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How can the CONTRAST, SHARPNESS and SATURATION options in the PICTURE MODE in the menu be applied creatively?
Of all the options in the camera’s menus, CONTRAST, SHARPNESS and SATURATION can most effectively be applied to create a “look” to your images. These factors are applied to the JPEG files as part of the image processing when the captured image is written to the memory card. If you are shooting in one of the SCENE modes the same factors may automatically be applied in the different SCENE modes in various combinations to arrive at the “look” of each SCENE mode. The advantage of applying these factors in-camera is that it can save time in post-processing the images in the computer. These same functions are found in the Edit Palette of the Olympus software that supports your camera.
Let’s look at what these options do and how they can be used creatively. First, bear in mind that all of these options are set at the middle value out of the box.
CONTRAST controls the range between lightness and darkness in the processed image. By using a “plus” setting, the brightness range is shortened and the image will have a more vivid appearance with more brilliant colors. Creatively this might be preferred for landscape photography. The VIVID PICTURE MODE is already using a higher contrast value, so raising the contrast in the VIVID PICTURE MODE will make the contrast even greater. By using a “minus” setting, the colors in the image will have a slightly flatter appearance , and may be used to extend the brightness range of the camera, or impart a more romantic or nostalgic feel to photographs. The MUTED PICTURE MODE is already using lower contrast value, so lowering the contrast value will make the tones even flatter. In the MONOTONE (black & white or sepia) mode, increasing the contrast will produce a harder photojournalistic look, and decreasing the contrast will produce a more classical photographic range of tones.
SHARPNESS applies different levels of digital sharpening much the same way as photoimaging software applies the “unsharp mask” function in image post-processing, but does it in-camera. Using a “plus” value may over-sharpen images and actually reduce their apparent sharpness. If you commonly perform extensive post-processing of images, it is best to set SHARPNESS to minus 2, which is the least sharpening, and will reduce the appearance of recompressed jpeg images when many post-processing steps are used. If you commonly shoot at very high ISOs, using the minus 2 value will also reduce the appearance of digital noise, because higher sharpening sharpens the graininess of digital noise and makes it more apparent. One creative use of sharpening is if you combine high contrast and high sharpening in the MONOTONE PICTURE MODE, you can produce images that look like they were shot on 400 speed black & white film.
SATURATION allows you to set the level of color vividness when images are processed in-camera and saved to the memory card. A “plus” value such as plus 2 will make the colors more vibrant. A “minus” value such as minus 2 will make the colors flatter.
The best way to learn the effect of these settings is to shoot a series of test shots of the same setup with different PICTURE MODES and combinations of CONTRAST, SHARPNESS, and SATURATION. If you want to shoot the same image with one of these custom setups and still have an image with normal values, you can shoot RAW+JPEG in which the RAW image processing doesn’t apply the factors but the JPEG processing does.
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