FAQ 2 - Photography

  • 201. Humans have been striving for a universal language for hundreds of years, and photography has been around for almost 200 years. Why has photography only now become our most “universal language”?

    Because in the 21st century three new factors have enhanced photography’s role as a form of “communication” and not merely a form of “illustration.” More

  • 202. What makes photography unique compared to all of the other ways we can record and share images?

    Photography has something no other electronically recorded imaging medium has: the ability to be equally effective in both “electronic” and “print” formats.


  • 203. Why is photography more of “a universal language” than other candidates for that title, like music or Esperanto or even video?

    Because photography will always be able to convey information to more people — in more corners of the world, both now and in the future — than those other candidates can.

    No other form of expression can do all of these things that photography can do.

  • 204. Which medium makes it harder to deceive viewers, photography or video?

    It is harder to deceive viewers with photography.

    For example, it would be very difficult to come up with a worldwide “trust” standard for video akin to TCQ’s role with photographs, because video has so many more ways of potentially deceiving viewers.


  • 205. Why does this website say that “Photography isn’t just about how the photo looks anymore”?

    Because in the age of Photoshop it is impossible to reliably judge “just by looking” one of the things that people most often want to know about photographs: “Can the viewer believe their eyes?”

    Seen another way, there is no longer a reliable connection between a photograph’s trustworthiness and its appearance.


  • 206. Why is it a big deal that “there is no longer a reliable connection between a photograph’s trustworthiness and its appearance”?

    Because it’s a big deal with any language if the audience doesn’t know when they can trust the message—

    — and photography is the world’s most universal language.

    (Since photography is a visual language, it is a “big deal” when what the audience sees isn’t a reliable indicator of the message’s trustworthiness.)

  • 207. Why is the public so skeptical of impressive-looking photographs now when the manipulation of photographs is as old as photography itself?

    Because it is so much easier now to doctor photographs without detection than it was in pre-digital times.

    “Detectability” is the big difference between then and now, a distinction that is often overlooked when observing that “Doctoring is as old as photography itself.”

    In the digital age it is ridiculously easy to undetectably doctor photographs and — just as importantly — the general public knows how easy it is.


  • 208. Is it really that easy to alter things in a digital photograph without making it look less trustworthy?

    Yes. Here’s a 3-minute video illustrating just one of the thousands of manipulation tools available to 21st-century photographers. (Non-Dutch-speakers can turn the audio off or use it to start learning a new language.)

    Two notes on this video

  • 209. Won’t advances in technology eventually render the Trust Checklist obsolete?

    No, because the Trust Checklist will always be based not on any specific technology or equipment but on the 9 characteristics of the most-widely trusted photographs.


  • 210. But won’t advances in other kinds of imaging technology like video render photography obsolete?

    No, because photography will always play a unique role in civilization, a role that video can never match.


  • 211. In the age of Photoshop, wouldn’t it be simpler for everyone to just not trust any photographs?

    Simpler, yes. Realistic, no.


  • 212. So there will never come a day when most people don’t trust any photographs?

    No. As explained in #211, people will always trust their own photographs, with gradually decreasing levels of trust as the source of the photo gets more distant from them.

    It will always be true that some photographs are trusted more than others. TCQ was created to help answer the obvious question: “Which are which?”

    Navigating life in the 21st century will not be a choice between “trusting everything” vs. “trusting nothing” — both would be disastrous — but rather a matter of deciding whom to trust and when.

    This is not a new challenge to civilization, although it is much more difficult than in past centuries because digital technology makes it so easy to present things as something they are not.

    Helping equip the public to judge which information sources they can trust is a large part of why TCQ exists.

  • 213. Why do viewers ask questions like “Is it real or is it Photoshop?”

    Because they want to know whether the photo they’re seeing is undoctored so they can decide how much to trust it.

    But it’s an unfortunate question.

  • 214. What’s wrong with asking the question, “Is it real or is it Photoshop?”

    There are two main problems with that question: the word “real” and the word “Photoshop.” (The other words are fine.)


  • 215. Why do viewers trust a photograph less when they think it is missing any of the nine characteristics?

    Because they have less confidence in their ability to “read” the photograph if they know, or suspect, that it is missing any of the nine characteristics.


  • 216. Why do viewers trust photos depicting “what the camera saw” more than they trust photos that have been doctored to depict “what the photographer wishes the camera had seen”?

    There are at least two reasons.

  • 217. For viewers it makes perfect sense that undoctored photos showing “what the camera saw” are more trustworthy than are photos that have been doctored to show “what the photographer wishes the camera had seen.”

    So why does that seem so radical to some photographers?

