Home Camera Picture Style: How Do You Choose?

Picture Style: How Do You Choose?

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

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?

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roger December 27, 2009 at 6:03 PM

hi shane

think this works very fine. as you might not want to stretch the h264 codec too strong so you try to end up in camera as close as you like to have the final picture, a sharpness 0, contrast -1 and saturation -1 seems to be perfect to me as well. sorry for my english being a swiss fellow 🙂

many regards and a happy new year roger

Shane December 27, 2009 at 11:39 PM

Roger, I love the neutral setting on the camera, I just stretched the image slightly more than neutral to gain a some more in the sky highlight and the shadow areas. This gives me a little more range in the post process. I do agree that you have to get it close, especially when it comes to color temp. Your english is perfect. Happy New Year to you too, Shane

Sam Phibbs December 28, 2009 at 7:12 AM

Interesting workflow Shane any chance you can make the SEAL RAW picture profile available for download?


Shane December 28, 2009 at 12:04 PM

Sam Phibbs, I want to do a couple more tests on it in January, and then I will release it. I am doing a slew of tests on the 5D, 7D, 1D, vs. Film with all different lenses and under all different lighting conditions. Blue screen, Green screen and taking it all the way to a film out. I will be posting all of this in February.

Christoffer Fryd September 15, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Is it posted now, in 2011? If yes, through me a link.

S. Allman December 28, 2009 at 12:19 PM


When shooting video I created a custom setting in the camera that uses the “faithful” setting with contrast -1. Most of the time this gives me realistic color saturation that I’m happy with right out of the camera. Although I haven’t experimented much beyond this, it gave me acceptable results when shooting outdoors. When indoors I just light it as I want it to be in the final video most of the time.

Shane December 29, 2009 at 12:03 AM

S. Allman, I love faithful too. There are so many creative ways to find your visual style with this camera.

Michael Svitak, Elite Team Member December 28, 2009 at 3:51 PM

One other note on the subject from the Elite Team:

Be aware of what lens you are using on the camera! We shoot with Panavision, Zeiss, Canon and Nikon and have found that the canon lenses are more saturated than the rest of the bunch. Depending on the scene (but more often than not), we tend to drop the saturation to -2 when using Canon L and EF lenses. The rest we leave at -1.

Greg Connors December 29, 2009 at 8:42 AM

Shane thank you for sharing your Picture Style workflow.
I have collected 92 different Picture Styles and played with a few of them.
If I go off Neutral then it is Saturation -2 on Canon EF and EF-S lenses. I have played around with a Picture Style called Kodachrome 2 which I have at 0 -4 -2 0 and have liked.

Shane December 30, 2009 at 1:26 AM

Greg Connors, wow 92, that is impressive. I would love to try some of these out on my slew of tests that I am doing in January. Can I download some of these?

Sam Phibbs December 29, 2009 at 6:42 PM

Thanks for doing all this hard work Shane, though you have done my head in over lenses! I have an eclectic collection so far of a few Canon EF lenses as well as about 5 M42 lenses. I am gearing up to shoot a feature soon and was going to go all Canon lenses, but the short focus throw is killing me! Zeiss is out of the question(funds) as is building an M42 set as there are so many different variables. I might have to bite the bullet and buy Nikon any advice on which era to buy Ai, E series etc and any particular lenses you like. Keep up the good work mate, I follow every post and am stoked when I see new ones!

Shane December 29, 2009 at 8:54 PM

Sam Phibbs, I would go to lensforrent.com. They have the Zeiss ZE and ZF glass for rental very cheap. Take a look. If you want to go Nikon the AI series is the best. Another option is Leica M glass, with an adapter at Fotodiox.

Sam Phibbs December 29, 2009 at 9:48 PM

Thanks for the quick response! I am in Australia so it is a bit harder to rent zeiss zf and ze glass so I think I am going to go the Nikon route, which adapter would you recommend?

