Using Your Camera's Pointless Features To Get The Most Out Of Your Shots

Using Your Camera's Pointless Features To Get The Most Out Of Your Shots

With modern technology within Adobe Camera Raw, you're limiting yourself considerably when shooting in JPEG. However, by shooting in Raw, you're removing the purpose of many of the features within the camera. Settings such as 'Picture Style' serve no real purpose when shooting in Raw, because all the adjustments added to photos, will be stripped when put on your computer. Regardless, I shoot in monochromatic, and it has helped my work considerably.



When someone grabs my camera and see that my screen is black and white, many people look at me puzzled, and ask why. The idea is simple, I want to see the details on the contrast, not the colors. Nearly all of my work is in color, and with a lot of color. I've built my portfolio with a bit of a commercial flare, and I make use a lot of bold color palettes to help build my brand. So for that reason alone, the last thing I want to see while looking through my photos is the distractions in the colors.


When shooting in monochromatic, I find myself looking more are my subjects expressions, the detail within the contrast, and the overall composition of the image. I do this, because it's the practices I most often neglect when culling through my images. Any color issues I have on the image, I can discover later and fix if need be, because I'm good with color.


Paired with the Rate Button on most modern cameras, I'm able to go through the images while they're in black and white, and rate my favorites based on contrast and composition, not on vibrant colors. Upon loading them on my computer, they're magically color again, so I can re-investigate how they look with the color properties added.


Setting this up on your camera is pretty painless. On Canon cameras, the setting is called Picture Style, on Nikon is called Picture Control. Each of these are usually programmed onto a button, or can be found in the menu system of the camera.


Give it a try and see if it works for you. Sometimes, doing a simple change in your shooting process can slow you down and help you take better photos.

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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Oh crap, this is an awesome idea.

I agree! I wish I had known about this prior to my trip to NYC last week!

Interesting idea, but wouldn't that throw the histogram off compared to a color Picture Style?

you tend to expose slightly differently in bw than in colour too

Agreed, I underexpose in B&W more often than not - but we can all figure out where this 'trick'/'tool' applies and where it doesn't. It isn't rocket science kids!

I'm not suggesting it can't be used or that a histogram is required to shoot (I don't remember seeing one on my film cameras ;) but it is something to consider if you use this technique.

Is that the funny looking graph thing that comes up some times when I take pictures?

Yes :-)

I've done this for years as well, but lately I've been loking more towards shooting in cinestyle. (yes for stills as well) It's makes it a lot easier to see what the camera really captures in terms of dynamic range.. The standard picture styles adds so much contrast, that you really can't use the histogram for anything in my opinion..

I use the Neutral style and dial contrast and sharpness all the way down to get the most accurate histogram. It's still not 100% but as long as I'm at the right or just a bit overexposed, I'm good. For shots of people (the subject of this post), I only use the histogram to make sure I have an accurate exposure and don't expose to the right as I do with other subjects. CineStyle works okay for the histogram but the preview image isn't as usable.

ian, ive been trying to adjust settings to get the playback on the camera to closer match what i will get on a computer. i feel the nikon 700/800 needs MORE contrast than its basic setting. youve had better luck turning it down? is that for the histogram AND playback or just histogram?

Jeff, I can't speak for Nikon, but Canon's "Picture Styles" are generally oversaturated (particularly the reds) and have pretty punchy contrast and sharpness. The Neutral setting gets the colors right, but the sharpening & contrast add too much black, throwing off the left side of the histogram. In most digital cameras, the rendering of the playback image becomes the JPEG that the histogram is derived from during image review. Also, white balance plays a large role in the quality of the histogram, so make sure it's set correctly (or at least to suit the final look of your image) to get the most accurate histogram.

Very cool idea. Though I'll lose my ability to just grab a quick color JPG version mid-wedding and post it online, right?

Not really- the RAW is still there, and you should be able to generate any type of jpg you chose from the internal RAW converter in camera.

That's a great point, thanks minutemen!

You can also shoot Raw/jpeg together. That way you can accomplish your mid wedding displays ;)

I do shoot RAW/JPG together, that's why I asked - the JPG will be in black and white.

On many shoots this is exactly what I do. Best idea ever. Color are distracting and can always be fooled around with in post. Lighting, composition and expression on the other hand is something that you can't change.

Agreed, I do exactly the same thing.

Very cool idea...

I like this Idea - It's too often I get distracted by the colour happening on my camera back (weather it's a white balance or how colours in the scene play off each other). I like the idea of using the monitor in black and white to look for contrast, light direction and composition. I picked up my camera in the middle of reading this post and immediately switched the picture mode!

