FAQ 3 - Photographers’ Questions

TCQ’s promise
to advanced photographers

  • 301. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but I still don’t understand: why would a photographer bother to attach the “Guaranteed TCQ” label to a photograph?

    Because they want others to believe what they’re “saying” with that photograph.

    “It’s a longing as old as human history.”

  • 302. I’m not someone who reads the owners’ manual before plunging in. So without a lot of reading, what do I need to know to start making TCQ photos with my smartphone?

    Here’s the shortest explanation you’ll find

  • 303. What if I’m an established photographer, with a well-established online presence, but many of the photos I’ve put out there are not TCQ-qualified? How should I deal with TCQ?

    You can do whatever feels most natural with your personal philosophy and the kind of photos you want to make.

    You may conclude that TCQ is not for you — but if you want to engage with TCQ on any level, you have multiple options.

  • 304. What if rather than showing “what the camera saw,” I prefer to show what I wish the camera had seen — that is, the way *I* saw the scene or the way I envisioned it in my mind’s eye?

    Then go ahead and do so! Viewers won’t mind unless you say or imply that the result TCQ-qualified.

    TCQ was never intended for every photograph or every photographer, and millions of photographs are put online every hour that match your preference.

    More on this choice

    See also question #340

  • 305. Why are viewers more trusting of photos that show “what the camera saw” than of photos that show “what the photographer envisioned in their mind’s eye”?

    Because viewers rely on their knowledge of how photographs “work” when judging photographs’ trustworthiness—

    — but their knowledge isn’t as reliable when they know (or suspect) a photo has been doctored to show something other than “what the camera saw” (including when the photo depicts “what the photographer wishes the camera had seen”).

    It is well known from courtroom experience that different people often disagree about the scene in question (Were there three bank robbers or four? Was the getaway car a large red hatchback or a small orange SUV?), while different surveillance cameras recording the same scene are likely to be in very much in agreement about the scene.

  • 306. Why does TCQ disqualify photos made using my favorite manipulation?

    There’s a background brief on that.

  • 307. What if TCQ disqualifies my photo because I changed it to look exactly how it would look if I had taken it just a little bit earlier?

    If a photo doesn’t fully meet the Trust Checklist, it is disqualified from TCQ. Period.

    To use an American idiom, viewers don’t care to hear about “how the dog ate your homework”; they only want to be confident that photos labeled “Guaranteed TCQ” fully meet the Trust Checklist.

    The reasons don’t matter.

    See also the page on def|pen.

  • 308. What if I’m not happy about TCQ designating a lot of my photos as “doctored”?

    Then you can either make more photos that meet the Trust Checklist (it’s easy to do) or you can just not use TCQ.


  • 309. What if I like to set my photos apart from other photographers’ photos by using super-long exposures so that things are unrecognizably blurred or invisible? What if I like to stand apart by applying a distinctive tonality through my unique recipe of post-exposure changes?

    Then you’ll have to choose between making photographs that look the way you like them vs. making TCQ-qualified photos.

    As it says in multiple places on this website:

    “Photographers cannot do ‘whatever they want’ to a photo and then expect viewers to trust it.”


  • 310. But how can I make impressive photographs that qualify as TCQ if I can’t use my unique post-processing “look”?

    The same way that photographers have been making impressive photographs for almost 200 years.


  • 311. What if I think TCQ just looks too complicated?

    You can just ignore it!

    (But first you might read the Making guide and ask if TCQ really is that complicated.)


  • 312. What if I’m fine with viewers assuming my photos have been doctored or with viewers not trusting my photos?

    No problem at all: you never need bother with TCQ.

    As it says often on this website and in this FAQ, “TCQ was never intended for every photographer or every photograph.”

    TCQ isn’t even applicable to some large swaths of the photography world.

  • 313. What if I don’t care what viewers “want to know about” my photographs?

    (This is a reference to the statement that the Trust Checklist addresses “things that viewers want to know about when they are deciding how much to trust a photograph,” for example in #111.)

    Then don’t say anything about your photos.

    But in the 21st century, smart viewers increasingly assume that impressive photographs they encounter are “Doctored unless labeled otherwise.” (Why?)

    The more impressive your photos look, the more likely they’ll be assumed to be doctored unless you say otherwise (whether you say so using the “Guaranteed TCQ” label or some other means).

  • 314. What if the kind of photography I do isn’t suited for TCQ?

    That is no problem at all! It just means that TCQ isn’t suited for you, and you never need to bother with it.

    TCQ was never intended for every photograph or every photographer; in fact, TCQ is completely irrelevant in some large swaths of the photography world. (Most photographers make both TCQ photographs and non-TCQ photographs.)

    The “Guaranteed TCQ” label wouldn’t mean anything if all photographs qualified for it. No one will ever object to a photographer being honest about when a photograph — or even a large body of photographs — does not qualify for the ‘Guaranteed TCQ’ label.

