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SOOC – What is allowed, what is forbidden?

What does “Straigth Out Of the Camera – SOOC” mean in the field of light art photography?

There is hardly any other topic where opinions in the light painting community diverge so widely. On the one hand, there are the purists who consistently write their pictures onto the memory card in JPEG format and do not edit them afterwards on the computer. Neither sharpening and denoising nor changing the cut are acceptable to them.

At the other end are the photographers for whom only the result counts and who “get everything out” of their pictures on the computer that is technically possible. Composings from several single shots, cloning of parts of the picture, “retouching” of uncleanly executed light figures, changing the colours in the picture etc..

In my opinion, there is no such thing as a true, purist SOOC, and there can’t be. Even if I were to take my light paintings with an analogue camera, I can have a very great influence on the result through the choice of film, changes in the development process and the choice of photo paper. If I take the pictures with a digital camera, the differences are even greater.

A Nikon D810 has a greater dynamic range than a Canon Eos 700D. The imaging properties of my Meyer Optik Görlitz lenses are much better than those of an 18-300 kit lens. And finally, the in-camera processing from the raw sensor data to the final JPEG image also has a very big influence on the result. Even if I leave everything at “standard”; Sony uses completely different algorithms than Pentax or Nikon in their internal image processing. Consequently, if I shoot the same scene with two different cameras, I will have a different image.

Is the question even important?

That’s something everyone has to decide for themselves. Most viewers of our pictures probably don’t care how the picture was taken. Many people can’t imagine that it is possible to take such pictures in one exposure.

However, I myself do care how I take my pictures!

Some professional colleagues (not light painters, but classic photographers) sometimes ridicule me because I don’t subject my pictures to elaborate post-processing on the computer and instead prefer to take the picture 20 times until it is right (time is money). Whereas elaborate processing would certainly take more time than repeating a choreography lasting 10 or 15 minutes. Even if the light painting only works on the fifth or sixth try.

On the other hand, there are people who turn up their noses when I remove a disturbing part, e.g. a traffic sign, from the picture in Gimp or change the cut of the picture on the computer. However, I would always rather remove a disturbing part from the picture before taking it, even if it involves some effort. With a traffic sign, however, the effort is usually too great for me.

I’ll try a comparison:

The task is to cover 42.195 kilometres. Basically, there are three possibilities. The first runs the distance, the second cycles it and the third drives it by car.
The car driver will certainly reach the finish line the fastest, regardless of whether he drives a Trabbi or an Aston Martin. But what kind of performance is it to drive such a distance by car? Not a great one even in the Trabbi, I would say. The Aston Martin driver will probably only be admired because he drives such an expensive car.
The cyclist will probably be the second to complete the distance. Cycling 42.195 kilometres on a 30-year-old folding bike with 20-inch rims may not be an everyday feat for an untrained person, but it is not a particularly impressive distance for the cyclist.

The runner will take the longest and have the most effort behind him. However, he will have the most satisfaction and the greatest feeling of happiness when he has done it. And if the purist runs barefoot and doesn’t drink during the run, he will feel even greater when he has done it.

If someone puts together a light painting on the computer and writes under the picture that it is a composing, I think that’s perfectly fine. It only becomes difficult when all three start running in sportswear, the first one gets into the car after 1 kilometre, the second one changes to the bicycle after 1 kilometre and both of them run the last kilometre again. Applied to our topic, this means that light painters pretend to have created the image in a single exposure but actually have assembled the image from several images with dozens of layers in Photoshop (car), or have used tools such as multiple exposures, light composites or similar camera functions (bicycle). The runner is then unlikely to agree that the other two get the same applause as he does. And no one will say that he is stupid because he doesn’t have a driving licence or a bike and doesn’t use every trick in the book to be first. No one will think that the other two are insanely clever when their cheating is exposed.

What is “allowed”? What is “forbidden”?

Of course, these standards only apply to me personally. Who am I to make any rules for other light art photographers?

I always take my light art pictures in a single exposure. I always shoot in RAW format. The camera is always in manual mode. Autofocus is always off, in fact most of the lenses I use don’t have any. The white balance is set to “Auto”.

I always do the following on the computer:
– Convert to JPEG
– Sharpening
– De-noise
– automatic lens correction

The following I do without any inhibition when needed:
– White balance adjustment
– brightness and contrast adjustment
– Change the crop
– Aligning the image if I was too stupid to put the camera straight
– Correcting the perspective if it does not change the shape of the light painting.
– Removal of disturbing parts in the picture if this does not change the light painting and these parts cannot be removed or covered on the spot.

I would do the following with reservations in rare cases. Such a rare case could be, for example, that I drive several hundred kilometres to a location that is not easily accessible at any time and that may cost a three-digit amount in rent:
– Removal of disturbing parts that I am responsible for or could easily have removed myself
– strong adjustment / change of colours
– subsequent brightening of areas that are too dark

What I would never do under any circumstances:
– Anything that would change the actual light painting, especially the shape. If I have turned the orb into shit, then I just turn the thing so often until it is good.
– Cloning of light figures or similar. If I want to have two orbs in the picture, then I just turn two. If I want to give a young lady wings, I make wings and don’t take a single image of a light blade, clone it 150 times and put the wings behind the lady on the computer.
– Removing parts of the image that I have made visible through illumination; stupidity must be punished, even if it is one’s own.
– Composings. If the sky looks like shit today, then I’ll take the picture again tomorrow or the day after or next month and not add the sky from another picture.
– And everything else that the digital box of tricks has to offer. Calculating water into the picture, rendering thunderstorms or whatever other games there are.

If I only want an easy, quick result, if I don’t care if colleagues take me seriously and if I don’t have any ambition to paint my pictures in an “honest” way in one exposure on the sensor, I can of course reach deep into the digital box of tricks. However, I should not try to fool people by telling them that my pictures are “real” light paintings.

In this sense always good light wished


Sven Gerard

Sven Gerard, Jahrgang 1969, geboren und aufgewachsen in Berlin. Er fotografiert seit frühester Jugend mit großer Leidenschaft. Neben dem fotografischen Erkunden zahlreicher beeindruckender verlassener Orte, widmet er sich seit mittlerweile 10 Jahren intensiv dem Lightpainting. Sein umfangreiches Wissen teilt er auf seinem Blog „“, weiteren Publikationen und in seinen Workshops. Darüber hinaus organisiert er Veranstaltungen zum Thema Lightpainting, wie „Light Up Berlin“. Gerard lebt gemeinsam mit seiner Lebensgefährtin in Berlin und hat einen erwachsenen Sohn. Sven Gerard was born in 1969 and grew up in Berlin. He has been a passionate photographer since his early youth. In addition to photographically exploring numerous impressive abandoned places, he has been intensively involved in light painting for 10 years now. He shares his extensive knowledge on his blog ‘’, other publications and in his workshops. He also organises events on the subject of light painting, such as ‘Light Up Berlin’. Gerard lives in Berlin with his partner and has a grown-up son.

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