What is SOOC photography – SOOC vs edited – what’s better?

It’s a very good question – what is SOOC photography? At what point are images considered edited? Because the truth is that in digital photography no JPEG image emerges from camera without being edited in some way. No, not even if you send your photos straight to your computer without using any editing software. I’ll explain in a moment.

What is the meaning of SOOC?

Before we get into the debate of SOOC vs edited (and it really can be quite a heated debate), it’s probably quite useful to know what SOOC means.

SOOC stands for Straight Out Of Camera. In other words an image that hasn’t been edited in any kind of editing software is SOOC photography. Not even cropped.

These days SOOC photography even has it’s own category in photography competitions – referred to as “in camera artistry”. Maybe that came about as a reaction to post processing that has gone so far as to be more digital art than photography?

SOOC in photography vs editing images
This is a fully processed image, including skin softening in Portraiture, color grading in Lightroom and blemish and stray hair removal in Photoshop.

Did you know SOOC images are actually edited?

You’ll notice that I said that the image hasn’t been edited in any editing software, because it has in fact been edited. Just not by you post processing on the computer.

The only way that an image is not edited is when it’s shot in RAW and exported to a computer BEFORE it’s imported into any kind of editing software, such as Lightroom or Capture One. A RAW file is the digital version of a film camera negative. They need to be developed

And don’t be fooled into thinking that in film days images weren’t edited – that’s where we get the term dodge and burn from. Professional photographers used darkroom techniques, such as dodging and burning, to manipulate their images.

I’ll show you what I mean with these natural light only examples of:

  • SOOC images with all settings removed vs
  • SOOC images with camera and import settings retained vs
  • edited images
processed photos vs no processing
Above: First image is straight out of camera with all auto edit settings removed – my color profile is set to neutral and I set the Lightroom picture profile to Neutral as well. Second image is imported to Lightroom, but with no editing other than the Adobe Standard picture profile applied on import by Lightroom. Third image is fully edited in Lightroom – basics, tone curve, HSL, color grading, sharpening, and calibration. Additionally, as with the one above I also did skin smoothing, blemish removal and stray hair removal in Photoshop. That insane green had to go!


straight out of camera vs processed images
Above: First image is SOOC with all auto edit settings removed. Second image is as imported to Lightroom, with Adobe Standard picture profile. Third image is fully edited in Lightroom only – custom white balance, basics, tone curve, HSL, color grading, sharpening, post crop vignetting and calibration. The final image is a significant improvement on the rather blah photo I started with. 

But what if you shoot JPEG SOOC?

So, if you don’t shoot in RAW format, you’ll be using JPEG. Most new photographers start off using the JPEG format before moving onto RAW and then learning how to edit photos. Some choose not to change to RAW, which is also ok.

However, some insist that there’s no need to edit photos. Well, yes and no.

These days we have such great cameras, even entry level cameras, that are so clever that they do all kinds of automatic editing according to our camera settings. I don’t mean the functions we set when we take a photo, like:

  • Metering
  • Exposure compensation
  • Aperture
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO
  • Focusing
  • White balance

I mean the deeper settings that you need to access through the menu system, like:

  • File format (RAW or JPEG)
  • File quality (Fine, large etc)
  • Color profile (aka picture profile)

You might never have changed from the default settings when you received your camera, so it’s worthwhile having a look to see just what your camera can do. You’d be amazed!

These settings impact the image you see on your LCD when you take a photo, because what you see is the JPEG preview of your image with settings applied. Even if you shoot in RAW.

So this is why your SOOC photos are already edited and affected by decisions you’ve made. Or, if you use your camera’s default settings, decisions your camera manufacturer has made.

Read more about it in this article I wrote on how to change the color profiles on your camera.

How a good SOOC image can benefit from post processing

Even great photos taken on the most advanced mirrorless cameras need a little bit of post processing.

I’m not saying they’re not good enough. Or that for a digital image to look good it needs to have the colors manipulated to crazy Instagram extremes (an art form in itself) to create images that look like film, or any other trend.

At the very least RAW files need a little bit of:

  • Sharpening
  • Contrast boost – either in the basics panel of Lightroom or with tone curves

To save time editing you can apply these, and other basic edits, with import presets in Lightroom (or similar software) when importing the RAW files.

Speaking of film simulations, you can also apply these on import to Lightroom.

Camera edited SOOC images

SOOC JPEG files already have these edits made in camera and you can of course capture a great image straight out of camera.

However, the files don’t contain as much detail as RAW images, so there’s less opportunity to increase the dynamic range or adjust color in post processing.

Human eyes have a far greater dynamic range than our cameras. So if you want to produce images that accurately depict the world as you see it, you’ll need to increase the dynamic range in an image by adjusting:

  • Highlights
  • Shadows


edited images with color grading settings
These versions of the same image are the result of a rainy day spent at the computer creating Lightroom presets. They’re edited in Lightroom only. What makes them different from each other is the slight color grading changes applied in Lightroom. You can see how small adjustments can make big changes from the color grading panel screenshots below each image.

SOOC vs editing – my experience

I’ve found that I edit outdoor shoots with natural light more in post, particularly when it comes to color adjustment. I like to:

  • Add a little blue to the shadows and a little orange to the highlights
  • Adjust background colors
  • Maybe add some flare
  • And either warm up or darken down the greens, depending on the mood of the shot

I do far less editing on studio shoots, because there are fewer variables out of my control during the shoot. I set the lighting the way I want it and use backgrounds to match to feel of the shoot.

Although I do sometimes change my blue background to a deep green in post using Lightroom’s HSL sliders and the tone curve tool. I plan for this when I shoot so that the subject’s outfits will work with my intended background color.

That said, I don’t like to spend a lot of time on the computer. I’d rather be photographing.

But on a wet winter’s day I do occasionally enjoy spending a few hours tinkering with re-editing images to create different looks. I then make these into Lightroom presets so that I can quickly apply them to future shoots – a great way to save so much time.

Further reading: Before and after edited photos – 7 basic Lightroom edits that pack a punch

At the end of the day SOOC photography vs editing comes down to personal choice and depends on you and your artistic vision, your style of photography and what appeals to you.

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