Shane December 30, 2009 at 1:20 AM

Sam Phibbs, Copy that on Australia. Fotodiox.com has all the great adapters. Go for the professional that has true focus, it will run you about $140.00. If you go with just the professional one for 80.00, you will have to remark your lenses.

ken glasssing December 30, 2009 at 1:42 AM

Shane…any way I can drop by and lend a hand for some of your tests? I shoot every other episode of a tv show and could sneak away during a prep day or two…perhaps?
Thanks for all the info…I just received my first Redrock Rig today and I’m stoked!!!

Ken Glassing

Shane December 30, 2009 at 12:57 PM

ken glasssing, the test is being financed by Bandito Brothers and it will be their intellectual property. We are keeping this in house, but will release some of the tests on the blog. You are welcome, I love Red Rock too, they are building some nice stuff.

Justin Cerato December 31, 2009 at 1:50 AM

Shot a promotional video for the Australian Stunt Academy and thought I’d try using the -2 on saturation while using Canon L series lenses. I was very impressed with the results and it produced a very clean image.

Shane December 31, 2009 at 9:59 PM

Justin Cerato, yes the -2 saturation with the L series glass is the ticket.

John Carrington December 31, 2009 at 4:37 PM

Wouldn’t a loupe, like the Z-Finder, help a bit with judging exposure in daylight situations? Then you could just keep the picture style on your RAW style.

Shane December 31, 2009 at 9:56 PM

John Carrington, the Z finder was not available at the time, but yes that would help, but not when you are shooting 8 cameras at the same time, one in a helicopter, 2 in high speed zodiacs, 2 on Mark V Navy destroyers, 2 on the Yacht, and one on a helmet cam fast roping out of an HH 60 Helo. The best way to judge is to have a look up table picture style that you like and want your finish product to look like then slide it to RAW, before recording. But on this film we had so many units going at once we had to go with a Neutral picture style to keep everything as consistent as possible.

John Carrington January 1, 2010 at 3:11 AM

Wow I suppose i underestimated the scale of the production. Thanks for the picture style tip, I will be using this for sure. Your the man Shane.

Greg Connors January 1, 2010 at 8:25 AM

Shane happy to email the collection of Picture Styles to you. Some of course you will have but sort through them and play with them. File size is under 3 meg uncompressed. Or Post them to somewhere if you like.

Bob Franco January 1, 2010 at 6:27 PM

I don’t see if you’ve mentioned using the Highlight Tone Priority setting. Wondering what you think about it. I use it in certain instances where I want a little more highlight protection and smooth roll off and it does seem to work. I also like to keep the sharpness down very low and the same with contrast. I agree that you must get your white balance right. If you shoot a flat image you can, within reason, crush the blacks later and get back some contrast. I’ve had good luck shooting with saturation in the middle setting and pulling it down in post if needed. It seems harder to make large chroma boosts in post that reduce it with this camera. A trick I learned was how to use the histogram and correlate that to what I see on the waveform and monitor in post to get proper exposure. I shoot about 2 seconds of video, look at the histogram, and then make adjustments. The histogram is divided into vertical sections and I keep my highlights no further that the 2nd to the last vertical line to the right. So far, whenever I doubt it and do something different, I’m wrong!
Thanks for all your help and info,
Bob Franco

Shane January 1, 2010 at 6:36 PM

Bob Franco, have you found that the highlight priority works with non Canon lenses? This is great info. Thank you so much

Bob Franco January 1, 2010 at 6:54 PM


I haven’t tried highlight priority with non Canon lenses but I think it should work because I believe it is a function that takes place in the camera and not some sort of iris override. Don’t know for sure. The downside is that it only lets you use iso’s from 200 and up. So I don’t always use it. I live near the beach and a test I do is to shoot on a sunny cloudless day at the breaking waves and white froth against dark rocks and almost black seaweed. With highlight tone priority I get excellent results. It’s a tough test for any digital video camera but this camera can do it!

