The Limitation of the Straight Out of Camera (SOOC) Approach in Photography and Why It Doesn't Really Work

The Limitation of the Straight Out of Camera (SOOC) Approach in Photography and Why It Doesn't Really Work

Photography, as an art form, has undergone a significant transformation in the digital age. Straight out of camera (SOOC) images, untouched and unaltered, have been the ultimate end goal for many photographers, offering viewers a glimpse into the raw, unfiltered beauty of captured moments featuring their professional skill sets.

While acknowledging the SOOC approach is needed by some professional photographers in the industry to preserve the originality and integrity of the images, it is also increasingly apparent that the idea of entirely using the straight-out-of-camera approach in producing a refined artwork that shows the photographer’s vision may not be as effective and simple as it initially seems. In this article, we will take a deep dive into studying the fundamental limitations of using SOOC files in photography.

The Intention Behind Photography

Photography at its core is a visual language driven by intention, with photographs acting as a medium for communicating emotions, stories, and unique perspectives. While SOOC images are perfectly capable of capturing a moment in its raw form, they often fall short of conveying the photographer's intended message by generalizing the approach of the image-making process catering to the mass public. This generalized approach has unintentionally removed the photographer’s vision by automating the camera settings adjustments to lighting and tonality with the pre-loaded algorithms. Let’s face it, regardless of brand, there is currently still no camera on the market that could read your mind, let alone shoot files with the right amount of file latitude that you need for post-processing considerations to piece together the final artwork in your mind. All these subtle yet crucial elements of control in the camera settings, coupled with the post-processing considerations, will add up and contribute to the powerful impact of a final photograph. Without the ability to refine and mold these aspects through post-processing, the true depth and intended impact of the photograph may remain unrealized.

The Uniqueness of Photography Approach

The uniqueness of a photographer’s work, better known as a signature style, is derived from the conscious intention of the photographer over the final output by having full control over the entire image-making process. Having a signature style is what sets the photographer’s work apart from the rest. And SOOC does exactly the opposite by again generalizing the output, limited by their untouched nature. Post-processing offers the opportunity to refine and enhance images, allowing photographers to express their creativity fully. Micro touches to the image tonalities, color gradations, and mood enhancements are achievable through post-processing, which plays a pivotal role in elevating a photograph beyond the constraints of a camera's default settings. The absence of this transformative step compromises the ability of a photographer to communicate their vision fully.

Another part of the uniqueness of a photographer comes from the core of what makes a photograph. Be it a subject that personally stood out to the photographer, a subject that they would love to document for archival purposes, or even a subject that is worth photographing with the intent to share with the world. When done enough, it will ultimately define a photographer's portfolio when coupled with a personalized processing method. This variety of unique and custom approaches to photographing a wide variety of subjects is what our current imaging technology is unable to do perfectly with merely utilizing the SOOC image output approach. That explains why a vast majority of photographers still embrace the digital darkroom as an extension of their creative process. As this is the canvas that expands beyond the click of the shutter, allowing for a deeper exploration of an artistic expression. Again, refraining from refining an image in the post-production stage greatly restricts the photographer from fully realizing their creative potential.


In conclusion, while the idea of producing unaltered images straight out of the camera is undeniably tempting, it is also important for photographers to recognize the inherent limitations of relying solely on SOOC files. The intention and uniqueness embedded in a photographer's approach necessitate the thoughtful application of post-processing techniques required to create a unique final artwork that stands out. The journey from capturing a moment to refining it in post-production is an integral part of the creative process, allowing the photographer to fully realize their vision and present their work in its most compelling form.

I truly believe that one day automated settings and in-camera SOOC jpeg processing will improve to a point where it is good enough without the photographer’s guidance, especially when you expose the system with enough stylized and well-curated images by the photographer to customize the camera’s tonal response towards specific scenes and moments, making it look visually unique straight from the camera. At the very least, it will be beneficial for people who have to produce a large volume of images quickly and are willing to deal with the slight compromise as a cost of being efficient.

Zhen Siang Yang's picture

Yang Zhen Siang is a commercial photographer specialising in architecture, food and product photography. He help businesses to present themselves through the art of photography, crafting visually appealing and outstanding images that sells.