    Because when it comes to understanding the factors involved in what the public trusts, some photographers lag behind most viewers.


  • 218. What if I don’t think ANY photograph can ever be a perfect representation of a three-dimensional scene?

    (This is a response to Q7, which says that a TCQ photograph cannot be a “misrepresentation” of the scene that was photographed.)

    Then you’re in the right place, because your perspective is the same as TCQ’s.


  • 219. So photographs do not have to be objective “facts” to qualify as TCQ?

    No they do not.

    TCQ is a 21st century creation, not a product of the 19th or 20th centuries (back when photographs were routinely regarded as “facts”).

    In fact, TCQ operates on the understanding that no photographs are objective “facts,” but rather that all photographs (including news photographs) are subjective, personal “interpretations.”

  • 220. What good is it for TCQ to regard photographs as subjective “interpretations” if the general public still regards photos at objective “facts”?

    Most of the public doesn’t still think photographs are objective “facts.” More

  • 221. If all photographs are “subjective” — as TCQ says they are — how can any photographs be “trustworthy” too?

    Millions of things in life are both “subjective” and “trustworthy.” If we trusted nothing in life that is “subjective,” we could barely function.


  • 222. What does this website mean when it says that photographers have to “convince” viewers to trust each photograph?

    Simply that the “free ride” of the early digital era is over.

    Photographers can no longer put photographs before viewers and assume that viewers will trust the photograph if it only looks convincing.


  • 223. Why does TCQ say that photos are now “claims rather than facts”?

    That’s a natural consequence of regarding photographs as “subjective” interpretations rather than “objective” documents or “facts.”


  • 224. Is TCQ saying that all photographers should be trying to “convince” viewers to trust their photographs?

    No. Getting viewers to “trust” photos simply isn’t a goal for many photographers, and that’s fine.

    Besides, lots of photos are unsuited to the Trust Checklist.

    Most viewers expect photographs of the kinds on that linked page (above) to focus more on “appearance” than on “trustworthiness” (see this brief).

    In those (TCQ-unsuited) areas of photography, the photographer’s challenge often is to “convince” viewers to like photos more than to trust them.

  • 225. If “accuracy” is defined “as how much the photograph looks like the scene it depicts,” why doesn’t the word “accuracy” appear in the Trust Checklist?

    Because looks are often deceiving in the age of Photoshop. As it says in #205, there is no longer any reliable connection between “appearance” and “trustworthiness.”

    In fact, the most “accurate”-looking depiction of a scene often does not qualify as TCQ — not if the photo was doctored, as photos often are to make them “look more like” the scene depicted.

    If viewers know — or suspect — that a photograph was doctored, many viewers will trust it less no matter how “accurate” it may look. (Written example)

    When it comes to trustworthiness, in the age of Photoshop there is no prize given to the photo that “looks most like” the scene that was photographed.

  • 226. So “inaccurate” photos can qualify as TCQ?

    No, of course they can’t qualify.


  • 227. How can the most “accurate”-looking depiction of a scene not qualify as TCQ?

    Because if a photograph undergoes any changes that disqualify it from the Trust Checklist, it cannot qualify as TCQ no matter how much it looks like the scene it depicts.

    By the same token, the depiction of a scene that qualifies as TCQ may not be the most “accurate”-looking depiction of that scene.


  • 228. But wouldn’t viewers naturally trust more a photograph that has been manipulated to more perfectly depict the subject?

    Not if they know (or suspect) that the photo has been doctored, because that knowledge (or suspicion) will cause viewers to trust a photograph less.

    It is a fact that no two-dimensional photograph can ever “perfectly portray” every aspect of a three-dimensional scene the way humans see such a scene. It simply can’t be done, no matter how much the photograph is manipulated.

    • In other words, all photos are “imperfect portrayals

    • TCQ is built on the principle that — assuming that neither photo is misrepresentative* — viewers will trust an “imperfect portrayal” that is undoctored more than they will trust an “imperfect portrayal” that is doctored.

    *As per Q7, “misrepresentation” in TCQ photographs is always judged by rinairs

  • 229. And the role of “accuracy” in judging photographs has changed compared to the 20th century?

    Yes, and not just because undetectable manipulations have eliminated any reliable connection between “appearance” and “trustworthiness” (as explained in question #205).


  • 230. Don’t all photographs lie?

    “All” is a fairly sweeping word. If asked to think about it, most people would probably say, “Some photographs lie, and many do not.”


  • 231. Aren’t all photographs fiction?

    If one considers every “portrayal” of a real-life subject to be a “fiction,” then Yes.

    Otherwise, “No”


The numbering of the FAQ questions will not change, so users can safely make a link to any specific question.