Shane January 1, 2010 at 11:40 PM

Bob Franco, We are doing a slew of tests mid January. We will see if it works with non-Canon lenses, and if so how well it works. What you are describing sounds awesome. 200 ISO and up is no problem, just use a little more ND. 100 ISO is noiser than 200 ISO.

Mike Maier January 1, 2010 at 8:30 PM

Bob Franco wrote:
“The histogram is divided into vertical sections and I keep my highlights no further that the 2nd to the last vertical line to the right.”

Bob, could you elaborate on that a bit. I’m not quite sure I follow.

By the way, how about setting the camera to stills mode while you light, so you can have a live histogram and then switching back to video for recording? Sounds more productive than recording 2 secs and playing it back somehow. Have you tried that?

Shane January 1, 2010 at 11:43 PM

Mike Maier, that is a cool idea. I am going to try that. Here is a little site on histogram it shows the 5 sections Bob is talking about.

Michael Svitak, ETM January 1, 2010 at 9:02 PM

I don’t believe the highlight tone priority works with non-canon lenses. That test on the beach sounds like a perfect way to see the difference! Thanks!

Greg Connors January 1, 2010 at 11:26 PM

Shane happy to pass on the collection of Picture Styles to you its under 3 meg uncompressed

Shane January 2, 2010 at 3:47 AM

Greg Connors, can you send them to [email protected], I would really appreciate that, thanks.

Rey Espi November 21, 2012 at 2:12 AM

Hi Greg,would certainly appreciate sending me a copy of your picture styles to [email protected]. Thanks much!

Bob Franco January 2, 2010 at 12:40 AM


Sorry about my less than clear description. My wife complains about that sometimes. The brightness histogram is a square divided by vertical lines into five columns. Generally, anything I shoot that has a lot of signal indicated in the farthest right (5th) column means it’s too close to being overexposed. I’ve verified that on my edit system. So I try and keep the brightest part of the picture no further to the right than the 2nd to the last vertical line, which if you count from the left side, is the fourth column. I know this sounds kind of goofy but since there are no numbers on the histogram like a waveform monitor has to refer to, it’s the best I can do.
I don’t set the camera to stills exposure simulation mode because I’m usually too much in a hurry to be switching back and forth. I agree that when setting up your lighting, the method you describe works fine. When I shoot a 2 second test, or sometimes more, you can see a histogram of everything in that shot. In other words if I’m panning or tilting or otherwise moving the camera, there may be lighting changes from the beginning of the shot to the end or in the middle. Or an actor or object can move and affect the lighting. By shooting a test I can then playback the clip and pause the playback and see the histogram at any point and make lighting adjustments as needed. So I don’t have to be going into the menu and switching modes. Just my personal preference plus I take some comfort in seeing actual recorded playback.


Mike Maier January 2, 2010 at 7:49 AM

Thanks for the link Shane. I actually know how to use the histogram. I just didn’t understand Bob’s exposure method description, but now I do. . Thanks Bob.
Bob, I also find that overexposing footage with the 7D is the worst thing you can do. So I prefer exposing to the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may, like reverse. If in a controlled lighting situation I do what you describe and make sure my highlights are within the 4th square in the histogram and sometimes even lower while making sure no blacks are crushed then add contrast later in post if needed. Sometimes I will turn all lights off but the actor’s key and make sure the key fall close to the end of the 3rd square if my highlights are falling in the 4th. Do you use the histogram to check your keys too?
I of course also use a light meter but it’s not so accurate for exposure. I find that for example if I get a f4 in the meter for my key and I set the lens to a 2.8 1/2 it gives about 65-70 IRE for Caucasian skin. So sometimes when in a hurry I just overexpose my key by a 1/2 stop and it end up right.
What methods are you guys using to expose besides histogram which is a general tool but not useful for lighting a whole set? Only a monitor is just not very safe, specially not the 7D’s LCD.