  • 315. Why are the kinds of photographs on the “Unsuited to TCQ” list not suited to TCQ?

    Because to please clients and viewers, those types of photographs typically undergo post-exposure changes that keep them from meeting the Trust Checklist.


  • 316. But it is possible to make TCQ-qualified photos in the “unsuited to TCQ” categories, correct?

    Yes, certainly. Photographs in all of the “unsuited” categories obviously can be made to meet the Trust Checklist (and then are qualified for the “Guaranteed TCQ” label).

    Photographers at all levels of proficiency may enjoy the challenge of making TCQ-qualified photographs in one or more of those “unsuited” categories.

    But those are all categories for which viewers and clients do not expect TCQ levels of non-manipulation, and thus professionals in those categories could be at a competitive disadvantage if they used TCQ.

    Either way, anyone whose photographs are not suited to TCQ — for whatever reason — can easily ignore TCQ: its use is always completely voluntary and optional.

  • 317. What if I think TCQ doesn’t have enough gray areas, that it is too yes-or-no, too black-and-white in its judgment of which photos are “doctored” and which photos are “undoctored”?

    TCQ is a standard. The role of a “standard” is to identify examples that meet the standard vs. examples that do not meet the standard. (See also #335)

    There are many, many gray areas in TCQ, especially with regard to “light”-related changes (brightness, hue, contrast, etc.), with regard to how much to correct for camera/lens/shutter anomalies, and with regard to when and how extensively to provide “IC” alerts.

  • 318. What if I think TCQ has too many gray areas, without enough clearly spelled-out limits for things like how much contrast or saturation is too much?

    Any limits that are not currently present in TCQ are absent because they would be arbitrary and unrealistic.

    For example, if two photographers photograph the same scene at the same moment, each with their own camera, one of them may choose to increase contrast by 20 percent to avoid “misrepresenting the appearance of the scene” (as per Q7), while the other might reduce contrast by 20 percent to achieve the exact same result.

    Particularly on “light”-related issues, there are just far too many variables to establish any numerical limits.

  • 319. Haven’t photographers always had to choose between “trustworthiness” and “appearance”?

    (This is a reference to “the photographer’s choice”)

    No, it wasn’t an issue until recently.

  • 320. Why have so many photographers in the digital age chosen “appearance” over “trustworthiness”?

    (This is a reference to “the photographer’s choice”)

    Most photographers have not consciously “chosen” appearance over trustworthiness.


  • 321. The answer to #320 says that smartphone manufacturers spend billions of dollars a year improving the “appearance” of photographs. In the future will they devote significant resources to “trustworthiness” as well?

    A greater emphasis on trustworthiness seems likely.


  • 322. And the “trustworthiness vs. appearance” choice for individual photographers is related to TCQ’s observation that “the biggest challenge in 21st century photography will be making photographs that are both impressive and TCQ-qualified”?

    That is correct.

    No matter what the photographic situation, it is almost always going to be possible to further improve a photograph’s appearance by doctoring it (instead of leaving it largely “as is” so that it qualifies as TCQ).

    This is common knowledge, which is why, as noted in #514,

    “Photographers routinely hope that viewers will think a doctored photograph is undoctored, but that hope rarely goes in the opposite direction: photographers rarely hope that viewers will think an undoctored photograph is actually doctored.”

  • 323. But if it’s so easy to make TCQ photographs (“hundreds of millions of new ones are made every day,” it says in #10 on the Summary page), why is it such a challenge to make photographs that are both “impressive” and “TCQ-qualified”?

    Because of viewers’ higher expectations.


  • 324. Is it a matter of training viewers to temper their expectations when they see the “Guaranteed TCQ” label?

    Yes — or, seen the other way, gradually members of the public will learn to expect more when they encounter photos that aren’t labeled “Guaranteed TCQ”.

    As the public realizes that from now on there will always be billions of both kinds of photographs...

    . . . viewers will learn to use different criteria when looking at “Guaranteed TCQ” photos than when looking at non-TCQ photos.

  • 325. Where’s the best place to view a wide variety of photos that are both impressive-looking and TCQ-qualified?

    On the websites linked on the “Photos” page.

  • 326. To maximize the level of viewer trust, should a photograph depict “what the photographer saw” or “what the camera recorded”?

    TCQ photos depict “what the camera saw,” which is a combination of those two things.


  • 327. Why are viewers told to disregard the “Guaranteed TCQ” label when the photographer is not identified?

    Because no guarantee has value if people do not know who is standing behind the guarantee.

  • 328. How come no one can credibly apply the “Guaranteed TCQ” label other than the photographer responsible for the photograph?

    Because viewers would not trust the label if they knew or suspected that it was applied by someone who wasn’t fully aware of the circumstances surrounding the making of the photograph.

  • 329. Why does TCQ say that photographers are “staking their reputation” on the “Guaranteed TCQ” label each time they use it in a trusted context?

