Using Canon's Picture Styles

Using Canon’s Picture Styles


I’ll admit that today was the day I picked up the manual for my camera.  I have done it once before but today I got very curious just what the Picture Styles feature on a lot of Canon DSLRs actually does.  For the most part I shoot in RAW and it has no impact there.  It is only set to make changes to JPEG images produced by the camera.  But what real affect do the various settings like Standard, Portrait and, more so, the custom adjustments I can make, have on the final image if I want quick, out of the camera punch or neutral rendition?

One note: A wide range of possibilities opens up to adjust Picture Styles on RAW images in programs like Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software or BreezeBrowser, and that is a whole other ball of wax for another post.

Let’s take a look at the settings themselves first.

This information is from a Canon 7D but is relevant to most of the DLSR line with the Picture Styles settings.  From the left, those symbols represent the setting for Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and Color Tone (Hue).  All in this image have a setting of zero next to them.  I’ll be using those settings in that order for the remainder on this post: Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and Color Tone.

Now then, there are six preset modes: Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful and Monochrome (followed by Custom1, 2 and 3 in the image below).  I will begin by showing representations of each of these settings and then dive into customization of just Standard mode.  Otherwise this post would be filled with more than 50 screen shots and become confusing.  All photos are shot at ISO 400, 130mm (28-300mm L lens), 1/5 and f/8.0.  The images were given a small 1/3 of a stop bump in exposure.  Click on an image for a larger version.


Sharpness: 3 Contrast: 0 Saturation: 0 Color Tone: 0


Sharpness: 2 Contrast: 0 Saturation: 0 Color Tone: 0


Sharpness: 4 Contrast: 0 Saturation: 0 Color Tone: 0


Sharpness: 0 Contrast: 0 Saturation: 0 Color Tone: 0


Sharpness: 0 Contrast: 0 Saturation: 0 Color Tone: 0


Sharpness: 3 Contrast: 0 Filtering Effect: none Toning Effect: none

Each of the modes has a specific intent.  Standard is set to give a lively view and a likely rendition that will appeal to most viewers. Portrait softens the sharpness while highlighting skin tones. Landscape will increase sharpness and increase saturation slightly, especially in greens and blues. Neutral attempts to make as little change as possible to make post processing easier.  Faithful takes this a step further and attempts to render colors as if under a 5200K light source.  Monochrome opens up the possiblity of using Filtering Effects (Yellow, Orange, Red, Green) and Toning Effects (Sepia, Blue, Purple, Green)

In this tutorial, I will use the Standard mode from which to start making adjustments. These adjustments are reached by hitting the Menu button and then finding and selecting the Picture Style item.  The default settings for Standard are then shown with an option to make adjustments using the selection wheel or pointer.

Notice the Sharpness adjustment goes from zero to seven while the others have a midpoint and move from -4 to +4.  Standard mode dictates Sharpness to +3.  Let’s first take a look at what happens when this is jacked up to +7.

Notice in the histogram the peaks are far more pronounced.

Next, the Sharpness is returned to the Standard setting of +3 and Contrast is taken to +4, followed by Contrast at -4.  Again, check the histograms for minor changes.

Returning Contrast to 0, it’s time to give Saturation a whirl.  First +4 then -4.

Here again, there is a wide range of effect which can be applied depending on your liking.

Lastly, Saturation is returned to 0 and Color Tone is given a swing from +4 to -4.

From here, each of the Modes has their own set of adjustments you can make with over 4,000 different possible combination (except for Monochrome, which is slightly less)!

If you want to get a hands on feel for making adjustments to the sliders but just happen to be at work reading this and you camera is no where to be found, Canon has a web page devoted to allowing free play of the settings.

If you regularly shoot in JPEG mode, play around with the settings and find a look that works for you.  Most Canon cameras have the option to save these custom settings as one of three presets, perfect for a quick switch when the situation arises.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Robert March 9, 2011 01:23 am

    As kathy posted above, there are CPS's like "Twilight" , the only question I have is: How do I install custom picture style-files? Google is leaving me ignorant

  • Peter January 30, 2011 07:11 pm

    Excellent article.

  • Kat January 29, 2011 11:43 am

    Is there something similar to this for Nikon DSLRs?

  • Phil January 28, 2011 06:44 pm

    I've found the built in picture styles in the Canon 450D to be slightly undersaturated in the green channel. Even with the Landscape Picture Style, green grass doesn't look very green. You can increase the saturation level but I find the other colours like red, yellow or blue saturating earlier than green.

