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Using a Flat Picture Style for Better Finished Images

During my career in photography, I’ve continued to evolve, both my shooting and editing styles, to achieve the results I wanted. Several years ago, while working with film editors on a cinema project, I came across a concept that I decided to apply to my own photography, and I have to say, it has improved my final images a great deal. Let me explain about using flat picture styles.Finished-ImageWhen Hollywood studios film a movie using a digital cinema camera, many times the camera will be set to record what is known as Log Gamma. This is similar to the picture styles that we DSLR and camera users have come to know and love. But while picture styles or picture controls are for the most part intended to provide a finished look, Log Gamma does just the opposite. A video file shot using Log Gamma will be very flat, with little contrast and color saturation. The purpose of shooting video this way, is so that it retains as much information as possible about the range of tones in the image, so the colorists who work on the video later can bring out that detail, and create a visual look to the film. This process is called color grading.

As I began to understand what the colorists were doing, I adjusted my workflow to allow me to take advantage of the same concepts. I find that by using a flat, low contrast, low saturation picture style, when I process the RAW file I can bring out better detail and contrast, and avoid clipping in the highlights and shadows.

Choosing a Flat Picture Style

Before Image With Histogram

A flat or neutral picture style will give you an image with the least contrast, maintaining better highlight and shadow detail. This allows you to bring out those details in processing. The histogram on your camera, and later in Photoshop or Lightroom, allows you to see where your highlight and shadow tones fall, to avoid clipping.

I had been shooting RAW for some time, but have left the Picture Style set to Standard or Landscape, for the most part. Once I saw this technique, I decided to change my picture style on my camera to Neutral (for Canon cameras) or Flat (on newer Nikons).

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About Digital Photography School
Digital Photography School is a website with simple tips to help digital camera owners get the most out of their cameras. Darren Rowse is the guy behind Digital Photography School. He’s a digital photography enthusiast and while it’s not how he makes his living, he is the one in his friendship group and family that always seems to photograph the special occasions. He is still learning and improving his photography but likes to share what he’s learned so far.

This ‘School’ is not a formal one by any means. There are no classes, no teachers, no exams – rather it’s a learning environment. Also, unlike most schools, the information here is free. As this is a regularly updated site the best way to use it will be to follow it over time. The best way to do this will be to use one of our Subscription Options.


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