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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!