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Being a member of the Fujifilm community, the SOOC vs RAW is always a hot debate. Personally, I shoot RAW only. That way I get maximum flexibility for post editing and have full control over how I think the finished product should look. Plus shooting in RAW ensures that you are taking maximum advantage of your cameras resolution. Through various forums and plenty of debates I've found that a vast majority of those who prefer SOOC images either are purest, old and stuck in their ways, or have ultra-mediocre post editing skills. Even in the forums, most of their posted work is mediocre at best. In my opinion there are only a few reasons to shoot SOOC.
(1.) When capturing the moment is more important than image quality..
(2.) Finances restrict buying everything necessary for post editing.
(3.) When time is of the utmost importance.
(4.) If your a hobbyist and don't care about using the full potential of your gear.

Maybe it’s just the challenge of doing something the “hard way” at times. I don’t really know. I’m more of a half breed who enjoys the pains of large format film photography, but is also wrapped solidly into the digital realm as well. What matters most is the end user and if your image accomplishes the task….

Yes you are right, as long as it works for you, its totally fine. Not here to judge anyone but to keep the discussions going

well the debate could go on and on but truly some pros do shoot SOOC with conditions of getting everything right on set, but i strongly believe that if we do not have control on everything in order to achieve the level of output we want, shooting raw is the second best thing that we can do without further compromising the file acuity.

Many if not most on thread are not "professionals" but hobbyists. I find your comment elitist and insulting. A true hobbyist photographer will make the most of what they can do with what they have.

Suck it up. There's nothing insulting or elitist about what I said. You literally just regurgitated exactly what I said in my statements about why a person would want to shoot SOOC. Wanting the best possible performance from a camera has zero to do with being a hobbyist or professional. Some people don't want to settle for mediocre.

It all boils down to the intent of the photographer..

"SOOC" color and tonal accuracy is useful in some situations. High volume, low fee product images are a good example. Being contracted to shoot hundreds or thousands of individual products for a catalog sounds great until you do the math and realize you're barely getting paid enough per image to cover expenses. Confidence that SOOC images can meet the client's requirements means cutting post production time to near zero. Of course this all hinges on being competent enough with pre-production lighting and staging to get the best possible images at capture.

Hi volume low fee is not a good business practice to start with. Client enjoys the larger profit, that's all.

Agree.. we should not be that noble and be doing charity all the while when client is milking profits out of the images that we produce. If anything charges a little bit more to cover our actual cost is a much fairer approach

In that case, I strongly believe you should raise your rate. You should be paid with your skillsets to get it right on set and that should not be ignored and underpaid. I also believe there are not many cameras out there that provide an accurate tonal accuracy JPEG files as most of them are calibrated to a certain look.

Other than when people shot slide/transparency/E6 film SOOC did not "usually" happen.

There is little use for transparency as is. That's something you have to separate most of the time by scanning which typically requires more skills than processing a RAW. The color space differences and knowledge of printing press processes can be complex while CMYk in a way can be easier to work with due to the limited number of colors available to start with.

this! thanks for sharing

slide or film will be a topic for discussions that will open up another worm hole. generally speaking it is no different from digital darkroom aka lightroom. Just that it is done physically. and each lab will do things differently as well.

Pompous article. There is no right way or only way. I started my career in the '80s designing optical systems for Leitz. I've designed lenses and cameras and lighting systems and complete image processing software systems including the algorithms and in some cases specialized hardware. I hold 94 patents mostly in the area of lens and camera design and image processing. So I am not lazy or incapable of processing an image. If I can't find the tools I want in a commercial program I can create them and often have.

I have shot in all of the film formats up to 8x10. But I also used to do commercial work in Kodachrome. Why Kodachrome? Because back in the day, when it was going to print Kodachrome separated wonderfully for halftone colour printing. Does that mean I was less of a photographer than when I was shooting on Kodacolor and burning and dodging in the dark room (analog Photoshop if you will)? No, in fact it took greater skill to get everything right within the narrow latitude of Kodachrome in the camera, as there were no second chances to recover boo boos in the dark room.

Today I shoot both SOOC and raw. It depends on the situation, how difficult the lighting conditions are, and whether I want to stitch or stack photos for ultra high depth of field or high dynamic range or huge panoramas.