About using the histogram in live view, you do not need to go in the menu to switch it back and forth with the 7D. You have a physical switch to switch between movie and stills. It takes a second only. If you are using the 5D then yes, it is a bit more annoying since you must go into the menus.

Shane January 2, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Mike Maier, copy that. My day exteriors I end up using my eye and the Z-finder. For day and night interiors and night exteriors I light with my eye and then put it up on the monitor and balance it. I feel that a light meter is only good for matching set-ups once you have dialed in your master shot off the monitor. When I go in for coverage, I use it to get me in the ball park, other than that nothing that I have learned on how to expose a film negative applies.

ken glasssing January 2, 2010 at 1:02 PM

Hey Shane…
Most people seem to shoot with the Contrast setting All the way down…but you do not…so your shooting style is to use the Neutral setting with the Sat down a notch…is this correct?
I’ve gotten pretty good results with the Contrast set all the way down, then crush it latter in post. Perhaps this is due to the more contrasty Zeiss lenses that I use?
hhhmmm…All very interesting info 🙂
Ken Glassing

Shane January 3, 2010 at 11:24 PM

ken glasssing, Yes that is exactly right when I am shooting Day Ext., when I am doing my controlled lighting set-ups I light with Neutral -1 saturation and then slide it over to SEAL RAW for recording. I will try the contrast all the way down, but it is difficult to judge when you are outside running 8 -10 cameras at a time. You have to have something consistant and I have found that all of my operators, directors, and assistants can expose this picture style very well and keep consistant results. The Zeiss lenses are very contrasty, so I will change my Picture style to contrast all the way down when I use those, you are so right on about that. Thanks in advance!!

Mike Maier January 2, 2010 at 3:45 PM

Shane, what type of monitor do you use? The problem with the 5D and 7D is they only have HDMI out rather than SDI and monitors with HDMI connections are normally computer monitors or consumer monitors so they can’t be really adjusted enough to be trusted. Or are you using a converter box to convert the HDMI to SDI so you can use a professional monitor? Also, in that case how do you solve the problem that when you connect a monitor to the DSLRs you no longer have a viewfinder (LCD)?
Because I find the LCD on the camera very hard to trust. For mood yes, but for exposure not really.

Shane January 3, 2010 at 11:16 PM

Mike Maier, The monitor I use is probably the best out there. It is awesome on location and requires little to no set-up time. It takes the HDMI connector and kicks some serious ass in the color and contrast dept. It is the HP LP2480zx 24″ LCD Monitor. Here is the product description:

The HP DreamColor LP2480zx Professional Display is the world’s only color-critical LCD based on HP DreamColor Engine technology. This uniquely affordable monitor delivers broad color support, rich visual quality, and consistent results.
Product Description: HP DreamColor LP2480zx, flat panel display, TFT, 24″
Device Type: Flat panel display / TFT active matrix
Color: Silver, carbonite
Built-in Devices: USB hub
Dimensions (WxDxH): 20.7 in x 10 in x 22.2 in
Weight: 27.6 lbs
Localization: English / United States
Diagonal Size: 24″, widescreen
Viewable Size: 24″
Dot Pitch / Pixel Pitch: 0.27 mm
Max Resolution: 1920 x 1200 / 60 Hz
Display Positions Adjustments: Height, pivot (rotation), swivel, tilt
Response Time: 6 ms
Typical Response Time: 13 ms (rise+fall); 6 ms (gray-to-gray)
Image Brightness: 250 cd/m2
Image Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
Signal Input: HDMI, 2xDVI-I, DisplayPort
Compliant Standards: CE, CSA, TUV, VCCI, GS, ISO 13406-2, TCO ’99, MIC, FCC, CISPR
Power: AC 120/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )
Power Consumption Operational: 42 Watt
Manufacturer Warranty: 3 years warranty

In regards to the back LCD I view all my color and contrast on Day Ext off of that screen. That LCD is awesome when you have the Z-Finder loupe. I feel that you can judge exposure and contrast very well. When I connect to the monitor I do it for lighting purposes only, once I am happy with all my exposures I detach the cable and frame off of the back LCD. If the director wants to see it then I employ a 7″ on-board monitor from Marshall with a splitter that sends one feed to the on-board and then another feed goes to a wireless video or to a BNC cable to a monitor.

Egon January 2, 2010 at 5:06 PM

Using 5D if I set Live View in Exposure simulation I see live histogram. And It’s really nice. Then I switch back to Movie display and start shooting. BUT there’s a problem: In Exp. Simulation the Histogram gives me different data from real shooting. For instance: If Exp. Sim. fills the first 3 vertical sections (from left to right) if I take a picture (while in Exp. Sim.) or a movie, it gives me, in the resulting image or movie, a histogram with more data: in the 4th section. If I start from 4th vertical section full of data, resulting image, or clip, will have 5th vertical section with data.
In other words there’s a full section difference. It’s huge difference. Is this happening to you too ?

Shane January 3, 2010 at 2:41 PM

Egon, Bob could you address this issue from Egon. I am not using the histogram at this point. Reading all of these comments I will try it out on the Nuclear Sub this week. Thanks in advance

Bob Franco January 2, 2010 at 5:23 PM

I forgot the 7D has that button to quickly switch from still to movie. Wish the 5D had that. I do use the histogram to check my key but I also have a Marshall monitor (HDMI) that has false color and that, combined with experience shooting with this camera, works for me. In doing some tests I overexposed some highlights by about 1/2 a stop and thought it was gone but in FCP I was able to pull the highlights down and see detail in the whites! Surprised the heck out of me. I was using highlight priority. I used to use a light meter but didn’t get consistent results so I’m going with the combination of the histogram and Marshall false color monitor.


Greg Connors January 3, 2010 at 8:47 AM

Shane the Picture Style Zip file with 92 Canon Picture Styles has been sent to you via Lydia. Hope there is something in there for you.

Cheers Greg

Shane January 3, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Greg Connors, thank you so much for that. I look forward to seeing all of your picture style creations.

Mobolaji April 22, 2014 at 8:27 AM

Hi Greg,

Please can I also have them too, I use a 7D thou… Thanks

[email protected]

Bob Franco January 3, 2010 at 5:58 PM

If you go back up about 6 ro 7 posts you’ll see my description of how I use the histogram to expose. To avoid any differences on my 5D between still mode and movie mode, I always shoot a few seconds, play it back with the histogram visible and, if needed, stop playback wherever I need to, and look at the histogram. Of course, you have to know how a reading on the histogram relates to exposure in post to make this method work.


ken glasssing January 5, 2010 at 2:59 AM

OK..I’m a little confused…the Neutral setting’s default contrast setting is -4…0 being right in the middle…do you use the -4 default setting or push your contrast up into the middle to 0?

Shane January 6, 2010 at 3:24 AM

Ken glasssing, my neurtal setting is exactly how it shows up in the Canon Picture style Sharpness 0, Contrast 0, Satuaration 0, Color tone 0. The only adjustment that I make is -1 in saturation. This is my LUT for lighting, then I switch to a RAW file that I made in he computer. But during filing Day Ext. I keep the Neurtal setting. I do not switch to my RAW file.

Egon January 6, 2010 at 7:15 AM

Bob, Shane, thanks for answering. But I was not referring to difference between still mode and movie mode. And not referring to histogram in a short clip registered. I was just referring to LIVE histogram in exposure simulation. I see this live histogram fails. It’s a pity. I preferred using live histogram and then switch quickly to movie mode, using my menu shortcut. Instead I must shoot something brief, look it in play mode and then go back to movie rec mode. It’s incredible for me that 5D live histogram in exposure simulation is wrong, underexposed to be exact.
If I expose distributing data in exactly 4 sections in LIVE histogram, I find that recorded image data is exactly distributed in 5 sections. So I was asking if it happens to you too, because it happens to my associates too. And it seems us very strange.

