fear I am missing something important.

  2. More response soon but for now:

    – I shoot RAW and use “standard” in the camera
    – I import with “Camera Standard” in LR – this is important, I feel
    – Then if needed I do a crop
    – Then exposure, and white balance
    – Then if needed HSL adjustments – as in “instant polarizer”!
    – Then perhaps vignetting and “detail”

    Hope that helps – for now.

  3. I admit it – I do not always shoot RAW. Sorry.

    I use the Canon’s “Easy Shooting Modes” like Landscape, Sports or Portrait when I know from experience it will give me the results I want. For example, I love to shoot the Bangkok skyline from the apartment. The Canon Landscape mode is fine for that – including the Picture Style it uses. Similarly when a helicopter flies low over the apartment it’s easy to switch the camera to Sports mode to capture it before it has flow by.

    The light in urban Bangkok is often rather flat and the skies overcast. I tweaked Canon’s Standard Picture Style to increase Contrast & Saturation a point. I found that gives more pleasing results for the normal JPGs I shot in the city. Since as you say the camera applies them (rather than linking to them) the effect is preserved on transfer to LR.

    But since I’ve learned a bit about Develop Presets in LR I find them more flexible so I have gone back to using the Standard Picture Style for my JPGs and adjust in LR to get the “look” I want.

    One thing I don’t understand about Canon’s Picture Styles is shown in the picture of an EOS Picture Style Screen above. Standard, Portrait & Landscape appear only to differ in the Sharpness setting. The other three parameters appear the same.

    Then Neutral and Faithful are identical on all four parameters.

    There must be more to it – I’ve seen mention of different “response curves” but I don’t understand it fully. This must be what you meant by “Your camera maker, of course, in its usual controlling manner, does not share this information.”

    I guess the bottom line (as the Americans like to say) is that photographers have (too many) choices. If you embrace DPP as the centre of your Workflow then using Picture Styles makes sense. Particularly if you are a pro who shoots with two different model Canon cameras.

    But if you choose LR or another third-party tool like ACDSee Pro or Capture One then it’s best to use the Standard Style all the time and otherwise forget about them. Mixing and matching the tools is more trouble than it is worth.

    I assume that the other vendors have similar concepts to Picture Styles but with different terminology.

  4. Yup – there’s more to styles, and yes, in particular there is a curve adjustment as part of each style. That is not shown – it is in fact proprietary and yes, more or less secret. Even its existence is only hinted at.

    And yes you are quite right, others have picture styles too (under different names).

    If you are close enough in JPG, no need to shoot RAW. That said… hands up everyone who always gets close and who always decides all parameters right when shooting 🙂

  5. Pingback: Canon Picture Styles – Interesting Discussion « Bkkphotographer's Blog

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