It also helps with models. If I show models/sitters the black and white versions, for some reason, they are a lot less critical of their own look. Not sure why, but it works nearly 100% of the time.

I think that's a great idea when photographing with natural light, or with lights with same color temp. I often mix strobes and ambient light, and it would be hard to see which color temp dominates others if i shoot in b&w. any thoughts on that?

Well, I often mix strobes and sunlight without any problems, but that is about as far as I go when it comes to mixing different color temperatures. You can also switch it back and forth from color to B&W and compare the differences.

Great tip. I started doing this awhile back after learning to use a Black & White layer in photoshop as a check layer through Aaron Nace at Phlearn. Whether in camera or in post, a black and white lets you simply see the light and composition without color getting in the way. It is absolutely my favorite way to set up a camera.

Response from clients range from "Wait your only shooting B&W?" to "Cool your shooting B&W?".

Great idea for a useful article.


"Yeah, it's a digital camera I bought in the 50s!"

Wedding photographer, Fer Juaristi, shoots his weddings this way, so that he is focused on story, light and composition.

I dont get it.. how are shots "magically colour again" ?

RAW files dont save the 'camera control/style' information. They store the raw data, which means the color stays. The BW is just in camera.

Because when you're shooting in Raw File Format, your shooting in a filesystem that essentially will ignore all the Picture Style while your camera will recognize it in body, when you upload them into your computer, they'll be uploaded in the color format with all of the monochromatic and other data removed.

so you are shooting in Raw mode not jpeg … but you have the pic style set in the camera as mono chrom.. but thats ignored … so all you are seeing is the display in the back of the camera in b/w but it still retains the colour in the raw image on card…..? will that also allow to shoot video that way..?
display in colour but process in colour

Most cameras don't shoot video in RAW formats unless you're running around with a cinema grade camera like a Red.

Shooting a video is the same as shooting a JPG, Again, your sensor takes in information and then applies the settings you've told the camera to do. It then compresses all that information to make a video. So if you shoot black and white, your video will be black and white, If you shoot color your video will be in color.

However with Magic lantern hack for Canon DSLR's you can shoot 14bit RAW video. With Raw video you can set the cameras settings to anything you want but it will be ignored because there is no compression happening. This is why raw files also are a lot larger then most Standard video files or jpg files.

I hope your not getting lost in all of this, Its best that you figure out what RAW means and what Jpg means. One deals with compression the other does not.

I think in order for you to understand this you need to learn about JPG and RAW.
A Jpg is compressed information that you the user set in the camera and is processed inside the camera so you actually have an image. RAW is just data taken in by your image sensor, It's not a photo, it's code collected by the sensor and places it in order so you can view it as a "Photo".

cheers Jimmy, im a small bit more enlightened after this…
thanks for the info

Wow i just got it.. thats really handy..!! great tip Zach

A good way to watch for harsh shadows - although this does mean that the jpeg preview that is embedded in the raw and recoverable should the file corrupt, will be then limited to monochrome.

In my 7 years of shooting professionally, I've never had to pull the jpeg from a corrupt card... :-

Lucky you, obviously no one wants a corrupt file but it does happen - even on the staple Sandisk cards.

you're making me cry :(

ah i like this idea but cant use it for wedding since i shoot RAW + JPEG and use the jpegs for same day slide show... might have to try it for some engagement shoots though!

Great tip. Will have to try this.

I setup a shot that I knew would be B&W so I tried this out a few weeks ago. I did a few tests and was happy to see that the raw data was intact and just the embedded preview was B&W. it helped a ton when visualizing the lighting in camera without tethering. I tweaked my monochrome color profile slightly from default. You can also apply the canon presets to the images on import in LR if you wanted to adjust the RAW files to monochrome to start.

yes, it works! I did an little practice with my students in a Norway Trip, just for one day and many of them where working on monochromatic for the hole week. I'm doing the same this last weeks. I really like it.

Have been working in the mono picture setting for a while now and it really does help one focus on the composition and light. Great article.


Another thing you might want to do is make a picture style with a bit more contrast and the sharpness all the way up. I do a lot of manual focus work with the live view and it can really help get critical focus.

That is an awesome idea. I normally shoot with the Neutral Picture Style just because I'm not a big fan of the standard default. I'm going to give it a try. Color can be a distraction.

Thanks for sharing! Very smart!

I've done this off and on since I got my early adopter 5D3 yet I truly believe histogram checks are more valuable.

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