Luke Davies January 14, 2010 at 4:11 AM

Shane Hi – I’m posting this around to you top guys. Have you tried http://cineform.com/neoscene/ – I really like to know if this software makes a difference ? I have tried it with with mates 5d footage and convert 30p to 24p with lots of latitude for grading … nobody seems to mention it . Its super fast process.

# Files created: 10-bit CineForm Intermediate (4:2:2) with either AVI (Windows) or MOV (Mac) wrapper.
# Spatial resolution: Up to 1920×1080
# HD camera support: HDV, AVCHD, Canon 5D Mk II, Canon 7D
# Chroma Interpolation: 4:2:0 → 4:2:2. Background: Most HDV and AVCHD camcorders record chroma (color) in a format known as 4:2:0. Without boring you with details, 4:2:0 chroma is half the color resolution of more professional 4:2:2 formats. When Neo Scene detects 4:2:0 chroma it properly interpolates the source chroma to 4:2:2 for more accurate color processing during editing and effects work. And if you ever “key” your material, CineForm’s chroma interpolation will substantially improve your resulting visual fidelity.
# NLE Compatibility:

* – Windows: Adobe Elements, Adobe CS3/CS4; Sony Vegas or Movie Studio
* – Mac: Apple Final Cut Pro or iMovie

# File Compatibility: Because CineForm files use industry-standard AVI or MOV wrappers they are compatible with virtually any video application that supports standard interfaces, including from Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, and Sony.
# ProRes Support: Neo Scene will create ProRes files as the destination format if Final Cut Studio is installed on your Mac.
# Image processing during conversion:

* – telecine removal (24p extraction from 60i)
* – deinterlacing (30p/25p from 60i/50i)

Shane January 17, 2010 at 4:02 AM

Luke Davies, this is great information, I will pass this on to the Post Production team on the film.

Matt Gottshalk February 16, 2010 at 1:34 AM

I use Neoscene all of the time and I like the way it preserves the gamma of the image over Compressor.

Shane February 16, 2010 at 12:41 PM

Matt Gottshalk, can you elaborate on this. I would love to learn more.

Zack McTee March 3, 2010 at 5:22 PM

This is definitely a constant headache for me. I was shooting in the super flat ProLost settings and it works well* so long as I’m the one doing the shooting and editing and can control all my own work in post. Sometimes I’m just shooting some stuff to hand off to a client without editing first and if the first thing they see is a super flat image that is soft in color…I’m not sure they’ll understand.

Now I’ve decided that the smart thing to do is to look at the image on the LCD myself and see how each notch, on each setting dial affects the image. Once I have something that matches my vision, I’ll go with that.

Greg Connors, or Shane, or anybody else I would love to receive a curated version of the 92 picture styles.

I appreciate everything you put on your site and I think you are an excellent contributor to this community, I really enjoy that you share your experience but also ask for other people’s opinions.

*although I did notice adding sharpness in post is definitely adding sharpness to any artifacting that is present from compression.

Chris Saul April 5, 2010 at 10:34 PM

Hi Shane,
A few weeks ago I was talking to a guy who works at Bad Robot and he told me to put my Sharpness all the way to the left, my Contrast all the way to the left, and my Saturation 2 points to the left. What would be your opinion about having my contrast all the way to the left? I’ve shot 3 spots with it and I’m happy but I wonder if I might be missing something. Also if you have a new recipe I would love to hear about it. Thanks!

Shane April 6, 2010 at 3:41 AM

Chris Saul, The Bad Robot guy is spot on. That is exactly what I do and then I bend the toe and shape the shoulder a bit. Your recipe is perfect, keep creating.

Steve K June 20, 2010 at 4:18 PM

¡Hola, Shane!

