By Jonathan 5 Comments

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

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).

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.

Do you have a photo that needs editing? I am now offering professional photo editing services. Contact me for quotations.


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  • Dawn says:

    Ah the good ol’ days :) I had a Minolta 35mm and the rubber to the camera housing perished , or else I would still be using that beautiful camera. I managed to take the most amazing images on that.

    Would you be referring to the site when you mention Instagram or are you referring to the feature on a camera ? as my camera unlike a friend of mine has no instagram mode/function. thks

  • Dawn says:

    imho …I prefer the look on the edit , I think the first one has too much stark light, and removing the objects behind the image subject take it from a great family photograph to more of a professional portrait look.

    on a finishing note,……. referring to your article up here . I am conservative when editing my photos because I have seen so many badly edited photos where the colours simply drown out a lovely photo, also not having much experience in editing or the program I use , it has influenced me to be may be overly cautious. I already know that I could never even remotely take a photo that will never need editing. :).

    • Jonathan says:

      There is a reason Instagram exists. It’s because most people cannot take a photo that does not need editing. They don’t realize it, but it’s true.

      In the old days when everyone use colour print film, the lab did the editing for them. Every under or over exposure, lack of contrast, et.c, was all corrected at the time of printing, either by a person, or later by a sophisticated computer.

      When someone shoots with a modern digital camera in JPEG mode, the camera makes some decision about editing too, and outputs a fnished product that is usually “okay”.

      I think you are half way correct, you probably CAN take a photo that doesn’t *need* editing, but you probably can’t take one that wouldn’t *benefit* from editing in some way.

      In regards to your second point, I think most of those editing disasters are from people attempting to edit photos on lousy, cheap, un-calibrated screens, such as those on typical low end laptops. They literally can’t see what they are doing to the photo. When editing photos, it is important to have a good quality screen that is at the very least manually calibrated by eye, but better with a colour sensor and calibration software.

  • Dwight says:

    Guess it is just a matter of personal preference/prejudice. I do like the original better but if I had not seen it I would have also liked the 2nd one – but I think that is mainly because of the subject. I do not think the first one is washed out all the lines, including outline are there, but some are lost in the 2nd because of the darkness. BUT– to one extent or another I do like both