The SOOC Debate

I would like to share my thoughts on the long running SOOC debate or “straight out of camera”. I can hear the groans now however I believe I have a strong position on this topic and it is something that I am quite passionate about.


The argument for SOOC usually comes in a few different forms and is often combined by the self title of purist photographer. The argument is often centered on the two main topics of photo manipulation and capturing what the eye really saw.


Photo manipulation also known as editing and post processing becomes a fairly hazy ground when discussing in the context of the SOOC debate. It would seem from the purists that I have spoken with there is some variation in what may be allowed. Some purists will stipulate no photo manipulation in or out of camera while others will accept minor contrast, exposure and colour corrections. In my opinion this is a fictitious quest and here is the reason why.


As soon as you click the shutter button on the camera a manipulation has occurred. The sensor or the film of the camera has taken the light through the lens of the camera and formed an interpretation of that light in a multitude of different ways through either chemical reactions or electronic signals. In the later the electronic signals are then interpreted through algorithms created by the camera manufacturer to form a file. This file is a combination of camera setting and the interpretation of what the camera manufacture believes the scene should look like based off these settings. Irrelevant of camera settings decisions on brightness, contrast and colour have been made for the photographer. If you shoot RAW a small jpeg with that interpretation will be saved within the RAW file and in conjunction with the RAW application engine within any particular editing suite an interpretation of that image will be presented to the photographer.


Furthermore when you decide to display your image, whether it be on screen or in print, further manipulation to that image file is occurring and in many forms. Some of these forms include, Graphic and screen drivers, Application engines, printer drivers, software and hardware Profiles, Ink and paper types.  Therefore it is actually a false claim if a photographer informs you that their image has not been manipulated in any way. What they are really trying to say is that they choose to let the manufactures of their equipment interpret and manipulate the scene on their behalf. There is nothing wrong with this, however let’s be clear that manipulation is occurring.


I have no issue with minimizing post processing however I believe it should be done for the right reasons.  If the image that you get straight from the camera is the realization of your intent, then there is no reason to extend the post processing process any further than needed to publish that image. Alternatively if you need to spend 10 hours in Photoshop to realize that intent then that is fine also. The ends really do justify the means in this case. Do not make the mistake of believing a photographer is somehow a “purist” just because they don’t use Photoshop or some other such tool.





The second aspect of the SOOC debate I wish to discuss is that many photographers that are falsely chasing the purist ideal believe that by reducing or eliminating post processing, a more realistic image can be achieved. Nothing can be further from the truth. An image captured by a camera senor or film frame is nothing like the image we see in our mind when viewing a scene in person.  This is for many different reasons which could take an entire book to fully explain however some brief points to cover are as follows.  The human eye has a curvature which allows us to see the light field in a 3 dimensional fashion, while film, digital sensors, screen and paper are all 2 dimensional. We further alter reality with our cameras by making choices such as focal length, depth of field and exposure. Most landscape images you see today have back to front depth of field. This is not reality. A human cannot see back to front depth of field in a single point in time.  Is a long exposure of a sky reality? What about black and white or infra red cameras do these depict reality?


I believe that seeing is only a small part of any experience.  When I process an image I want to be taken back to that moment, I want people that view my image to in some small way share my experience. I attempt to achieve this by manipulating an image through a variety of tools to lead the viewer through my image. I draw attention to certain elements through the manipulation of contrast, brightness and colour.  I remove or alter unimportant distracting elements and change size and perspective of other elements to achieve my goal.  This is my process and it is neither more nor less valid than any other photographer’s process. I encourage other photographers to really think about what their goal is when creating imagery and what it takes to achieve that goal.


Image "Gondwana" by Bruce Hood"

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