New Brunswick Photographer/Filmmaker/Journalist/Educator/Author

Bursting the Straight Out of the Camera Bubble

A movement has grown in recent years amongst digital photographers called Straight Out of the Camera, or SOOC. Please note, this commentary relates only to digital photography; film is a different animal.

The idea behind the movement is to spend more time actually taking pictures and less time editing pictures. The general idea is laudable. We would all love to spend more time in the field than behind a computer screen. Unfortunately, the broader mindset behind the movement is utter nonsense.

Many, actually most, of the people proclaiming their photography is unvarnished, straight out of the camera do so with an air of superiority and the idea that they are better than those who work on editing their pictures. This is a problem. As I noted in an earlier commentary – Don’t Box Me In – there is a great deal of ego in this game of photography. The overwhelming majority of it is unjustified. This kind of egocentric approach often comes from a place of insecurity and a feeling that in pushing others down we can pull ourselves up. This is, as I mentioned in the linked piece, a restrictive and non-inclusive approach to the art of photography. The idea that spending, allegedly, no time editing a picture means it is a purer, more truthful, more traditional and better form of the art is utter bollocks. Truth be told, it may actually produce inferior, or at the very least suboptimal, imagery.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues.

If the photographer is capturing in a RAW format, at the very least that raw image will need some amount of capture sharpening to deal with the softness inherent in the demosaicing process. The exception here would be if the person was using a Sigma camera with its Foveon sensors. Those comprise a tiny fraction of the cameras in use.

If the photographer is presenting a black and white image then (a) to do no editing they have to be capturing in JPEG mode, or (b) using one of the rare and very expensive monochrome-only digital cameras. These monochrome-only cameras have an even smaller share of the market than the Sigma cameras.

If the photographer is capturing in JPEG mode then, in point of fact, the image has undergone editing, or processing. It’s simply a matter that the editing has been done by the computer inside the camera rather than by the photographer on a computer in their office. Editing is editing. Further, if the photographer has tweaked any of the in-camera settings for JPEG processing then they have, in actual fact, actively edited the picture.

A photo that is purported to be straight out of the camera has, by definition, had no cloning, healing, compositing, or used any other methods to (re)move distracting elements. What these photographers don’t disclose; however, is what they may have done to stage the scene before taking the picture. Pre-shutter, or post-shutter doesn’t matter. Whether you (re)move something in the field, or in the computer, it’s not a pure, or truthful photo.

There are many occasions when we can’t get the exact framing we want in the field due to limitations of where we can move, or set up our camera. The result is we crop in editing to strengthen the composition. There is no good reason to deny the ability to reframe a photo and make it stronger.

Photography as an artform is about vision. It is about creating mood for your viewer. About showing the viewer what you found so compelling about a particular scene. It would be a rare instance, indeed, if that full vision could be expressed with no alteration after pressing the shutter release. If the intended feeling could be conveyed. If the work of art were fully formed.

I have no issue with the idea of someone presenting their photography as straight out of the camera. If that is a true representation of their vision, so be it. Where the problem lies in in the thinking that it is a better form of photography, or that it makes them a better artist than others who do spend time in the digital darkroom. That air of faux-superiority is not conducive to learning, growing and becoming a better artist, or a better person.

Bursting the Straight Out of the Camera Bubble, RF-Photography
Straight out of the camera
Bursting the Straight Out of the Camera Bubble, RF-Photography
Edited