#13 in a series of background briefs

From now on, 2 types of photographs

From now on — for the first time in history — there will be billions of two kinds of photos that look equally believable.

  • Type #1. Photos that are regarded as undoctored and show “what the camera saw”

    These are valued for any use where “trustworthiness” is more important than “appearance,” including describing, recounting, recording, documenting, memorializing, sharing information, reporting news, and archiving for posterity.

    Those things have been important to every civilization in history, so the #1 kind of photos are not going away.

    TCQ was created to identify and label the #1 kind of photos. (As this brief explains, making the #1 kind of photos is a primary goal for many photographers.)

  • Type #2. Photos that are regarded as doctored and show “what the photographer wishes the camera had seen”

    These are valued anywhere that “appearance” is more important than “trustworthiness.”

    The most prominent use is in marketing and social-media contexts where “anything goes” to make every subject look its best — from people to food to products to homes to travel.

    “Marketing” and “social media” both shape and reflect 21st-century culture around the world, so the #2 kind of photos are not going away.

    Smartphone manufacturers spend literally billions of dollars a year on new ways to manipulate the #2 kind of photos without making them look less believable than the #1 kind of photos.

  • Raise your hand if you knew about this change

    One interesting angle is how the new duality in photography “snuck up” on culture over the past two decades, receiving relatively little attention.

    • Many people born before the 1990s haven’t even noticed the dual nature of the new reality yet.

    • Many people born after the 1980s probably assume that “doctored” and “undoctored” photographs have always looked equally convincing (they haven’t).

  • Both kinds of photos are here to stay

    Obviously both kinds of photographs “undoctored” and “doctored” are here to stay, because our culture will always highly value them both (for reasons explained under #1 and #2 above).

    But because the two kinds of photos can look equally convincing while meaning different things to viewers (see #510-511), viewers will always value a way to tell them apart.

    That’s why there’s a place for labeling undoctored photos in the 21st century when there was no reason to do so in the 20th century.

    Why not label photographs that are doctored instead of labeling photos that are not doctored?

  • Most photographers make both kinds

    Some photographers make almost entirely one kind or the other; other photographers split what they create depending on the subject, the context, and the intended audience.

    But because the purposes of the two kinds of photos are so different, decisions that are eminently reasonable when making one kind of photograph can be unthinkable when making the other kind of photograph.

    For example, when making the #1 kind of photo, a photographer using the “Guaranteed TCQ” label might publish unedited “neighboring frames” to prove that particular manipulations were not done to the edited photograph. Someone making the #2 kind of photo would see no benefit in doing that.

    On the other hand, when making the #2 kind of photo, the photographer might clone out various undesired items pictured in a photograph. Someone making the #1 kind of photo for labeling as “Guaranteed TCQ” would consider that manipulation out of the question (regardless of how minor or trivial the undesired item may seem).

    The decisions made by creators of both kinds of photographs are a frequent topic of discussion on this website.

The statements on this page are valid when using most common definitions of “undoctored” and “doctored”; TCQ’s definitions are here.

How TCQ levels the playing field between the two kinds of photos


• See FAQ #5 for more on the two kinds of photos


• See this brief on the choice photographers often must make between optimizing “trustworthiness” vs. optimizing “appearance”