FAQ 7: TCQ’s Allowable Changes

1. Format #701

2. Resizing #705

3. Surface flaws #711

4. Camera/lens/shutter #721

5. Reverting #731

6. Cropping #751

7. Rotating (none)

8. Sharpening (none)

9. Combining #761

10. “Light”-related #781

The gaps in numbering are to allow room for adding questions in the future without renumbering existing questions.

Category 1: Changing the format

  • 701. 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 Allowable Changes 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.

  • Category 2: Resizing the entire image

  • 705. Are there any limits on what resizing can be done in a TCQ photograph?

    A few, but none that are unexpected or burdensome. More

  • 706. Are there any restrictions on the ways in which a TCQ photograph may have its resolution increased?

    Use of any of the common up-rezzing software programs in ways that meet rinairs will not disqualify a photograph from TCQ.

    That will also be true of any AI/machine-learned up-rezzing methods of the future: if they are acceptable to rinairs they will be acceptable to TCQ. (See also the Guide page on resizing.)

  • Category 3: “Surface” flaws

  • 711. What is meant by the term “Surface flaws that were not part of the scene that was photographed”?

    See #3 in the Guide to Allowable Changes.

  • 712. With regard to “surface flaws,” is there any scenario in which various blemishes, freckles, scratches, wrinkles, graffiti, dirt etc. that are part of the scene could be removed without disqualifying the photograph from TCQ?

    No, that is impossible.

    The resulting photograph could not qualify as TCQ, regardless of how “minor” the photographer may judge those flaws on the subject to be. More

  • 713. And yet if freckles or pimples are covered by makeup — or specks of dirt are removed from an object, or wrinkles on a bedspread are smoothed out — before the photograph is recorded, the result is eligible to qualify as TCQ?

    Yes, that is correct: the photograph would then show what the camera saw (as opposed to what anyone wishes the camera had seen), explained on the Trust page.

    For more on this, see the page on def|pen

    Note, however, that if any “changes to the subject before the photo is recorded” are something that viewers would feel deceived not knowing about, then the TCQ photographer must attach an “IC” alert in order to meet Q8.

  • 714. What’s to prevent a photographer from using the excuse of “correcting a surface flaw” to doctor the area where the supposed flaw was, and then labeling the doctored photo as “Guaranteed TCQ”?

    Nothing at all. But the “surface flaw” excuse isn’t really necessary if one wants to deceive viewers. More

  • 715. Can a photo qualify for the “Guaranteed TCQ” label if pictorial information is cloned in from another exposure in order to fix a “surface aspect that was not part of the scene that was photographed?”

    Only if the other exposure was recorded on the same device, with the camera in the same position, aimed exactly the same way, at the same scene, and in the same minute; see the guide to combining exposures.

    Q5 is clear: “All exposures being combined to make the photograph must be started and finished within the same single minute. No pictorial information may be added from exposures not recorded within the same single minute.”

  • Category 4: Camera/lens/shutter

  • 721. What is meant by “corner/edge darkening”?

    This term refers to rendering the corners or edges of a photograph proportionally darker than the central area compared to how those areas appeared in the scene photographed.

    (Photographers often call that darkening “light falloff” or “vignetting,” but those terms aren’t familiar to much of the general public.)

  • 722. If the edges and corners of the actual real-world scene that was photographed are not darker than the middle of the scene, doesn’t allowing corner/edge darkening in a photograph “misrepresent the appearance of the scene” and thus disqualify the photograph from Q7?

    Lens-induced corner/edge darkening is allowed in TCQ photographs because that darkening is an unavoidable result of how lenses transmit light.

    The darkening is regarded as a limitation of the medium, just as most of the other things in the list of camera/shutter/lens anomalies are regarded (see Allowable Change #4).

  • 723. But then why doesn’t TCQ allow post-exposure darkening of edges and corners?

    Because doing so misrepresents the appearance of the scene (see Q7) in a way that is easily avoidable.

    If the avoidable darkening is cropped out or undone, of course, the photograph can be eligible for TCQ.

  • 724. What if the post-exposure darkening of edges and corners is done in the darkroom instead of on a computer?

    The result is still disqualified from Q7.

    TCQ makes no distinction between disqualifying manipulations that are performed on a smartphone vs. on a computer vs. in a darkroom vs. any other way.

    A photograph either meets the Trust Checklist or it does not.

  • Category 5: Reverting

  • 731. What is meant by the allowance for “Reverting”?

    It simply means that a TCQ photographer can try to “go back” to an undoctored version of a photograph they took.

    Photographers do this after they realize that something that had been done to the photo after it was recorded would disqualify the photo from the Trust Checklist.

    Smartphones make it particularly easy to Revert to an undoctored version of the originally recorded photograph (as long as the photograph was recorded and saved on that particular smartphone).

  • 732. Why does this website mention so often undoing “bokeh” blur on smartphones?

    Because the instant addition of “bokeh” blur is probably the most common way that smartphone photographs are disqualified from TCQ.

    But that added blur can usually be undone very easily should the photographer want the image to be eligible for TCQ.

    • The amount of blur that the smartphone adds to the photograph is usually adjusted by a slider.

    • Moving the slider all the way in one direction will reveal as much of the scene in focus as the camera has stored without adding blur

    • That focus maximized version remains eligible to qualify as TCQ.

    Questions #1208-1213 deal with bokeh blur

    See also #2 in the guide to focus and bokeh blur.

  • 733. Can a smartphone’s panoramic photograph be “Undone” or “Reverted” so that it can qualify as TCQ?

