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Picture Style: How Do You Choose?

  • December 27, 2009
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Picture Style: How Do You Choose?

I am frequently asked about picture style.  There are so many internet sites making RAW picture styles, Flat picture styles, Panavision Genesis Picture Styles and all the picture styles in between for the Canon 5D, 7D, and the 1D. It is confusing to know which one to choose and I fell into a trap.

Coming from the world of film, I am used a lot of latitude and uncompressed 16 BIT color space. I want whatever will give me the most range so I have options when I get to the point of color correction. I like to bend it, shape it, stretch it, push it to have maximum flexibility and creativity.

So, I downloaded a RAW picture style from the Internet.  It claimed to increase latitude in the highlights as well as digging into the shadow areas.  I shot 9 shorts, 2 commercials and 25% of the Navy Seal movie on this.  What a BIG, HUGE MISTAKE!  It was fine for the controlled lighting set-ups that I had on the short films and the 2 commercials, but when it came to the big yacht take down in Key West it buried me.

Picture Style Menu
Picture Style Menu

The Elite Team and I quickly learned that while shooting day exteriors, the downloaded RAW picture style made it impossible to gauge a correct exposure on the back LCD screen due to the light contamination.  You could not tell whether it was overexposed or underexposed because it was so stretched to give you both ends. Consequently, we underexposed 25 or so shots trying to gain contrast. I will never repeat that mistake again!

After this error, we needed to rethink our approach.  The Elite Team and I had a think tank session and came up with a new strategy. We designed a RAW file that I liked with the Canon computer software, that we called SEAL RAW.  Our approach was to start with a neutral picture style with -1 saturation to expose our day exteriors and to light our day interiors, night interiors and night exteriors. Once the exposure was set on the day exteriors and the lighting was dialed in just before rolling, we switched from the neutral setting to SEAL RAW and then recorded on that picture style to give us the ultimate latitude. Our neutral picture style was equivalent to the final look of the film. In theory, it is similiar to a DIT superimposing a final picture look up table on the raw files of a RED One, Sony F35, Sony F23, Panavision Genesis, Arri D21 etc.

Neutral Picture Style
Neutral Picture Style
Getting Brave With -1
-1 Saturation to Desaturate the Reds

This is what works for my lighting and visual style.  Which picture style fits your vision?

  • Canon
  • Cinematography
  • creativity
  • HDSLR Cameras
  • RED Digital Cinema Company

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