More on the technical effects of “digital”

The digital era has greatly expanded three major categories of undetectable manipulations, all of which have increased viewer skepticism about unlabeled photographs.

  • 1. “Light”-related manipulations

    This refers to substantively manipulatinglight”-related aspects of photos — tones and colors — without detection by viewers.

    The capabilities here go far beyond anything that was available to most photographers in the film era, for instance with regard to the ability to quickly and completely recolor depictions of individual articles of clothing in a photograph without affecting the appearance of any wrinkles or creases.

  • 2. Non-“light”-related manipulations

    This refers to substantively manipulating non-“light”-related aspects of photos — e.g., moving, resizing, reshaping, deleting, adding, and blurring the depictions of things — without detection by viewers.

    In the film era, except for actions that affected large areas of the photograph (e.g., replacing the sky, tilting the enlarger baseboard), detailed form-and-shape manipulations were usually difficult to perform without being detectable on close inspection of the master image.

    The newfound ability to quickly, easily, and undetectably make changes to non-“light”-related aspects of photographs is perhaps the biggest of the three changes from the perspective of viewers — and thus it is a major factor in the public’s increased skepticism about photographs in the digital age.

  • 3. Combining photos

    This refers to combining photos in countless new ways without detection by viewers.

    Stitches, panoramas, convincing composites and combinations of all kinds, focus-stacking, pixel-shifting, multiple-exposure HDR, and other combining techniques that were difficult if not impossible when using film are now simple to do (or even automatically done in the smartphone in one’s pocket).

    Why does TCQ allow for combining exposures when respected international news agencies have not traditionally allowed it?

  • How does TCQ ensure trustworthy photos in light of these changes?

    To understand how the Trust Checklist accounts for these changes:

    • For #1 and #2 above, see the background brief on “light”

    • For #3 above see the guide to combining exposures