I’m having to make due with the 5D’s built-in LCD, for the time being. That said, I’ve been overexposing shots (not that many, but enough).

Here are some examples:

(exposure matches what the LCD was giving me)

(a smidge brighter than what I was expecting)

(somewhat blown-out — NOT what I was expecting)

So … until I can graduate to an external monitor, what might be the ideal LCD brightness setting? (If there is such a thing.) I currently have it set to 5.
Also, can you recommend a decent monitor that’s under $1000?

As always, sincere thanks for your time.


P.S. In other news, I’ve had “The Skulls” on my PVR for several weeks … plan on finally watching it, this evening. I’ll send you my full review, in the morning. 🙂

Shane June 20, 2010 at 10:30 PM

Steve K, If you do not need anyone else to view this, I would buy a Z-Finder from Zacuto for 350.00 and call it a day. Set your LCD brightness to auto and you will be spot on with your exposures. An on-board monitor will be way worse.

Steve K June 20, 2010 at 11:56 PM

Thanx for the tip, Shane. A Z-Finder has been on my wish list for some time—seems they’re not currently in stock anywhere—do you recommend the 2.5x or the 3x?

> An on-board monitor will be way worse.
Not sure what you meant there. Sorry.

Thanks again.

Have a great one.


Shane June 21, 2010 at 12:06 PM

Steve K, Hi Steve, you cannot judge color or exposure on any of those on-board monitors. They are just a viewfinder. 2.5X worked for my eyes the best. The LCD screen is the best representation of exposure and color that you can get.

Francois July 7, 2010 at 10:53 AM

Hi Shane,

Thank’s a million for what you’re sharing! It’s just fantastic, and a real blessing!

My question relates to the on-board monitor issue you were addressing above. I was wondering why I was getting the feeling that the scopes on my Transvideo HD6 were… “cheating” me… And to make I understand, are you saying that the HDMI output of either the 7D and 5D, even knowing that they don’t share the same specs, are both unreliable to evaluate proper exposure? That we should only rely on the camera’s LCD for proper exposure?

Also, on another topic, you were talking about the problems you had with the superflat picture style that you downloaded from the internet, and that it ended up being the wrong way to go. You then decided to create your own RAW look for SEAL… How did you do that? What software?…

Thank’s again!


Shane July 7, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Francois, You are very welcome. The HDMI output it perfect out of the camera into a lighting monitor. I use the Dreamcolor HP 2480ZX. You cannot judge exposure off of an on-board monitor. They suck. They are there for composition only. So you have the LCD screen on the back or a lighting monitor. My picture style was done with in the inner-workings of the camera with the picture style editor. I did not use any software. Simple moves of bending the knee and shaping the shoulder a bit, then using the contrast and saturation levels. They are not extreme. You can still gauge your exposure off of your LCD screen very well.

Scotty C. August 12, 2010 at 4:43 PM

Hey Shane, I’m shooting a documentary in a few days and I just started tapping into the different picture settings on the 5D. I’ll be shooting almost entirely with natural daylight (a little help from some china balls here and there) and I was wondering what the best set up would be? I hate the way the standard looks. Should I use the modified neutral settings like you have pictured?

Shane August 14, 2010 at 1:36 AM

Scotty C., yes, use the Neutral setting with your contrast around -3 and your saturation around -1, with sharpness at 0. Standard sucks. You will find this very appealing and give you the necessary help going with available light.

Pete August 13, 2010 at 10:15 AM

Hi Shane,
I’m heading to Argentina next week to film skiing and snowboarding. I have a Canon T2i, a 10mm Sigma, a 50mm 1.4 canon, and a 70-200mm canon with a 1.4 XTender. I was wondering if you still set your Picture Style to the same one as your April 6th comment post: Sharpness all the way to the left, Contrast all the way to the left, and Saturation 2 points to the left. If so, would you modify that recipe when shooting in snow?

