SOOC vs Post-Production

There is an argument coming from photo purists that “honest” photography must come straight out of the camera… with no post production. Post-production is looked at like a crutch. I’ve even heard the comment that “I capture the image in the camera and don’t rely on Photoshop to make it look good. I just get it right in the camera.”

For anyone who has their feet wet in both film and digital photography, this statement is well-intended but silly; and it seems to emanate from two camps: the new breed of digital photographers shooting with the latest technology, and seasoned professionals who have always enjoyed the luxury of movie sets, broadcast studios, photo studios, and other controlled lighting environments. The intent of the statement is well-meaning but idealistic and even a bit snobbish. The real truth is honest photography is developed outside of the camera. Very few times is the lighting perfectly balanced and the exposure ideally dialed-in to produce spot-on perfect images right out of the camera.

All of the great film photographers relied heavily on post-production for all of their prints. It was simply known as darkroom work. You see, simply exposing film with a camera doesn’t produce a viewable image. Only when that exposed film is developed (using one of a number of unique development solutions and varying times) does a tangible negative appear. And until that processed negative is put in an enlarger and exposed onto paper (using a variety of differing lens settings, filters, hand ballets and exposure times) and then bathed and rocked in developer (for an unspecified time) is the image even viewable. Even then, most initial prints are evaluated and then reprinted at least once. I personally have built and owned three professional darkrooms over fifteen years and know this to be true. Digital image post-processing is simply the digital darkroom.

Even in the digital world, where many “cameras” are like computers with lenses, do I rarely allow an image to be seen without tweaking the exposure (including the ones below). I’ve been studying how light affects photographic images for four decades and have finally concluded that light is rarely controlled, it must be coaxed and cajoled to replicate what we see with our imagination.

Smith-AdamsW. Eugene Smith considered darkroom work to be 90% of a photo’s creation process and Ansel Adams stated that “only half the photograph is produced in the camera, the other half is created in the darkroom.” I side with them.

That’s the way I sees it, let me know what you think.

About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook "Digital Color Photography: A Deeper Look" from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color Fundamentals video series at
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7 Responses to SOOC vs Post-Production

  1. I totally agree with you. The first step in making an image is just snapping a picture. Especially when you have no control over the lighting, post processing is an invaluable part of the overall image creation. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Don Campbell says:

    When shooting in flat light without direct sunlight, you must either under expose or deal with a black point somewhere between 15 and 20%. This is not what the eye sees, whether or not you adjusted to bring the black point down on the histogram, you will produce in the camera an image that is flatter than what you saw, which cannot be called ‘honest’ photography. Colour memory is not perfect, but if you adjust the image to reflect what you remember of the scene, THAT is the honest approach. When taking a colour image to monochrome, it is necessary to increase the contrast to replace the separation provided by colour, no longer visible.

  3. Mike Pietryka says:

    I’m with you Herb
    The camera just can’t capture the full range of what our eyes can see. To expect it to do so following it’s rigid programmed parameters is ridiculous….

  4. I am a bit of a novice, but what I have been discovering is that the RAW or JPG captured by the camera seldom does justice to what I was seeing with my eyes. I truly enjoy watching as I make slight adjustments in Lightroom 4 to saturation, contrast, etc. visually getting the image I am making to be most like what I had seen — in fact, being able to do so is downright exciting. Then printing the image enlarged – like to 13 x 19 (my wide format printers maximum) often takes my breath away.

    • Herb Paynter says:

      Adjusting your images to your liking is half the pleasure of personal photography, David. Glad you’re enjoying it. The more you get comfortable with the software, the more you will enjoy it. Thanks for the interaction.

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