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Straight out of Camera versus Editing in the digital darkroom

In the last couple of years I’ve seen a lot on Facebbok and various forums regarding straight out of camera (SOOC) images and their merits as opposed to images that have been adjusted in a digital package (such as Lightroon, Photoshop, etc).  The SOOC folk seem to think there are some great merits to not having ‘done anything’ to their images, which means they have, in their not so humble opinions, got it ‘right’ in camera.  There are even Facebook groups devoted to SOOC images!

What many of them overlook is the fact that those jpegs they’re posting (they’re always jpegs as otherwise they’ve processed them) HAVE been processed – by the in camera algorithm of the company that makes the camera.

My take on editing treats digital ‘straight out of camera’ (SOOC) images I treat as negatives.  When I shot film (and I shot film for around 50 years) I wouldn’t show the negatives to someone and ask them didn’t they think it was a great shot.  I’d print it, or get it printed.  A process involves a lot of decisions and does involve editing.

So I don’t think the much touted ‘SOOC’ has any great merits.  I prefer to shoot raw (I always shoot Raw or Raw + Jpeg) and edit in my digital darkroom.  I do like to get it as ‘right’ as I can, so the editing I have to do is minimal, but I have absolutely no problem in adjusting colour balance, saturation, brightness and contrast in my digital darkroom – those are things we did in the wet darkroom, too.  Colour balance was achieved by the inserting of filters into the enlarger head, saturation and brightness by the timing of the exposure in the enlarger, and the enlarging lens settings, and contrast the grade of paper chosen, soft to hard. So there is no way a print from a negative is straight out of camera.

Here’s a recent image – the SOOC jpeg and the raw edited to bring it up to a better result.  I’ve only done exactly what I would have done in the darkroom – lightened the shadows a bit (done by dodging and burning in the wet darkroom), and adjusting white balance and levels.  SOOC is on the right – and it’s certainly a usable image, but the edited version on the left is far better.  You can see the settings I used in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) before opening in Photoshop and resizing to ‘print’ standard for the web.  As I only managed 2 frames of this bird before he flew off, I didn’t have time for a lot of in camera adjustments.  This is the strength of digital, we can save much more marginal images than was possible in film.

Bird Shot Comparison

I love digital.  I embraced it as early as I was able to afford it, and love the freedom it gives me to shoot as many angles and exposure combinations as I desire of a chosen subject.  The very fact that I DON’T have to make such critical decisions on the fly and in the field are, to me, digital’s huge strength and advantage.  Why limit yourself when it is not necessary?

And in digital you can make these fine adjustments yourself, so the result reflects YOUR taste and vision, not that of a technician in a photo lab somewhere.  No matter how good a photo lab, what they duo is filtered through your instructions of what you want to achieve and their interpretation of those instructions.  It introduces levels of misunderstanding that don’t happen when you do the work yourself.

In the film days, not may people had access to, or the high level skills to use, the resources of a full colour wet lab.  So we were reliant on the skills of this technicians,  I know I suffered some disappointments in when what I envisaged came back from the lab, and the results were somewhat short, and often very different.  Indeed, some of those images I have had scanned and adjusted in the digital darkroom, and I like my results much better.

So, for me, it’s digital all the way, and I embrace the width and depth of the editing possibilities available.  I even like to do montages, although I always state that they are composed using more than one frame, and I call them images, rather than photos.  And yes, you could do those in your wet darkroom too, although it took a lot of skills and a painstaking level of fine finagling to get them right.  Digital is MUCH easier!

Naturally, not everyone will agree, that’s what makes our photography such an interesting job/hobby/past-time.