#15 in a series of background briefs

“Before” vs. “After”

It is one of the most radical adjustments for photographers to make when they learn about TCQ:

“The end of the recording process marks an important transition point in the making of a TCQ photograph.”

  • 1. TCQ reinforces the line between “before” and “after”

    TCQ repeatedly draws a clear distinction between

    • showing the effects of things that happen before exposures end
    • showing the effects of changes made to the photograph after exposures end.

    Note that not all “pre-shutter” effects are allowed by TCQ

    The line itself between “before” and “after” is as clear as ever.

    Each visual effect in a photograph is caused by something that happened either before the recording is completed or after the recording is completed. Nothing is “on the fence” between the two.

    But in recent years the public’s awareness of the line has gotten fuzzy.

  • 2. Digital cameras have blurred the line

    Over the first two decades of the digital era, the line between “pre-shutter” and “post-exposure” became blurred in the public mind, largely because of one simple development:

    Image processing that in the film era had almost always been done after the photo was removed from the camera could now be quickly performed inside the camera.

    Granted, no popular devices or cameras internally doctor images “by default,” at least not on their away-facing camera.

    But it is easier than ever to program devices and cameras so that they will doctor photographs instantly after the exposure is recorded, before they appear on the device’s screen.

    Examples of this instant post-exposure doctoring include blurring out undesirable areas in the recorded photograph or reshaping everything in the recorded photo to achieve “perspective correction.”

    Both of those actions disqualify an image from Q2 when they are performed after the exposure(s).

    Note that pre-shutter implementation of “focus blur” and “perspective correction” do not disqualify photos from TCQ if those effects are optically produced; see #7 and #8 here.

  • 3. The effect of in-camera manipulations on the photographer

    The more automatic an action becomes, the less likely the photographer is to manually undo it.

    A. Smartphone users are led to believe they are changing lenses’ optical settings (to affect “what the camera sees”)—

    — when in fact they are merely changing the software settings (so that the photo is instantly doctored to reflect what the photographer “wishes the camera had seen”).

    B. When the pre-shutter “preview” picture on a device’s screen shows what the photo will look like after it is doctored, the photographer is already getting comfortable with the “wished-for” image rather than what the camera actually sees.

    (It is easy to imagine a device’s screen image feeling more “real” to the photographer than does the “real-world” scene in front of the camera.)

    C. When after taking the picture the first thing the photographer sees on the device’s screen is an already-doctored image (never seeing the undoctored version), the photographer is less likely to dig up the image of the scene as the camera actually saw it.


    Not surprisingly, with sophisticated in-camera processing it can be difficult for the photographer to distinguish between “what the camera saw” vs. how the camera instantly doctored the recording to depict “what the photographer wishes the camera had seen.”

  • 4. What didn’t matter before will matter in the future

    Most non-photographers will never hear, let alone think about, the distinctions described in #1 above.

    But behind the scenes, those distinctions will always be a key to understanding which photographs people trust.

    One of the biggest effects of “digital” technology is the capability to make things appear to be something they are not.

    That may not have seemed important in the era when “The appearance of the photograph is all that matters” (the first two decades of the 21st century).

    Few people in that era gave much thought to how easy it suddenly was to doctor a photograph — after it was recorded — so that it convincingly simulated effects that looked like they occurred before it was recorded (see def|pen).

    But what didn’t matter in the recent past will matter in the coming era of Trustworthiness matters too.”

    Anyone who puts images before the public and wants to win viewers’ trust will be employing the “before vs. after” distinction whether they know about it or not.

    See also #5: Leveling the playing field