On “light” and public skepticism about photographs

Perhaps the biggest reason the public is more skeptical of photographs now than even 20 years ago relates to the behavior of “light” in photography.

• Viewers fully expect photographs to undergo some “changes that are likely to happen anyway” (“light”-related changes)

• But viewers are more wary of photographs that undergo “changes that never occur on their own” (non-“light”-related changes) — and those are changes that are now possible to make easily, undetectably, and instantly.


In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was very difficult to make many now-popular non-“light”-related changes — for example selectively moving, blurring, adding, deleting, replacing, reshaping, and resizing “forms and shapes” — without viewers being able to see those changes.

As a result, apart from some non-“light”-related basics like cropping, back in the film era most photos only underwent “light”-related changes — “tones and colors.”

(“Light”-related changes had been integral to photography almost from its invention, and in fact the word “photo-graphy” came from the Greek for “light-writing.”)


In the 21st century, viewers know how easy it is (see #209) for photographers to undetectably perform “changes that never occur on their own” (non-“light”-related changes).

The public is accordingly much more skeptical now about even the most believable-looking photographs.