#31 in a series of background briefs

Couldn’t a standard be created that is like TCQ but less strict?

Of course it could be! There’s no harm in writing an alternate standard and posting it online for others to comment on.

Here are 9 things to keep in mind:

  • 1. Are you sure?

    Before you start, you might consider this:

    If the new standard is described as “Like TCQ, but less strict,” then viewers will regard the resulting photos as “Like TCQ, but less trustworthy.”

    Remember too that TCQ reflects a worldwide consensus and is based on the standards of the world’s largest providers of trusted photographs. Any alternative standard will have to be fairly persuasive if it is to gain traction.

  • 2. First priority: Defining “undoctored”

    The first priority is to define the word “undoctored.”

    Whether a photo is or is not “doctored” is often what people most want to know about impressive photos they encounter (that curiosity about “undoctored or doctored” is reflected in the “real or Photoshop” question at the top of this website).

    TCQ’s definition of “undoctored” is here; it is further discussed in FAQ #5 and FAQ #12.

    Keep in mind that most viewers won’t trust photographs made using a definition of “undoctored” that is less strict than their own definition. That’s why it is desirable to make the standard the strictest common denominator.

  • 3. Don’t forget any of the 9 characteristics

    If you leave out even one or two of the 9 characteristics, critics will be quick to point out the omission — and then a proportion of viewers won’t trust the resulting photographs.

  • 4. The biggest challenge: Avoiding arbitrary limits while also preventing any allowable manipulations from being carried to extremes

    That challenge is fleshed out on this page (spoiler alert: it’s very difficult to do).

    The key is to imagine the kinds of outlandish manipulations that other photographers would do if your labeling standard had no limits on various manipulations. Would viewers trust the label on the resulting photographs?

  • 5. Your standard cannot be “device-specific”...

    . . . if you want it to be a universal standard.

    Effects like adding post-exposure “bokeh blur,” for example, or reshaping things in the photo to change the apparent perspective, have to be considered from the perspective of both those who manipulate photos on their phone and those who manipulate photos on their computer.

    (Phones typically limit how extreme the built-in manipulations can be before the slider gets to the end of the bar, but those limits disappear when using a program like Photoshop on a computer.)

    See also #1503.

  • 6. Don’t overlook the popularity of smartphones

    When explaining your standard, keep in mind that billions of photographs are made every day with smartphones — not with old-fashioned, single-purpose standalone “cameras” that are completely unable to make phone calls or run Fortnite.

    (Advanced photographers who use standalone cameras often underestimate the proportion of photographs made with smartphones.)

  • 7. Consistency is key

    The standard should be so consistent as to be “intuitive.”

    In other words, after an initial introduction to the standard, viewers should be able to predict whether the standard prohibits or allows various manipulations.

  • 8. The standard should be obsolescence-proof

    Will the standard be just as relevant 10 or 20 years in the future?

    If the standard needs major changes every time there’s a new technology introduced, the public won’t be able to keep up with it and it could seem tentative or unreliable — not ideal in a “trust”-related standard.

  • 9. Be sure to test it

    In light of #4 above, the toughest test is to perform on a photograph the most extreme manipulation possible that wouldn’t disqualify the photo from the proposed standard—

    — and then ask whether viewers would trust the resulting photograph.

    Good luck!


















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