So, you've probably seen this in the description on someone's picture, the words "This is SOOC!" You may even have written it yourself. But just what the heck does it mean and why should anyone care? SOOC stands for "Straight Out of Camera". In other words, the picture you're looking at was not manipulated in any way after it left the camera - no cropping, no correcting color or saturation, no adjusting levels, no nothing, nada, zip. There are some folks out there who feel that SOOC is the purest form of photography and that "getting it right in camera" is right up there next to finding the Holy Grail.

But wait just a darn minute. If you're shooting digitally, your camera has already made a lot of decisions about how that picture you just took is going to look. If you shoot in Auto mode, it's actually made all the decisions and has determined exposure, color balance, shutter speed, aperture, etc. for you. All you've done is compose the shot and press the shutter. As for the rest, well, you just got lucky.

And if things don't look quite the way you thought they'd look when you finally see your shot on the compurter screen why not just do some editing? You can do anything in Photoshop, right? Well, yeah, sorta, but that's not to say that you shouldn't strive to get things right before you press the shutter. That's where shooting images, knowing that no further manipulation will be allowed, can help make you a better photographer. An assignment this month in a group I belong to, A Treasure Hunt,, is to post a picture SOOC. With that assignment in mind, I thought I would suggest a few techniques that might help you get a decent, and maybe even a great, picture SOOC.

1. Decide on the Mode you want to shoot in. Use anything but Auto (or "P" on a lot of cameras) or Video (after all we're talking about still photography here!). Most digital cameras offer you many options here. On my Canon, I have the choice of Full Manual, Aperture Priority, or Shutter Speed Priority. In addition to these modes, I can opt for Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports, or Night Portraits. Each of these modes has its advantages and disadvantages. Some of them I've never used. I find myself most often shooting in Aperture Priority because the thing I like to have the most control over is my DoF. Maybe you'll choose Shutter Speed Priority because you know you want a fast shutter speed to freeze the action in a sports shot or you want a slow shutter speed to get some motion blur.

2. Decide on where you want the focus to be. If you're shooting in Auto mode, the camera is most likely going to focus on whatever is closest to your lens, and that may not be where you want the focus to be. My camera has 9 auto focus points and I bet yours has something similar, if not more. Dig out your camera manual and figure out how to select the auto focus point you want. You can change the focus point from one place to anather as the situation merits. Learn how to do it!

3. Decide on what Metering Mode you want to use, if your camera gives you this option. The built-in light meter on your camera can measure light in various ways. In evaluative metering, it samples the light at various points and then comes up with an average. This works well most of the time, but not always. You may want to tell it to meter just one part of the scene (Spot Metering) and for that you need to know how to select the metering mode you want. Learning how to do this will help you avoid those shots where the sky is OK, but the land is underexposed, or vice-versa, the land is OK, but the sky is overexposed.

4. Select your Picture Style. Most cameras will have a selection of different styles to choose from. For example, mine has Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Natural, Faithful and Monochrome. These different styles tell your comera to handle hue and stauration in different ways. What might look good for a landscape for instance, may not look so good for a portrait. Experiment to see what you like best.

5. Select your ISO. Of course the brighter the light the lower your ISO can be and the dimmer your light, the higher the ISO will have to be. Remember that ISO, shutter speed and aperture all work hand in hand. Change one and you change the other two. Sometimes, in low light situations, raising the ISO can make the difference between a good hand-held shot and a bad one.

6. Shoot in JPEG format. Since we're talking about SOOC here, I personally think shooting in RAW is a waste of time. RAW is great and I encourage you to take the step to RAW if you've only ever shot in JPEG. RAW gives you so much information from which you can pull out amazing results in post processing, but the first time I saw a RAW file I went "UGH! that looks awful." All of a sudden the bright saturated colors of my JPEG shots were missing. It was as if my camera was saying to me "Hey, this is exactly the way I saw it and if you want it to look differently, you're going to have to take it from here." And that's exactly what you have to do in an editing program like Lightroom or Photoshop. But for SOOC, keep life simple and shoot in JPEG.

6. Last, but not least, pay attention to your composition. Since you won't be allowed to crop your shot for this assignment (if you're in the Treasure Hunt group), take some time to compose it. Is there a telephone pole sprouting out of Aunt Martha's head? Is there something really distracting in the background? A tree limb sticking into the frame? That last one might be OK if you want it there for a reason but not OK if you just overlooked it. If you're shooting something like a seascape, is your horizon line level? You don't want all the water to run out! If you're shooting a landscape, do you have something interesting in the foreground as well as the mid- and back-grounds? Of course there are lots of other things to consider in making a good composition, but these are some ideas to get you thinking before you press the shutter button. And really this is the most important step. You can get all the technical stuff right, but tht won't save a boring composition.

For those of you doing the Treasure Hunt challenges, I hope you'll spend some time on this item. It's not an easy assignment although it may look so upon first glance. Getting a decent SOOC shot is not the same thing as just taking a snapshot, posting it and then saying "There! Done with that one." Good luck and have fun! If anyone would like to chime in with other thoughts, ideas or suggestions on this topic, please do!!!