There is an overemphasis for budding photographers on gaining "a look", all by digital post-processing. I see too many photographers starting out who have no idea about things like latitude, dynamic range, proper exposure, the right shutter speed to freeze motion or to gain an intentional blur, or the right aperture to gain a certain depth of field. Instead they are presenting terrible photographs, underexposed with no dynamic range and claiming that "that is their look, moody" or some such BS. I don't believe you can really have a look until you've mastered taking a properly lit, properly exposed, properly focused, photograph with appropriate perspective and depth of field. All of that can be mastered shooting SOOC. Once you can take commercial grade photographs SOOC, then go create "your look". But as someone who has been in imaging for over 4 decades, your look is at least as much about achieving the right focus, the intended depth of field, an appropriate perspective, free of motion blur or with an appropriate amount of intended motion blur, properly exposed, using the minimal gain required to achieve the above to avoid excessive noise, with maximum dynamic range but with minimum blown out highlights. Only then should you start twiddling your sliders in Photoshop or Lightroom to further create "your look".

damn Leo.. this is a very well written comment that has been at the back of my head since forever. thanks for putting it this way, and I hope everyone reads this as an extension to my article. sincerely thanks!

👑 Great point.

The "look" of the current "recipe" trend is usually just newcomers misunderstanding white balance with a too warm and too green shift to images and calling it the film look.

I have put together samples of Ektar, Ektachrome, Portra, and Provia from analog photographers to help people see the actual film look, and I just don't think they have the eye to make any distinction between the two yet, because they look at the rich hues and still think: yes, muddy green. 🤣

Not just white balance, exposure and white/black points are also wrong.. but i have to admit some of them are really good in grading the images

My brother shoots sports soccer. Always JPEG and sent by his phone to the editor during the match. In the studio its always raw but most photographers are just walking with cameras taking what catches their eye. I do that when I am not at work. I don't want to sit at my computer at home spending hours editing. I do too much at work and life is too short.

While that approach works for and satisfies you it can not be applied to photography in general which is too vast and diverse. It’s also about desire and what drives one to take images along with the type of images you want to create which is different for every photographer.

Yes the intention behind before clicking the shutter.

Yes for certain genre where the output is to deliver the image or have no specific requirement on the image output, SOOC certainly works flawlessly. I would at times wish SOOC would just fulfill my needs. At least less computer time would mean more shooting time.

The late Mr.Sinatra sang " I did it my way"; applying this maxim to my photography I will do it my way.

Totally! If it works for you and if you’re happy doing it there’s nothing wrong with it

There is a problem. The internal intentions of a camera driven by AI will not always match the creative intentions of the photographer. For the bulk of the population SOOC images will do up to a point taking care of exposure and focus, while composition will still be firmly in the hands of the photographer. What is always forgotten in discussions like this are all the soft skills used before the image is even taken that the camera, regardless of its capabilities or brand, plays no part in and are all down to the photographer. Placement, where to stand, where to point the camera, what focal length to use, if direction is required what are the instructions, and of course choosing that decisive moment. Too much time is spent raving on about the external hardware while not enough time is given over to the photographers internal software, the most important factor of all. As to post processing this is yet another area where creative decisions are taken that will often render irrelevant many of the subtle influences of camera and lens. The other issue is what does one mean when you say photography? Its too broad an area to make sweeping statements that apply to all genres. The requirements of all the genres are just too different to find a set of rules that’s applied to all. Wildlife , macro, product, portraiture and landscape are just too different never mind the sub-genres . I disagree totally with the conclusions if we are talking about photographer driven photography. For general snaps then sure future AI enhanced camera systems will raise the bar for the casual shooter. For those that see photography as something they do and not the camera then AI may play only a supporting role regardless of the genre. Guessing the future is a fools game as all we can do is guess as the multitude of subtle factors at play make the eventual outcome almost impossible to predict. All I can predict is that photography regardless of genre will always be a draw for people looking to create beautiful, interesting ir thought provoking images.