Shane August 14, 2010 at 1:28 AM

Pete, That camera is a little more contrasty than the 7D, and twice as contrasty as the 5D. So I would try to bring lenses that are not super contrasty because the sensor will deliver that. I would go
-4 with and -1 saturation with Canon lenses. The 1.4 extender will soften the contrast and sharpness, so maybe -3 contrast with the extender.

Christopher Hughes November 12, 2010 at 7:19 PM

Shane, Have you used the 60D any? I’m curious as to what you have found as a good around sweet spot for this camera? I’ve seen it mentioned about the, 550D 7D and 5D slight differences in contrast, but 60D still seems relatively new and not mentioned much. Any experiences with this camera?

Benjamin Garvey December 6, 2010 at 10:12 PM

Hi Shane,
In your reply to Steve K., I was surprised you suggested to set the LCD brightness to Auto. Is this a typo?
How can you determine the correct exposure if the LCD screen is constantly adjusting to the lighting of the environment, and not seeing what is actually being recorded to the card? I thought that in manual mode,
is the way to go because the LCD screen won’t suddenly appear brighter when in a darker environment.
Wouldn’t that totally throw off what you think is correct?

Shane December 7, 2010 at 7:55 PM

Benjamin Garvey, yes that was a typo, I set my screen to manual and ride the level between 4 and 5. So sorry about this. Please forgive me.

Doug Clevenger June 16, 2012 at 7:14 AM

Shane… Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge! I’m wondering if you have made any changes to these settings regarding the 5DMKIII?

By the way, your film and behind the scenes piece on the Canon EOS-1D C was both awesome and enlightening!

Thanks and please keep up the great work!
Doug Clevenger

Bill Hamell March 13, 2013 at 9:11 AM


Is there any other software to make Picture Styles other than Canons Picture Style Editor?

Thank you,

Shane March 13, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Bill Hamell. That is currently the only way to make custom picture styles.

Bill Hamell March 13, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Thank you 🙂

Nico Ghislandi May 3, 2013 at 1:54 AM

Hello Shane any chance you can make the SEAL RAW picture profile available for download?
thanks 🙂

Patrick November 22, 2013 at 3:17 AM

Hey Shane! I’m infinitely grateful for all the pure cinematic grace You share!

I have created a picture style called “exposure helper”. I took the black & white picture style (“Monochromatic” on Nikon) and applied a custom curve, which completely flattens the midtones, making only shadows and highlights visible on the LCD screen. I especially use “exposure helper 50” which i dialed in to show what is over 80 IRE and under 20 IRE, not to clip skin tones and avoid compression artifacts accordingly.

Shane November 22, 2013 at 8:10 AM

Patrick, that sounds really cool. I would love to try that out. Thanks for sharing and for all the kind words. This blog is all about passion and love for the craft.

Julien November 7, 2016 at 9:33 PM

i have 2 cameras. I have a 5d mark ii and a t3i.
I use Nikkor AI lenses.
I am not sure what would be the perfect neutral picture profile for these combinations.

For the 5d mark ii, i use :
contrast 0
saturation -1

For the t3i, i use :
contrats -4
saturation -2

Does it sound good ?
Thanks in advance,
Have a good day

Ethan November 10, 2016 at 5:14 PM

Great article! I use the cine style profile. I would be curious to know what color profile works best with green screen shooting – I shot flat recently and had trouble keying – Im guessing because of the low saturation… any thoughts?

Sakthivel December 5, 2016 at 1:13 AM

I set everything to zero then I’ll enhance it in post
Is that fine ?

Erion May 12, 2017 at 3:06 AM

Hi Shane! I am glad to read this article from a professional like you are. I don’t now if 5d mark can rec in raw and my another camera sony nex have picture profile like rec 709 and cine1,cine2. What should i choose? Sorry for my poor english.
I wish you all the best

Erion May 12, 2017 at 3:10 AM

Sorry i mean 5d mark ii


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