Picture styles, or picture profiles, are settings that can be installed on an SLR to help achieve different looks for both videos and stills.
On default settings straight out of the box, Canon and Nikon SLRs usually produce an image with lots of contrast. This makes the image look more defined, but often means that detail recovery and grading becomes a lot more difficult in post, particularly for video work.
Canon SLRs have a few default picture settings already loaded. They are called Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful and Monochrome. Nikon SLRs have a similar range, including Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. Within each of these existing settings, you can make more precise alterations to parameters, such as saturation and contrast.
If you want to move beyond the presets, custom picture profiles can be used to give different effects. Some picture profiles will be designed to emphasise and flatter skin tones in the grading process, while others are more suited to landscapes.
Installing a picture profile is reasonably simple. For Canon SLRs, you will need EOS Utility, which is a Canon-specific program that comes with the camera. You will also need an interface cable to connect the SLR to a computer. Canon has provided a simple how-to on its website here.
For Nikon cameras, you will need to unzip the picture profile into the root directory of the memory card from a computer, load the card into the camera and enter into the Manage Picture Control option in the shooting menu. Load the picture profile into an empty slot.
There are fewer third-party profiles available for Nikon cameras, so you may want to read up on the ways to customise your own styles.
Mostly, picture profiles are referred to in the context of video. Many profiles "flatten" the image, which can optimise the dynamic range by giving the editor more flexibility during colour grading.
Here are some of our favourite free picture profiles you can download, focusing primarily on video use.
One of the most popular custom profiles out there, CineStyle produces an incredibly flat-looking image straight out of the camera, but holds much more detail in the shadow and mid-tones. It was designed specifically for the 5D SLRs, but works just as well on other Canon bodies.
You will probably find that the CineStyle is so flat that you will have trouble determining the correct exposure. To get around this, either use an external monitor or switch to a picture profile that more closely matches the final graded output you desire, determine the exposure and then switch back to CineStyle.
Though Canon SLRs have become some of the most popular tools for film-makers, the company is a little late to the party when it comes to dedicated video profiles. The new "X Series" look is designed to emulate the results from Canon's range of professional video cameras, without having to fork out cash for another body.
This profile has a little less contrast, and lower saturation than the default styles.
While you're downloading the video style, it's worth grabbing the other profiles, which include Studio Portrait, Nostalgia, Clear, Emerald, Twilight and Autumn Hues. These are arguably more useful for stills than for video.
This profile doesn't require grading, but the video image does benefit from a touch of correction. It's based on the existing Neutral style from Canon, but preserves luminance linearity in skin tones. There's also a little extra contrast than the Technicolor profile, which might be useful if you don't want to do too much in post.
Using a broader part of the codec's colour space, the Flaat style produces an image with less noise than the Technicolor profile. The Flaat_10 profile, which is the most popular, gives users just over 10 stops of dynamic range.
The Flaat styles are available for both Canon and Nikon SLRs, as well as the Blackmagic Camera and Sony NEX-5N.
Specifically for Nikon SLRs, this profile produces a very flat, even image with similar results to the Technicolor profile for Canons. This makes it ideal for grading in post.
The profile has been designed for the D7000, but should work fine in other Nikon SLRs.
Another flat profile designed for the D7000, this profile tends to preserve more detail in the highlight areas. This means you should be able to save blown-out areas, and bring back detail in the sky, more than you would normally be able to when shooting on the regular Neutral setting.