Yes, fully agree on your statement. And personally post processing is part of what delivers the entire story of what i shoot. Until there’s a way to pre-customized our own set of tonal response preference into the camera I see no way of not tweaking the image. Unless of course I choose not to shoot the subject that falls under subpar perfect lighting that delivers the tonal details. Deeply I do hope AI is smarter to the extend it’s capable of producing our style. That way it can lift all the stress on processing and just focus on all the ground work on shooting. And certainly ground work outside of the hardware is equally as important but that’s also another deep work hole of a discussions to open up and there will also a set of dos and don’ts with certain equipment that comes with their inherent limitation

With my camera what I see in the viewfinder or on the rear screen doesn't match the colours I see on my calibrated monitor so trying to shoot jpeg only and 'get it right in camera' doesn't really work for me. Jpegs always end up looking dull and flat anyway. I just find it easier to shoot RAW and do a few subtle (read: not obviously over the top) edits to get the look and the contrast I like which helps me to create my own unique style anyway. Of course it is still vital to understand exposure, using effective use of depth of field and shutter speed for a particular desired effect because most of the photo will come from the camera settings when taking the photo and the post processing edit for me is just the final stage to give the photos that extra lift.

yes, never really trust your camera screen 100% to judge colours. If anything they are just too small, if you must judge on site, may I suggest you to try tethering to another device with larger screen. And yes, post processing should be the last move to wrap up your vision after all your ground work on accessing the composition, lighting, exposure, depth of field, etc etc. Over here you may also need to understand the latitude of your files to know how much you can move things in post or do you need to reshoot additional assets for the edit to match your final vision.

Solid points. I am a SOOC shooter, due to the nature of my photography. I prefer neutral looks and enjoy hunting for that authentic moment more than juicing an almost one. I still shoot raw+jpeg though because occasionally things happen like WB is off, or the scene is too high dynamic range for the jpeg.

I also do a lot of doc work so I'm not really looking for the Instagram bangers, heavy grades, photo manipulation kind of stuff — I'm trying to capture story. 90% of the time I'm happy with what I get out of the Canon and Ricoh. 8% of the time I do the bare minimum to the jpeg, like adjust exposure by a couple thirds of a stop, or crop. 2% the time I do a full raw edit with gradient masks and everything.

I usually only photograph in good/uncomplicated light though. Which means I don't need such a versatile format most of the time. Plus, I despise sitting at the desk and will do any work upfront to avoid it later. I think I'd rather watch paint dry than sit twiddling sliders in LR sometimes. 😂

thanks for reading! Haha the last sentence is so true.. lately I couldn’t pull myself to edit everyday and have been accumulating my work and edit them only when I’m feeling it.. and it takes a ton of effort to gain that courage when it piles up. But still I do gain a certain level of satisfaction doing it especially when it turns out like how I wanted it to be and I’m still learning bit by bit everyday in handling different scenarios while producing a consistent look.

And yes, by limiting your subject and choice of light to shoot in, you can get away with just jpeg aa it clearly delivers what you need.

Absolutely. It does give a certain satisfaction to carve out a great image that I thought was lost to the limitations of the camera. I just know that if it was necessary to edit everything I'd probably have given up photography a long time ago.

I have already given up photographing mixed lighting situations such as forests. The dynamic range and the green colour casts from reflected light is just too much to fix every time. 😂

😂 funny enough i still hold on to the principle of editing everything that i shot eventhough its getting so tiring.. and when i get too fed up i will just delete them all haha because all the keepers have already been edited.. its the non keepers that I am procrastinating on. and yeah.. mixed lighting always gets me insane.. still finding that one camera that can get it right away haha *ahem AI, please do your work but I doubt it will be able to fight physics

SOOC does not work at all for my objectives and overall enjoyment of the photographic process.

I do not mind sitting at a computer and editing - in fact it is quite enjoyable. Sometimes I sit down to edit one or two pics, and three hours later I am still sitting here, because I enjoy the editing so much that I just keep editing and editing and editing dozens of pics, just because it's such a fun pastime.

Also, I do not approach wildlife photography from a documentary standpoint. I approach it from an artistic standpoint. The photo I take is a starting point - it is the basis for what will eventually become a final image. And as good as jpegs may be, raws are just better because they allow me greater latitude in the editing I want to do.

Also, I often will want to make a few different versions of a photograph. And each version may be very different from the others.

For instance, when I shot this buck in the middle of the day, I needed to shoot it in a way that would allow for some versions to look like sunrise or sunset, and that is SOOOOO much easier and more effective with original raws than it is with jpegs.