    The best Picture Style I've found for the 450D is "Autumn Hues" from Canon's Picture Style site
    Despite the name, you can use it for any season of the year, not just Autumn. Greens are stronger and reds are darker and accurate.
    The colours are true to life and the saturation at 0 is spot on for natural colour. Skin tones are beautiful too. I use this picture style for everything now from Portraits to Landscapes.
    My settings for the Autumn Hues Picture Style are:
    Sharpness: 7
    Contrast: -3
    Saturation: 0
    Color Tone: 0

  • charles taylor January 28, 2011 03:11 pm

    Great article - in fact, your comments resonate with me more than any other site, so thank you. For some reason, I can't 'see' the Canon link you referenced in your reply to Chuck (I am currently in Shanghai so maybe it is a Great Firewall issue). Anyway, I would love to be able to get access to other prefab settings such as the Twilight referrenced. Would you please repost the URL? thanks.
    While on the subject of Canon, I love their cameras and lenses (I have a 7D) but I hate their website. It is all product focussed and I have the devil of a time trying to find useful, help-the-photographer type information. Would you also post any useful Canon URLs while you're at it? Many thanks.

  • Quimico Esceptico January 28, 2011 07:54 am

    Just the other day I was reading about how to improve your landscape photography (I think it was in the Canon website), and I found a very nice tip related to the use of Picture Style while shooting RAW. If you set the Monochrome Picture Style while taking landscape photographs you can work on your composition by looking at the B&W image on the LCD screen, instead of devoting all your attention to colors that are actually seen through the viewfinder. And since the images are taken in the RAW format, once you download them into your computer you'll see them in color without any problem (something that you won't be able to do if you shoot JPEG). I think the tip can be extrapolated to any kind of photography, not only landscape.

  • Shane McDonald January 28, 2011 02:49 am

    I have created 2 of these on my D450, boosting the saturation by 2 and the sharpness by 1 and I do notice the difference especially in good light. They are very handy to have and I have 4 free slots as far as I know to create custom styles.

  • Nick January 27, 2011 09:39 pm

    While not that relevant to those who shoot RAW photos, the picture styles are an essential tool for the DSLR videographer to either create a specific look for their footage in camera or capture flat and neutral footage for more flexible color grading in post. For those who don't want to use the optimized Magic Lantern Firmware, creating custom picture styles are the next best thing.

  • kathy January 27, 2011 09:47 am

    I'm relatively new to photography, and Picture Styles is one of the first creative tools I found and used. I can change the mood easily, without having to know how to edit in PSE. I tweaked Standard's sharpness and saturation since most of my shots of my kids are mid day. Colors aren't as washed out.
    My favorite is Twilight (downloadable from the canon site) because it really makes bright colors POP! My teenage daughter loves being a model when I do this!
    It's a great tool for those intimidated by editing and post-processing. We can have fun with moods and colors in our pictures, too!
    AND, like Steve said, if you tweak Shaprness, it really helps with bird shots!

  • Steve Berardi January 26, 2011 04:56 pm

    Great post, Peter. Adjusting that "sharpness" setting really helps when you're shooting in JPEG, which I do sometimes when photographing hummingbirds (with JPEG you can shoot more photos in a burst than with RAW). I've found that setting it to "5" works pretty well on Canons.

    Also, I think Nikon has something like this too.. but I think they call them "picture controls"?

  • Sree January 26, 2011 03:28 pm

    Hi there Peter,

    Looking at those books in the snaps I was hoping it was you! I subscribe to your Pic of the Day email :)

    I've tried these the other day when it snowed like crazy here. Thanks for the article.


  • esha indra January 26, 2011 12:52 pm

    its like action in PS or preset in LR. if you shoot in RAW, you can change picture style later in Canon Digital Photo Professional. here some picture style collection

  • Dorothy Neri January 26, 2011 12:42 pm

    That was quiet an information there since I'm a canon user. I've been wondering how to maximize my dslr using the picture style though I've read the whole manual. And this blog just wrap it all! Thanks for sharing your brilliant mind.

  • Tim January 26, 2011 10:45 am

    Thanks for the link. Good info. Since I always shoot in Raw, I haven't played with the picture style very much, but perhaps I shoot.

  • Peter West Carey January 26, 2011 08:36 am

    Yes, thank you both. Minor typo, my apologies. It is indeed 130mm.

    Chuck, Canon makes other slight, nuanced changes between those two modes that don't reflect in the 4 settings you can change. Take a look at the last link for Canon's site to do a quick flip comparison. It's slight, but it is there.

  • PB PM January 26, 2011 08:34 am

    EXIF data shows 130mm, not 1300mm.

  • Chuck Leamon January 26, 2011 08:30 am

    Hmmm, "All photos are shot at ISO 400, 1300mm (28-300mm L lens), ...".
    How do you manage a 1300mm focal length from a 28-300mm lens? :) tele-extender? crop-factor? typo?
    Also, I notice that the 4 settings are the same for Neutral and Faithful (Sharpness: 0 Contrast: 0 Saturation: 0 Color Tone: 0). Another typo, or am I missing something?


  • January 26, 2011 07:52 am

    I've done the exact same thing today: messing around the set ups of my canon dslr, but I've forgot already most of the settings I've used. I found it quite helpful you uploaded these photos and histograms. :)