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SOOC is for Suckers by John Clark

A before and after example of the type of darkroom adjustments that were made on photos prior to computer post-processing. This image was manipulated by Pablo Inirio, a master printer for Mangum Photos and found online through Gizmodo

As camera bodies and lenses continue to improve, I’ve noticed more and more photographers boasting on Social Media with a comment that “this photo is SOOC,” which is shorthand for being “Straight Out Of the Camera.”

Frankly, that shouldn’t be a source of pride.

What I see is the majority of these SOOC shots lean towards being more – and pardon the language –  “Shitty Out Of the Camera.” Most of these SOOC images just look poor, in my opinion.

Virtually all photos need some type of post-processing. This could be as simple as a small adjustment to the exposure or contrast or so far as needing extreme, wide ranging changes. The vast majority of serious photographers will never let an image be viewed without some type of post-processing.

To validate my thinking, I reached out via Twitter to several professional photographers who I admire to ask them if they would ever post an image SOOC, or if the shots they share have had some type of post-processing.

 

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Richard Bernabe, noted travel, wildlife and landscape photographer, replied “almost all the top photographers capture image data in the RAW format.” He added that you cannot share this data SOOC, and confirmed that all his shared images have “100 percent” post-processing of some type.

 

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Paul Zizka, an award-wining mountain landscape and adventure photographer based in Banff, Alberta, said that he rarely posts a shot SOOC, other than “the odd iPhone shot maybe!”

Zizka’s response perfectly mirrors my thoughts on the matter. You will never see a SOOC photo in my galleries here, or through my Instagram, Facebook or Twitter channels (other than the occasional selfie or iPhone snap for a quick share).  All my “real” photographs will have some type of digital processing performed before they see the light of day, so to speak.

Even the great Ansel Adams, widely considered one of the best outdoor photographers of all time, spent extensive time in the darkroom dodging and burning (manually lightening and darkening portions of the photo) his images to create the vision he saw while out in the field. He once famously said, “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”

Clearly if all these accomplished photographers see the value in image manipulation, so should anyone serious about creating quality photos.

Now here’s why I say SOOC is for suckers... Most of these SOOC aficionados are posting a JPG image from the camera. What they may not realize is that the computer inside the camera body automatically applies various adjustments to the shot; often these include settings such as White Balance, Color Saturation, Tone Curve, Sharpening and Color Space. So, really what they are posting is not the image they shot, but one with post-processing automatically applied!

As Bernabe noted, professionals and serious amateurs shoot in the RAW format which allows for much greater flexibility in post-processing as the file contains far more data than a JPG. But out of the camera the RAW image will look flat and dull to the eye. Only through the magic of post-processing can the photographer turn this into the vision that they witnessed and wanted to share.

Of course, the goal of the photographer should always be to get it right in the camera while on location. This means to expose the shot correctly, frame it right, and eliminate as many distractions possible. But to really finish the photo, don’t be a SOOC sucker and take a few moments to perform a bit of post-processing *. You’ll be glad you did!

*This post does not apply to photojournalists shooting for Reuters who are required to submit a JPG image with extremely minimal post-processing allowed. If you happen to fall in this narrow range of professional photographer then carry on and SOOC your images!

Review: The $99 Lens You Should Have in Your Bag by John Clark

The wide angle came in handy in Thailand for capturing the beauty inside the Buddhist temple and the worshipper

What if I told you there was a M43 lens that would take up virtually no additional space in your bag, yet allow you a world of new visual opportunities that no (in most likelihood) no other lens in your kit offers? And what if this magical lens cost you under $100 dollars? I suspect that most photographers would be interested in learning more.

Well, this lens is the 9mm Fisheye Body Cap lens by Olympus (model BCL-0980), and I honestly believe it should be part of the standard kit for any M43 shooter.

A great many shooters, myself included, pack their camera body in the bag without a lens attached. The standard body cap that comes with the camera is most often used to protect from dust and impacts and, of course, is extremely small, lightweight and doesn’t extend out beyond the grip.

Yes, this is a very small and lightweight lens. No additional room needed in the bag!

Yes, this is a very small and lightweight lens. No additional room needed in the bag!

The Olympus 9mm Body Cap lens doesn’t extend beyond the grip either. In fact, it isn’t much larger than the original body cap itself. So, in essence, just swapping this out for the original body cap will give you one additional lens in your kit for no additional space! When packing my bag I have this lens attached in place of the original body cap which gives me one “free” lens in the bag without any additional space or weight, yet still offers the same protection.

The 9mm gives you a full-frame equivalent of 18mm, and while not quite a true fisheye, it offers an amazing 140-degrees of view. What this means is you have to be extremely careful about framing and what shows up on the edges of your photo!

While walking around I often toss this into my pocket so that if an opportunity comes up for a wide angle shot I will be ready, especially while traveling and not having access to my full selection of glass.

Now there are tradeoffs, of course. The big one is that this lens is a fixed F8 aperture. This is great for depth of field but not necessarily optimal in low light situations. The other big issue is that this is a completely plastic lens, including the elements itself, although that should not be a deal breaker as this lens is surprisingly sharp for the price and construction.

Shooting is extremely simple. The minimum focus distance is just a tad under 8 inches, so you can get extremely close which does give some interesting perspectives. Operation is as simple as moving a lever which opens the lens cover to one of two focusing positions; you must choose either Infinity or close focus and there is no autofocus. Personally, I don’t find much difference between the two focal ranges and just use the Infinity focus setting.

While this lens is not likely going to be a main workhorse, for the price paid and the space (not used) in the bag it is well worth adding to the collection to give yourself a whole new viewpoint.

To Preset or Not to Preset, That is the Question… by John Clark

It was a fun process of experimentation that led to this image during post-processing

It was a fun process of experimentation that led to this image during post-processing

Let me start right off by saying I have a love/hate relationship with presets.

I love to collect presets. Anytime they are given away you can pretty much count on me for a download. Like most photographers, I have so many presets downloaded and installed that I really have no idea how most of them will adjust the photo. And it’s not just for one post-processing program; I collect presets for Lightroom, ON1 RAW and most any other software I’ve played around with over the past few years.

But despite this large (and continually growing) library, I hate to use presets. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word… I dislike using presets, for the most part.

Occasionally I might get a whim to start out using a preset when developing an image and – now that we are in the circle of truth – often find something that I like. A lot! And there are a couple of presets that I used to use with some regularity.

But for me, post-processing is half the fun of photography. Certainly I get a thrill being out in the field taking the shots, but my journey to the final image really starts in the digital darkroom.

Sometimes I will head into processing knowing exactly what I want. I may have a vision while shooting that an image will look fantastic converted to Black and White, or perhaps some form of desaturation (Bleach Bypass, anyone?) as a vignette around the edges is what I had mentally envisioned while on location.

But more often than not, my post-processing is a journey in itself. Moving the sliders, adjusting the colors and playing around with the effects all take me on a fun trip until the final image is where I like. I may not always know the destination, but half the fun of a trip is the experiences along the way.

Now I know that a lot of people simply don’t like post-processing. I get that. I respect that. And I totally understand how a single click on a preset will transform your images into something that you love. It can even define your photographic style. Hundreds of photos from your vacation can all be “finished” in the blink of an eye.

But that’s not for me. I may be the oddball who loves the computer darkroom, but I am also the oddball who doesn’t process every snap of the shutter. There must be something “there” in the image that captures my attention and makes it worthy of spending time to process. The amount of frames captured versus those I actually take the time to process is very low so I can take the time to really create something that I like and want to share.

So, what about you? Are you a “preset and forget” type of post-processer, or do you enjoy the journey of transforming a photo like I do?