    That is said to remind photographers that the reason some contexts are trusted more than others is because viewers take seriously what is said and published in those contexts.


  • 330. Whom should I ask for a second opinion about whether a particular photo of mine qualifies as TCQ?

    If there is no third-party/editor involved, the best choice would usually be to ask other photographers whose work you’ve seen and whose opinion you respect.


  • 331. What are the rules for attaching the “Guaranteed TCQ” label to a photograph?

    There are no rules, just as there are no rules for the “Nonfiction” label that is applied to books.

    Rules aren’t necessary.

  • 332. But is there a “best way” to attach the “Guaranteed TCQ” label attached to a photograph?

    No, there is no single “best” way, because it depends on the setting.

    It’s all in the guide to labeling TCQ photographs

    Basically any way the photographer wants to attach the label — or any way the publisher wants to reproduce the label — is fine, keeping in mind the list of reasons that viewers disregard the label.

    The only consistent recommendation is that the the words “Guaranteed TCQ” and the photographer’s name/URL not both be “printed on” the photograph. (Why not?)

  • 333. Do I have to check all 9 points of the Trust Checklist each time I want to attach the “Guaranteed TCQ” label?

    Not unless your memory is really feeble.

    Every photo that qualifies for the “Guaranteed TCQ” label has to fully meet the Trust Checklist

    — but after the first time, most photographers won’t need to check the Checklist any more than a typical car owner has to read the owners’ manual each day before they start their car and drive off.

    Photographers who read the Checklist only once will usually know which steps of it they are already fulfilling vs. which steps aren’t part of their usual workflow. They can always consult the Checklist again if needed.

  • 334. Why does this website say that when publishing someone else’s “Guaranteed TCQ”-labeled photos, no changes should be made other than #1 and #2 on the Allowables list?

    (This is a reference to #3 on the list of publishing expectations)

    Because #1 and #2 are the only two Allowable Changes that typically do not affect the content of the photograph in a notable way.

    If any changes other than #1 and #2 are made to someone else’s “Guaranteed TCQ” photograph, the original photographer’s Guarantee no longer applies to the image.

    See also #1206 on Changes #1 and #2.

  • 335. Is it fair that photographs that are disqualified by something minor are lumped in some huge “Non-TCQ” category alongside photographs that are disqualified by something major?

    Yes, it is fair.

    TCQ is a standard. The purpose of any standard is to separate examples that meet the standard from examples that do not meet the standard.

    For example, a distance runner who misses the Olympics trials qualifying time by 1 second is just as much a “non-Olympian” as is a runner who misses the mark by 10 seconds.

    • If a photograph misses qualifying for TCQ because of something minor, then it should be a simple matter to correct or undo whatever is keeping the photo from qualifying so that it does qualify.

    • If it is not a simple matter to make the photo qualified, then the disqualifier may not be so “minor” after all.

  • 336. Can the photographer say about a photo that doesn’t fully meet the Trust Checklist, “This photograph would qualify as TCQ except for...” and then list the disqualifying factor(s)?

    Yes, photographers always can say whatever they want about their own photos.

    Viewers are unlikely to object unless the disclaimer appears at casual glance to be a “Guaranteed TCQ” label, which would be problematic on a photo that doesn’t fully meet the Trust Checklist.

  • 337. Does using the “Guaranteed TCQ” label increase the photographer’s chances of being credited for a photo?

    Yes, at least with any publisher who is open to publishing the “Guaranteed TCQ” label, because “publishing the label” effectively means “naming the photographer.”

    (A third-party content provider cannot credibly publish the “Guaranteed TCQ” label without identifying the photographer who is responsible for the guarantee.)

    Of course, no third-party content provider ever has to publish the “Guaranteed TCQ” label; see this page.

    More on publishing “Guaranteed TCQ” photographs

  • 338. Is the “Guaranteed TCQ” label only for “impressive” photos?

    No, definitely not! There are many cases when “non-impressive” photos would get labeled.


  • 339. What does the typical photographer have to do differently to make TCQ photos?

    There’s no single answer, because each photographer works differently.


  • 340. What if I make undoctored-looking photos but it’s not a goal of mine for my photographs to be regarded as “records,” undoctored or otherwise?

    That’s fine. Every photographer can regard their own photos however they wish — and can explain to viewers their photographic goals as much or as little as they want to, including “no explanation at all.”


  • 341. Couldn’t TCQ’s goals be met by simply adopting the specific practices that for decades news photographers used to make trusted photographs?

    No, because many of the old ways no longer apply. TCQ was created to provide a blueprint for making trusted photographs in the 21st century.

    The characteristics of trusted photographs remain the same as always, but a number of the specific limits adhered to in 20th-century photo-reportage are outdated because photography has changed so much in the past two decades. (See also #202.)

    The most prominent change is the growing allowance for multiple-exposure photographs

The numbering of the FAQ questions will not change — any new questions are added at the bottom and given new numbers — so users can safely make a link to any specific question.