#20 in a series of background briefs

The satode test

In order to depict “one scene” that the camera saw, every TCQ photograph — no matter how it was made — must depict only one “specific arrangement that occurred during exposure” (satode).

For many people, a satode epitomizes “a trustworthy photograph.”

  • “satode”: What to know

    The satode requirement serves one purpose:

    It ensures that when combined or long exposures are used to photograph a subject that changes during the exposure, the resulting photograph does not depict an arrangement (“scene”) that the camera did not see.

    Every TCQ photo must depict an arrangement of elements that would be seen in a momentary “glimpse” or “snapshot” of the subject.

    • For example, it is easy to photograph a traffic light at night using long or combined exposures so that — in the resulting photograph — the red light and the green light both appear to be illuminated at the same time.

    • But that traffic-light photo depicts something that the camera never saw (red and green illuminated at the same time); that combination would not be depicted in a momentary “glimpse” or “snapshot” of the subject.

    • The traffic-light photo is thus disqualified by Q4, because it fails the “satode” test: the photograph does not depict one “specific arrangement that occurred during exposure.”


  • 1. Is this something most photographers have to worry about?

    Nope. For most photographers, meeting the satode requirement will never be an issue.

    Most “multiple-scene” photos taken in normal lighting can be instantly ferreted out by the presence of ghost objects or SMP effects.

    But any photographers who like to manually select combined- or long exposures in dark settings when there often are not “ghost objects” or “SMP effects” can keep reading about “satode” with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

  • 2. Why is the “satode” test needed?

    A. Every TCQ photo must depict an arrangement of elements that would be seen in a momentary “glimpse” or “snapshot” of the subject.

    B. That remains true even though TCQ allows combining exposures and it allows long exposures.

    C. Of course, “combined” and “long” exposures can misrepresent what the camera saw if the subject changes during exposure.

    D. To prevent misrepresentation, since it is impossible to put a precise numerical limit on long exposures or combined exposures...

    . . . Q4 reigns in the effects of combined or long exposures:

    Q4’s satode requirement ensures that no MORE is shown in the photograph than would be in seen in a momentary “glimpse” or “snapshot” of the scene.

    Q4’s motarri requirement ensures that no LESS is shown in the photograph than would be in seen in a momentary “glimpse” or “snapshot” of the scene.

    NOTES

    • “A” above is a reference to “one view of one scene at one moment”

    Why are single-exposure undoctored photographs always the reference point for TCQ?

    • Regarding “B” above, Q5 is the qualification that allows combined and long exposures (motion blur is allowed but is constrained by Q7 and by motarri)

    Why does TCQ allow for combining exposures when news organizations traditionally did not allow it?

  • 3. What kind of photographs present “satode” challenges?

    The answer is

    “Any combined/long-exposure photos that do not create ghost objects or SMP effects” (either of which is an instant tip-off to the viewer that the photo doesn’t qualify as TCQ).

    More specifically, when any changing or moving light source is photographed in dark conditions, there often will not be ghost objects or SMP effects to help tip off viewers that they are seeing a combination of scenes (rather than just “one scene,” as Q4 requires).

    _________________

    In light of the explanation above, the most popular photographic subject that needs “satode” attention is fireworks in the night sky.

    Other satode-challenging subjects:

    • lightning bolts

    • a neon sign on which different parts are illuminated at different times

    • a traditional theater marquee with hundreds of light bulbs that intermittently are on and off

    • a Christmas tree on which the lights are not all illuminated simultaneously but each is illuminated at some point

    • traffic lights at night (!)

  • 4. What is the challenge for TCQ photographers who shoot “intermittent light sources in dark surroundings” like fireworks?

    The challenge is that it is tempting to make a long exposure so that the photo depicts a combination that someone at the scene would not have seen in combination at any point during the exposure.

    The resulting photograph would not be a momentary “glimpse” or “snapshot” of one “specific arrangement that occurred during exposure.”

    For example, even though someone at the scene would not have seen it, a single photo made with a long exposure could depict fireworks in the left side of the frame that had been followed several seconds later by fireworks in the right side of the frame.

  • 5. So how do TCQ photographers deal with fireworks and similar “bright-changing-lights-in-the-dark” subjects?

    They have two main choices:

    1. They can make the exposure as long as they want and not worry about it qualifying as TCQ, knowing that viewers won’t be expecting to see the “Guaranteed TCQ” label on something like a fireworks photo (that’s why “fireworks” are on this list).

    OR

    2. They can choose a shutter speed that is short enough to ensure that the photo does not depict an arrangement or combination of elements that never occurred during the exposure(s).

    Different subjects often call for different choices

    The most dramatic fireworks photos online usually would not qualify as TCQ (because they wouldn’t meet the satode test)—

    — but some of the most dramatic lightning photos online would meet the satode test (perhaps because the photographer feels they are “documenting” a natural phenomenon — or perhaps because lightning strikes tend to be much further apart than most fireworks bursts!).

    Either way, if a photo depicts a combination of elements that is NOT a combination that someone at the scene would have seen at any point during the exposure(s), then the photo is thus disqualified by Q4.