How to Customize Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles


I’ve written before about how your images are being processed. This is true regardless of whether you shoot RAW and process in software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, or JPEG and allow the camera to make color and contrast decisions for you. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the canned in-camera picture styles the camera manufacturers prepackage in their cameras. Some are too contrasty, while others don’t offer enough color saturation for my taste.

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

A landscape image using a picture style I created in Canon Picture Style Editor.


While all of today’s digital cameras have some ability to adjust the processing decisions being made by selecting and adjusting Picture Styles (in Canon-speak) or Picture Controls (in Nikonian terms), many people aren’t aware that you can be even more creative and create your own styles using desktop software provided by Canon and Nikon.

There are two reasons why you would do this. First, if you do not like processing RAW files, or just prefer “getting it right in camera”, but would still like to be able to create your own look to your images, creating a custom picture style is an easy way to do so. Second, if you’re undertaking a project which would require processing large numbers of files, having the camera use a custom look for these images takes away a lot of processing grunt work.

Canon’s Picture Style Editor is available on the Canon EOS Solutions disc which is packaged with the camera and is also available for download via the various Canon websites, under Drivers and Downloads for your specific camera. Nikon’s Picture Control Utility 2 is available via Nikon’s Download Center.

Canon’s Picture Style Editor

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

Canon Picture Style Editor

Canon Picture Style Editor offers a tremendous amount of control over the final look of an image. Once inside the application, you’ll be prompted to open a Canon CR2 file you’ve taken. A popup will appear advising of the best way to adjust the picture style. First, make the basic adjustments. Next, you should make adjustments to the six color axis. Finally, make adjustments to specific colors.

Make the adjustments you want

In the Basic Adjustments, you select the Base Picture Style to start with, and then you can adjust Sharpness, Contrast, Color Saturation, and Color Tone using the labeled sliders. You can also create a custom tone curve here.

The three adjustment panels found in Canon Picture Style Editor - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The three adjustment panels found in Canon Picture Style Editor

Once the Basic adjustments are done, you can move to the six color axis. Here you can adjust Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow values including Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity. For further color adjustments, you then click on the Specific Colors tab and again make adjustments there including Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity, as well as Tone Curve.

The number of adjustments available within the Canon software allows for a wide variety of styles for your images. Canon has several downloadable picture styles available so you can see what’s possible, but the ability to create your own really make this utility a great addition to your workflow, especially if you dislike post-processing. Effects such as selective color, muted color, highly saturated color, and more, can be created in-camera.

Selective Color Picture Style

On the left is an image using Canon’s Portrait picture style. On the right, is a selective color picture style I created in Canon’s Picture Style Editor. You have to know which color you want to show through before the shot is taken, but conceivably, you could create several selective color styles and upload them to the camera.

Adding the styles to your camera

Custom Picture Styles - Canon

To upload your new custom picture style to your Canon EOS camera, you need to connect the camera to your computer with a USB cable. You also need Canon’s EOS Utility Software, which is provided on your EOS Solutions CD, or is available on Canon’s website.

Once inside EOS Utility, select Control Camera, then Camera Settings/Remote Shooting. You’ll see a window open up that displays the camera settings. Beneath that will be a shooting menu, where you’ll see the heading for Picture Styles. Click on Register User Defined style. A window will open up where you can select from three slots to register a user-defined style. Select one and then click on the Open Folder button to select the picture style file you created and upload it to your camera. Once it’s in the camera, you can select it the same way you would with the pre-loaded picture styles.

Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon Picture Control Utility - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon Picture Control Utility Adjustments - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The adjustment panel for Nikon Picture Control Utility

Nikon’s Picture Control Utility is a bit more limited in its adjustments than is the Canon application, but you still have a fair amount of control to create new image styles. When you open the application, you’ll see a listing of the Nikon Picture Controls on the left. These are the same as you see in-camera when you select the Picture Control menu on your Nikon. On the right hand side, you’ll see the adjustments you can make, which include Sharpening, Clarity, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue. You also have the ability to create a custom tone curve if you prefer, rather than using the Brightness and Contrast sliders.

While I prefer the greater control over color that Canon provides, Nikon’s Picture Control Editor allows you good options to create your own look for your images.

Uploading to the camera

Uploading them into your camera is even easier than Canon’s method. Simply connect a Nikon formatted memory card to your computer, and at the bottom of the application window, click Use In Camera. You’ll want to use a descriptive name for your picture control so that you’ll know what you’re choosing when selecting it in camera. This will automatically save the picture style to your memory card.  Insert the memory card into your Nikon camera and in the Camera menu, select Manage Picture Control. Select Load/Save and you’ll see any Picture Control files you’ve saved to the card and be prompted to add them to the camera.

That’s all there is to it. In addition to saving the picture control to a memory card, you can save it to a file on your computer, and also use it in Nikon’s Capture NX or View NX software.

Gritty Portrait Picture Control - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The image on the left is shown using Nikon’s Portrait Picture Control. On the right, is a custom Portrait Picture Control created in Nikon Picture Control Editor.


In the digital age, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate your images from the millions of others out there. One way to do so is in post-processing. But that’s not something every photographer, be they professional or enthusiast, wants to deal with.

Creating custom picture styles takes a few minutes on the computer, but allows you to create a look that is distinctly yours. By uploading it to your camera you can then apply it to images you make from that point on. Have you created any custom picture styles for your work? Share samples in the comments below!

Custom Landscape Picture Control - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the top is the image using Nikon’s Landscape picture control. On the bottom is the same image with a custom picture control I created. I adjusted to tone curve to reduce contrast and increased color saturation to provide better color in my landscape images.

Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the left is Nikon’s Standard picture control, while on the right is a custom picture control I created.

Canon Muted Color Picture Style - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

The left image was shot using Canon’s Portrait Picture Style. On the right is the same image where I created a more muted look.

Canon Picture Style - Customizing Your Images With In-Camera Picture Styles

On the left is Canon’s Landscape picture style, on the right is a custom picture style I created for landscape images.

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Rick Berk is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

  • Very Good Post for Photography lover, really helpful

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  • travel bug

    How about that? Proves that after 45 years of full frame photography I can still learn something new I had never seen before – thanks great article.

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  • walwit

    That picture control you applied on the picture with the man and guitar really improved the image.
    For me It is too much to do with the camera, I prefer to partition my workflow and leave it to post-processing.

  • Thank you! I agree- I much prefer editing color and contrast in post, but for those who prefer their images to be “straight out of the camera”, this is an excellent way to get custom looks on your images.

  • David Bridges

    Great tips and very interesting article! I shoot in Raw( cr2) and I prefer post processing because since I ran across this tool: I enjoy working on and editing them

  • Lightroom or Photoshop is a tool where you can retouch and customize your RAW camera images. Thanks for sharing.

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