Is True SOOC Possible

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By Steve Russell

One of the great things about photography is there are few absolutes. Even an image that’s overexposed or underexposed can be interesting and compelling to some people. What really makes a good photograph is whether the photographer thinks it is. It doesn’t make any difference if I like it or if the next person likes it because there will always be someone that thinks it’s really good and someone that thinks it’s drek. It’s true that there are so-called rules but sometimes these “rules” can be broken and the result is a really good image.

One of the great things about BeyondMegapixels, in my opinion, is that Tiffany and I don’t always agree. We never argue about it but we do provide our readers with different perspectives from time to time. We both think that offering different perspectives is a good thing. With this in mind, I wanted to write about a subject that Tiffany wrote about last Wednesday; Is True SOOC Possible? In her article she invited discussion so here goes mine.

My real thought on SOOC is that it’s much ado about nothing. There seems to be a faction of photographers out there that think an SOOC photograph is some kind of badge of honor. Personally, I think that in some cases, not all, SOOC is something promoted by people that either don’t have post processing software, that have the software and don’t know how to use it or don’t want to go to the trouble and effort post processing requires. If that describes you, then great. If you have a really good image that didn’t require any post-production processing, then halleluiah. If you have a really good image that you spent hours on in post-production processing then halleluiah to that too. The important issue is that you have a really good image regardless of how you got there.

The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as SOOC. The closest thing to SOOC is RAW and there isn’t anything you can do with a RAW image except post process it. I’ll discuss more on this a little later. The truth of the matter also is that most of the people that talk about SOOC are talking about JPEG images and JPEG isn’t really SOOC as much as some people would like to believe. SOOC means Straight Out Of (the) Camera. If it’s truly SOOC then the image would have to contain all the data the camera captured with absolutely no modifications whatsoever.

The closest photographers have ever been to SOOC is slide film. With Kodachrome in particular, you captured a photograph with a camera where the only things you could change was focus, aperture and shutter speed. Yes, you could “push” the film by dialing in a higher ASA but that usually worked much better and was more applicable with color or black & white negative film. Still with Kodachrome the film had to be developed (processed) but there wasn’t any manipulation to speak of. Kodachrome could only be processed at Kodak or Kodak approved labs and every roll of film was processed to the same standards. In other words, you got back from the lab, what the camera “saw” in a way that the chemicals used in the process reacted to the emulsion on the film.

In most modern DSLRs you can elect to shoot in RAW, in JPEG or in both at the same time. When you shoot in RAW the file that is captured by the camera contains all the image data the camera “sees” with the sensor. If you also shoot in ProRGB you capture all the colors possible to capture with a camera. That file would truly be SOOC. The problem is you really can’t do anything with the file except open it and then when you save it, the software you’re using saves it in a different format. Technically, once the file format is changed, the image is no longer RAW and therefore not SOOC but let’s not get that technical. SOOC purist would possibly argue that if you open a Camera RAW image and make any changes to it, even something as simple as changing the color temperature, the image is no longer SOOC. I won’t argue with the logic but that belief is an oversimplification.

When I capture a RAW image the file size is generally around 25 megabytes. If I make changes to it in Photoshop the resulting .psd (Photoshop’s file format) is even larger, sometimes double in size depending on how many changes I make. If you have a RAW image and you want to post it on the internet and/or have it printed, you have to convert it to a JPEG image and change the color palate to sRGB. The resulting file is then around 5 megabytes or only 20% of the original RAW image. Now we have a JPEG image that by any stretch of the imagination can’t be considered SOOC. If nothing else, the act of compressing the RAW file from 25 MB to 5 MB changes the image.

Guess what? If you capture a JPEG image with your camera you have a file that’s around 5 megabytes. If you take that file and put it online or send it to the printer you have a SOOC image, right? Wrong? Your camera captures images in RAW. That’s why you can, with many cameras, shoot in RAW and JPEG at the same time. What actually happens is that the camera captures the image in RAW and based on its internal programming performs post-production processing, compresses the file and saves it in JPEG format. SOOC? I don’t think so.

There are two real questions here and SOOC or not isn’t one of them.

1. Do you want to personally make however many processing changes are required to make the image really good in your eyes, or
2. Do you want to let the software that’s been designed for the “middle of the road” acceptance to make the changes?

In the Adorama video that Joyce provided a link to in her article, Mark Wallace says, “Post production is always going to be better because you can get it to look exactly like you want it to look.” I would suggest a better statement is that post production is always better because it gives you complete control over the final image. Striving for SOOC is the wrong objective. Striving for less time in post processing by thinking about the image before you press the shutter release is the correct goal.

Finally, unless you’re trying to please a paying client, you are the only judge that counts in what makes a good image that you capture. My opinion of your images isn’t really relevant unless you really want my opinion and then it’s still your decision about how to modify any image. I have images that people don’t get all excited about that I don’t understand why and I have images the people do get excited about that I don’t understand why. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing.

The image used with this article is SOOC because it is a scanned Kodachrome 64 slide

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