SOOC – Straight out of Camera – James Allan

I never thought I’d be writing an article in defense of SOOC.  I didn’t really want to do this category, thinking it would dumb down our competition.   Well I hunkered down and took a look at the concept.  It certainly means that you have to rely more on camera skills to create impact.  Surely that is a good thing.  I was told once in a steak restaurant that “A great steak does not need a sauce.”  Is the same true of photography?  Good lighting and good focus and good exposure should be enough to make a great image.   Photoshop should not be required.  It could help to hone participants camera skills.  As it turned out I became quite enthusiastic before the competition.  What will people bring?

These were the rules for our competition;

“Any subject is eligible. However, the image exhibited, print or projected, must not have been altered in any way post exposure except resizing. To make it easier – shoot only JPG images

Printed Images
– no alteration AT ALL may be made to the image after exposure and before printing.
– Printed images must be presented full frame. No cropping is allowed.
If the image shot is 4:3 format or 3:2 format it must be printed in that format.
– Images must be printed from the file originally captured by the camera.
– If you usually shoot in RAW you must be able to print from that RAW file.
It may not be converted to JPEG TIFF or similar for printing.
Or, shoot in a printable file format.
– For those having files professionally printed, the file submitted to the printer must be printable without alteration.
– Prints displayed as monochrome must have been captured in that form.

Digital images
– The general club rules about size of prints still apply. Digital images are allowed one alteration only. This is to allow the projected image to conform with our projection limitations – The recorded image file may be reduced to maximum of 1400 x 1050 pixels. It must not be cropped but presented full frame. 

So is this a contentious subject?  Has it been done before?  Does it have any credibility?  I did some research on the internet.  I discovered that it is a topic in the latest 2017 Dogwood  52 week challenge. There is also a Flickr group dedicated to the concept.  This is a copy of their rules:

No processing in or out of camera.. No color or contrast adjustments, composites, layers, conversions (to black & white), sharpening, borders, watermarks, straightening – just SOOC. Don’t molest the picture. Make sure the EXIF info is on, otherwise the picture will be treated like a drunken suspect..

The Barnstaple camera club  dedicates a whole category of their regular competition to SOOC.   You can enter a SOOC image every competition of you like.   They claim to be a friendly club who are keen to take on new members and meet each Thursday evening at 7.30pm at the Methodist Church Hall in Barnstaple, Devon, UK.  They sound a bit like us.  Here are their rules.

Straight from the Camera Image: Entry: 3 images DPI/Print or mixed. All images should accurately reflect the subject matter or scene as it appeared. Standard optimisation only is allowed ie removal of dust, cropping, colour and contrast. Multiple exposures that have been combined in camera to produce a single image are acceptable. Images considered not to meet these requirements may not be accepted.

SOOC can also be regarded as a standard for comparing cameras. – Have a look at “The Great JPEG Shootout: Which Brand is Best at Straight-Out-Of-Camera?” –  The reviewer pegged Nikon and Cannon close to each other.  Apple I-phone was rated worst.  I will let you read the article to see who came out tops.

There are blogs discussing the merits of SOOC vs post processing, galleries and tips on how to get good SOOC images.

Historically in the 1940’s to 1970’s there was a movement away from “pictoralism” to “straight photography”. Originating as early as 1904, the term was used by critic Sadakichi Hartmann in the magazine Camera Work, and later promoted by its editor, Alfred Stieglitz, as a more pure form of photography.  The idea was that photography should not aim to mimic painting, but that it should stand apart from the other art forms by virtue of it’s own intrinsic characteristics.  Less manipulation, more straight out of Camera.

The “straight camera movement” however is only analogous and not synonymous with SOOC.  Straight photographers often applied darkroom techniques to enhance the appearance of their prints.  They sought high contrast and rich tonality, sharp focus, emphasis on geometric structure and had an aversion to cropping.  Many of these aesthetics persist to this day.

Will SOOC images ever find their way to win international photographic competitions? Currently international judges are often choosing highly manipulated works.  Who knows?  That may change.  Wildlife photography rules on the other hand are pretty close to the SOOC standards.  It depends upon the quality of the images and I suspect not on the mode of their inception.

So I guess in conclusion it does not look as though SOOC is a subversive or contentious topic.  It is just another aesthetic, another way of doing things.  It is a perfectly legitimate subject for a camera competition.