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The quote: “SOOC is NOT a badge of honor; it is code for too lazy to process images.”
I posted this quote and image on social media as part of my daily Photo Quotes Series. It is from an article that I wrote back in 2021.
I kicked a hornet’s nest of repressed feelings with that quote. The comments on my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles ranged from name-calling to denial to protests of fake news! Some were polite in their discourse, and others were just plain a-holes. I don’t care about the a-holes. I wouldn’t be teaching online if I did.
I am sharing this with you because I was surprised and disappointed by the variety of defenses offered by those who disagreed or took offense to my quote about SOOC.
What is SOOC
If you don’t know what SOOC means, good for you! Seriously!
SOOC = Straight Out Of Camera.
It is often used as a bragging statement meaning that the image is so good that it requires no post-processing. It is frequently seen in Facebook photography groups, Flickr communities, and Instagram posts. These posts are usually accompanied by photos that lack essential foundational aspects of a good photograph.
Before we go any further, let me clarify a few points about SOOC and my quote.
I am not judging based on an image’s creative choices or my taste or style as a photographer. None of this is about me. I am also not trying to tell anyone what their photographs should look like, and if you are not interested in making your photography better, then I am NOT speaking to you, so mind your business and move on – there is no need for you to comment.
I am making that statement about SOOC based on things like poorly exposed images where shadows are blocked up and without detail or highlights are completely blown out to the point that they steal all the attention. I am basing this on photos with muddy or flat colors in otherwise vibrant scenes or out-of-focus or blurry images that are definitely not intended to be creative.
I make that statement based on photography basics – the foundational elements of nearly every great photograph.
To further point out that this is not about “my opinion,” it is important to understand that every digital camera on the market is designed with the intent that its images will be developed, just like film cameras. This applies to smartphones as well.
I know we can shoot a jpeg that can be shared within moments of creation with no processing involved. I mentioned smartphones, most of which have software that does an impressive job of processing the images it touches.
So to continue the SOOC conversation, let’s clarify that I am speaking about making images with the goal of getting the most quality that your camera gear is capable of delivering. In other words – getting your money’s worth out of the extremely expensive gear you keep upgrading because it is the latest and greatest.
Let’s clarify another vital SOOC point. There are always use-case exceptions. A great example is an event photographer who needs to deliver finished jpegs minutes after taking the photo. In this case, it would not make sense to shoot RAW as a primary file format – maybe as a backup, but those quick delivery jpegs will have a minimal amount – if any of processing due to the short turnaround time needed.
So for those of you who fall into this category – I understand that exception. Still, this is not how you maximize quality, and you will likely not be adding any of those quick-delivery images to your portfolio unless you operate a business that focuses on that niche. Just keeping it real.
That’s the starting point for this conversation. The camera you are shooting with is intended to shoot raw files for maximum quality, and those raw files are designed to be developed – just like film.
Unlike film, we no longer have to wait a week for the pictures to come back to find out how much we suck. We get instant feedback in-camera, so by the time we are processing our images, we should only be dealing with properly exposed files. Which I know is something that many of you struggle with – but that’s a different conversation.
Also, unlike film, today’s cameras can record a much greater range of tones from light to dark, giving us more creative potential and allowing us to create images that represent what our eyes see and brains experience – much better than film can or could.
But this doesn’t “automagically” happen. It requires help from software and a human. Even as AI continues to improve, the best photographers will likely embrace some elements of AI, but they will still be hands-on with their images to ensure quality and creative control.
Some of you feel that processing your images is not fun and time-consuming. You hate sitting in front of a computer screen! Processing images is NOT what made you fall in love with photography.
Would you believe that even in the 1970s, when I learned to develop film and make my own prints, some photographers said they hated developing film and printing and found it too time-consuming?
Those photographers sent their film to an outside lab to have it developed. People shooting Black and White or Color negative films like Tri-X or Kodacolor could even have it back the same day if they lived in a larger town or city. But they had their photos developed.
Even in the 1970s, you could go to a drug store and get prints made – but every photographer knew that those drug store prints wouldn’t be nearly as good as they could do themselves or have done for them at a professional lab.
So if you are a photographer who doesn’t want to invest the time but still cares about image quality and wants to get the best possible quality out of your cameras and digital files, you have many modern, more efficient options.
Option One: Outsource the work. Work with a retoucher or a processing house. Yes, there is a cost associated with this, but if you are making money with your photography, you build it into the cost. If you think there is insufficient markup in your prices to cover the cost of outsourced processing, your prices are too low.
Option Two: Use presets or, as some folks call them, extensions. Newer software like Luminar Neo is built to use extensions and presets as the primary step in your post-processing or even as a creative idea generator to find different ways to process your photos.
There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this method, even though some people will trash it just as aggressively as they have trashed my quote. If you click the present and accept the results, sometimes it will look great. Sometimes it will look bad. But regardless, the preset is trying to make your photo look like something created by the person who created the preset. I strongly recommend that you only use presets as a starting point but always fine-tune them to give your photos a unique flavor.
Option Three: Some people will mention AI tools available for wedding, portrait, and event photographers; these tools are also fantastic. Some are better than others, but almost everyone who uses them will tell you that they still make small tweaks to the most important images from the shoot.
Option 4: Learn Adobe ACR, which is in Lightroom and Photoshop or Luminar NEO, Affinity Photo, DXO Photo Lab, or even freeware like Gimp.
Taking the time to learn the software that will develop your raw files builds skills that will expand your creative potential and allow you to squeeze every bit of quality out of your cameras.
The Final Frame
My quote about SOOC isn’t an insult or attempt at bullying. It is a statement that if you care about getting the best possible quality from your very expensive cameras, you will need to process your photographs.
If you don’t care about quality. No problem. Enjoy what you do; just understand that boasting about a SOOC image makes you look lazy.
Have more questions about SOOC and post-processing? Would you like to continue the conversation? Join my TOGKnowledge Photographic Community, where you will find photographers from over 30 countries passionate about learning and sharing their photography as they develop their craft.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman