Why “Straight Out Of the Camera” Is Not a Boast You Should Make

By Jonathan Timar
Tom by Jean Cotton (used with permission)
Tom by Jean Cotton (used with permission)

One sentence I see far too often from photographers who post their work online, usually in forums, is “straight out of the camera”.

Whenever I see this sentence I know I am about to see some boring, flat images with little or no distinct style or character.

For some reason certain photographers see re-touching as an admission of failure. They think that if they didn’t do it in camera, then it doesn’t count. This is nonsense of course, any serious photographer re-touches their images to some degree, whether it’s done in the darkroom or on the computer. This is just part of the photographic process. And while it’s true you should do your best to get as much “right” when you take the shot to minimize what needs to be adjusted later, photographers who never retouch never develop the necessary skills, and never develop their images to their full potential.

A member posted the above photo on a photography critique forum that I participate in. The first critique suggested that the light was too harsh, and that the skin was blown out. In addition and attempt had been made to remove an ugly background, but it wasn’t done very well. It looked as though someone had cut two prints apart with scissors and glued them together (which is forgivable, isolating a subject with fine wispy hair is not easy).

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But I saw potential. The photo just wasn’t “finished”. I thought the harsh light worked for the subject, and the key to making this photo great would be to play it up, not down. Go all in, as they say. I did a quick edit and posted it to the forum and the photographer was pleased enough that she asked if I could edit a larger version for her.

Tom (original) by Jean Cotton
Tom (original) by Jean Cotton

She sent me the original file, a 5 megapixel JPEG from a 2007 era Panasonic super-zoom, as seen above. Not a great starting point, but I got to work and the result is below.

Tom by Jean Cotton (edited by Jonathan Timar, used with permission)
Tom by Jean Cotton (edited by Jonathan Timar, used with permission)

This image can now be made into a very nice 8X10 print, perhaps even larger, which is quite remarkable considering the source image was a low quality JPEG taken at high ISO with a relatively poor quality camera.

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