A great example of how post processing fulfilling your final vision which is quite impossible to achieve on location. And even that it is only possible with all the raw data that preserve the latitude. Well done! And thanks for reading Tom

In answer to your Conclusion that would be AI ..however #sooc is the domain of film photographers not digital

personally to me, the spectrum of sooc is pretty wide, I am not looking for sooc to be as pure but to deliver the result I want.. regardless of the ways to get there as long as it does

Reminds me when, back in the day, photographers would make prints showing the sprocket holes and film edges to show that no cropping or other manipulations had taken place. This is great for fine art and photojournalism. Commercial photography is another story. I too started out in the 1980s. Retouching was air brushing on dye transfer prints (Google those!). We had to get it as best we could in camera. Now, I love digital. Post processing is another tool I can use to create images that are just not possible or very difficult and time consuming "in camera." BTW, I only capture RAW. Easy to down res, not so much the other way.

Yes! Totally agree on your last point. Sometimes it’s just too costly (time and monetary) to just get everything right in camera. And that’s where the raw shines. There’s nothing wrong shooting sooc if anything it does really show the skill of the photographer. But given the alternative, why not have it

There is something to be said for getting it right in camera. It does harken back to habits developed shooting film. Slow down, plan the shot, composition, proper balance of highlights and shadows, lighting etc. The end result is usually fewer shots needed, less time post processing etc. I shoot raw exclusively, I feel having all the information available for mee to keep or edit out as I see fit leaves me in control of the image and reproducing what my minds eye remembers. Being able to pull that bit of detail out of the shadows because I was trying to not blow out a highlight. Or the wb was off, any number of things easily missed. RAW lets you correct whereas jpeg is already burned in and leaves little to no latitude before it degrades.
In this digital age all getting a finished image sooc just means one is letting someone elses idea of a preset decide. Even Ansel Adams never put out a final image sooc. The negative was just the beginning of an images journey to its finished place on someones wall.

Well said! In my opinion, it all still depends on the intent of your photography.. if your intent or job requirement is to keep the files untouched then there’s nothing we can do about it even though we’re leaving a ton of details unexploited. So it all still boils down to the intent and your personal approach. Personally I do agree with you 100%

What I like about people whose final product is SOOC is that they are showing the capabilities of the camera, even if their knowledge and experience captures something that another person with the same camera could not.

Which brings me to my point. When a camera or lens is reviewed, most often the images used to highlight pros and cons go through some kind of processing first. Even if unintentionally, what the reviewer is saying is get this product, it can produce this image (or don't get this product, look at how terrible these images are). I do subscribe to Lightroom (and Photoshop) but another person might not. So they are only going to get what the reviewer is showing if they make both the equipment and software purchase.

Yes you are right in that way. There’s no purest way to show the capability of the camera than to show its original file with exif data attached that way people can learn and those who have slightly more technical knowledge would have a good understanding on the capabilities of the camera. But truly, I don’t think there’s anyone out there that would do it except those guys with colour charts on YouTube or photography blogs. Other than that most companies are heavily relying on the publicity of a specific reviewers “style” therefore the edited image is so to be assumed as a must. What a world we live in

It probably would have been a good idea for an article about how SOOC jpgs are devoid of artistic intent due to camera companies tailoring image rendering algorithms for mass appeal while RAW allows for fully-realized artistic intent to use examples that showcase a little bit more change than just increasing the dynamic range and saturation.

Thanks for reading and your suggestion

I feel like the truly raw totally unprocessed output requires a person not knowledgeable about the flaws and odd characteristics of a given sensor to ignore those aspects and also somehow hammer their way blindly through to eventually do a bad job of what the manufacturer does to correct those flaws. So what really are we accomplishing here by buying a cow, a field building a barn, milking the cow and churning the butter instead of going to the supermarket and buying some butter?

Yes you are right.. and to me it all still boils down to the intent of personalizing or even fixing all the known flaws to our liking since we now have knowledge about it. For those who don't, the image works just fine for them. There is nothing wrong with not processing one's work, but I humbly do hope that at the very least every photographers would learn the inherit limitations of their files when they are shooting SOOC to either fix it on site, or to make decisions to just live with it as part of their originality in the artwork. And there are also some career in photography which requires unprocessed files, so by learning all the limitations photographers will be capable of balancing and get the most out of the files right away.