What is SOOC in Photography?

Photography is full of jargon and weird acronyms, and “SOOC” is one of those terms that pops up often. It stands for “straight out of camera”.

Sounds pretty simple, right? An image, just as it was when captured. No edits, no tweaks. In other words, a picture that’s straight-out-of-the-camera.

Well, here’s where it gets interesting. In our tech-driven age, with cameras loaded with software, is any image truly untouched straight out of the camera? The concept isn’t as clear-cut as it once was.

Before we get any deeper, I want to note that I am not disparaging either party. I respect photographers who prefer to shoot "SOOC" versus heavy post processors (I fall into the later category).

Photography is an art, and art is often up for interpretation. There's no wrong way to capture a photo.

Understanding what SOOC means isn’t just about the acronym, it’s about taking a step back and thinking if any image is actually truly “unprocessed”.

So, read on. And next time you see someone post a “no filters” shot on Instagram, you’ll know that that’s… well, not quite the truth.

What does SOOC -actually- mean?

Alright, so let’s dive into what SOOC actually means.

Film Photography

The term harkens back to film camera times. Back then, there was no in-camera JPEG processing or Photoshop. You developed the film and that was it.

That, however, isn’t entirely the truth. Even in the darkroom, photographers could “dodge and burn” (that’s where we get the names for the two modern tools in Photoshop) in order to brighten or darken certain parts of an image.

Not every film developer did this, of course, but many did. So, even back then, “SOOC” wasn’t the case with every image.

woman with vintage camera
Film cameras (with no dodging or burning done in the darkroom) were the original “SOOC”.

Modern Day

Fast forward to the modern day. While film cameras still have a niche following, digital cameras have dominated the industry for nearly two decades already. In this time, “SOOC” has taken an entirely new meaning.

Oftentimes, you’ll see photographers flaunting the term as a source of pride. They took the shot, mastered everything in the camera, and didn’t “fake” anything with post processing.

Pure SOOC Isn’t Really a Thing

Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the truth. The photographer in question may not have even opened Lightroom, but their camera likely did a lot of post-processing by itself.

So, let’s break it down. Digital cameras, no matter how advanced, don’t just capture light. They process it.

Consider JPEGs. They’re processed right inside the camera based on preset algorithms. Contrast, saturation, sharpness—all decided for you. Shooting a JPEG is actually the polar opposite of the classic meaning of “SOOC”. It’s doing all the post-processing tweaks just without any of your artistic input.

As for RAW files, they’re the closest you can get to SOOC in the modern age. They’re highly detailed files that are incredibly faithful to what the camera originally captured. However, most brands do minor post-processing even on RAWs. Anything from minor dynamic range tweaks to in-camera distortion correction.

The settings we choose, from picture profiles to dynamic range optimizers, influence the final image. So, while we might think we’re seeing a scene “as is”, we’re actually seeing it through the camera’s unique lens (no pun intended).

plane flying over city
Even RAW files have a bit of automatic in-camera processing (usually for distortion correction).

The “No Filters” Trend

In short, the idea of a truly untouched SOOC image is a bit of a myth. Anytime you see, “SOOC” or “no filters!” in an Instagram caption, it’s just really not entirely true.

Digital cameras (that includes phones, obviously) have and will always do a lot of back-end post processing and image optimization.

Here’s a video that goes into a LOT more depth on your phones, in particular, do some incredible computational processing.

“SOOC” vs Post Processed

So yeah, step into any photography circle, and you’re bound to witness the age-old debate: SOOC purists versus the post-processing enthusiasts.

It’s a discussion that’s as vibrant as it is divisive, and it’s rooted in how we perceive the essence of photography. And, frankly, there’s no “wrong” side to be on.

SOOC Purists

On one side, we have the purists. For them, “SOOC” is the epitome of skill and vision. It’s about capturing the moment as it is, relying on the camera’s prowess and the photographer’s intuition rather than sliders in an app.

There’s a rawness to this approach. Every shot is a testament to the moment, unaltered and unfiltered. These photographers are often trying to capture a realistic moment, exactly as they (or the camera) see.

yosemite valley
Some photographers just want to capture exactly what the camera “sees”.

Post Processors

Then, there are the rest of us: those who use post processing.

We see photography as a two-step dance: capturing and crafting (good lord I sound snobby just typing this).

In this case, post-processing isn’t “cheating”; it’s an extension of their creative vision. Tools like Photoshop and Lightroom are their canvases, allowing them to mold, enhance, and even reimagine their shots.

Look, I’m even guilty myself of tweaking skies with Photoshop’s insane sky replacement tool, and I’ve been experimenting with their new generative fill options to tweak images to fit certain articles on the site better.

yosemite valley edited
And other photographers prefer to capture a more exaggerated, “artful” interpretation of a scene. There’s no wrong way to do it!

Conclusion

Here’s the twist, though : technology is bridging the gap between SOOC enthusiasts and post processors.

Advanced sensors, in-camera algorithms, and computational photography are blurring the lines between capture and creation. Cameras today don’t just record; they interpret, making the distinction between SOOC and edited even more nuanced.

In the end, however, it’s not about picking a metaphorical side. It’s about understanding the journey of an image, from shutter click to final display.

Whether you’re a SOOC devotee or a post-processing maestro, the goal remains the same: to convey a story, an emotion, a moment in time. We just all have our own opinions on “how” we want to achieve that goal.

Enjoyed this and want to read more? Check out our photography guides or even our Sony gear reviews. Thanks for reading!