    (A panoramic photograph is made on a smartphone by sweeping the device around while it makes and combines numerous exposures.)

    No, it cannot.

    The overall panoramic image is expressly disqualified by Q3, and there is no way to have just a section of the panorama qualify as TCQ because it isn’t possible to separate individual exposures from the overall (combined-exposure) image.


    This website uses the term “panoramic” to refer to the kind of photos described in the italicized paragraph above.

    But old-fashioned “panoramic” photographs made using a single exposure of a wide-angle view — made without moving the camera at all and typically presented, often cropped, in a long length-to-height ratio — are of course eligible to qualify for the “Guaranteed TCQ” label.

  • 734. Can photographers “undoctor” a photograph that they had doctored on a computer?

    It depends on how and when the photo was saved (and closed), how many steps backward can be undone on a still-open photo, and whether there is a way to undo actions after the photo has been saved and closed.

    The safest thing for any TCQ photographer to do is to save a completely untouched copy of the original photo (which is good practice for any photographer who might later be asked to prove how little they manipulated a photograph).

    See also FAQ #518, see the FAQ on proof, and see the page on convincing the viewer

  • Category 6: Cropping

  • 751. Why do respected news agencies allow cropping?

    For the same reasons anyone else does:

    • to eliminate superfluous or distracting pictorial material; or

    • to fit the photograph into a certain proportion; or

    • to allow “shooting looser [more wide-angle] and cropping later” to provide multiple options from a single image.

    There’s nothing inherently “deceptive” about cropping.

  • 752. Why do rinairs and TCQ allow “cropping” but don’t allow “deleting” things?

    Because everything in a cropped photo depicts something that “the camera saw” but that is not true for a photo from which something was deleted.


  • 753. So TCQ treats “deleting” things from photographs the same way it treats “adding” things?

    Yes: both are barred by Q2 (except for effects of TCQ’s Allowable Changes, which include “cropping”).

    There is no difference between “adding” and “deleting”

  • 754. Can a cropped portion of a sweep panorama — like the “Pano” on a smartphone — qualify for the “Guaranteed TCQ” label?

    No, because there’s no way of knowing whether the camera was moved between the exposures that make up that section, so it wouldn’t make it past Q3.

  • 755. If cropping to any non-rectangular shape disqualifies a photo from rinairs (and thus from TCQ), what about photographs that were recorded as round because the recording area was larger than the image circle?

    So that the viewer knows that the image was not cropped to a circle (which would disqualify it from TCQ; see “C” here), the photographer can simply present the photograph as a square or rectangle,* leaving as much or as little as they wish of the corner/edge darkening (see also questions #761-765 above).

    • If the corners or edges are dark when showing the entire image circle or because of something in the scene (for example, shooting through a keyhole), an “IC” alert and explanation may be necessary.

    • If the corners or edges are dark because of something affixed to the front of the camera or lens (for example a vignetter), the “blocked” areas should be cropped out or the photograph will not meet rinairs and thus cannot meet Q7.

    *Most cameras automatically crop their lenses’ round light beam to a square or rectangle as a matter of course.

  • 756. What about photographers who never crop?

    It’s a valid artistic choice, but it doesn’t affect the trustworthiness of a photograph any more than does opting for a longer focal-length lens (which provides the same result as cropping).

    The “never crop” principle is not a regular feature in the most-widely trusted photographs in the free world.

    Almost every camera “crops” the lens’s round light beam into a rectangle — and how the photographer positions the camera and frames the scene before the shutter is even clicked always crops some things out of the camera’s view as well.

    Every single-exposure, undoctored photograph necessarily leaves some things out of the picture.

    For example, an uncropped photograph may not depict as much of a scene as would a photo taken from the same spot with a shorter focal-length lens and then lightly cropped.

  • (There are no questions about Categories 7-8)
    Category 9: Combining exposures

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

    That is addressed in this background brief

  • 762. How does a TCQ photographer remove artifacts that smartphones create when they combine exposures of some subjects, especially moving objects in night photos?

    There usually aren’t any TCQ-Allowed ways to remove those artifacts apart from cropping them out.

    (Most of those artifacts will be some form of SMP effects, which disqualify the image from Q4.)


    Sometimes the photographer will just have to admit that a photo is ineligible to qualify as TCQ.

    Obviously not all cameras and devices can make TCQ-qualified photos in every challenging photographic situation, and most photographers will be fine with that.

    (Tradeoffs of “ease of use” vs. “capability” have been a routine consideration in photographic devices since the 1800s.)

    As it says in #314, “TCQ was never intended for every photograph. No one will ever object to a photographer being honest about when a photograph does not qualify for the ‘Guaranteed TCQ’ label.”

  • 763. If news organizations increasingly publish ordinary citizens’ smartphone photographs for “spot-news” reportage, how will those news organizations treat smartphone photos that have the artifacts described in #762?

    In situations when the only — or the best — spot-news photo of a particular incident had been taken on a smartphone, many news organizations would probably publish the photograph even if it had various smartphone-generated artifacts, especially if the artifacts were so minor that most readers and viewers wouldn’t even notice them.

    There would be no reason to label the photograph “Guaranteed TCQ” if it didn’t fully meet the Trust Checklist (for example if the photo had some form of SMP effects). If the artifacts were prominent or dubious, the publisher could make special note of them to readers and viewers.

    But “not qualifying as TCQ” does not mean that an image is unworthy of publication in a “news” setting, especially if the news organization deems the photograph to be significant and the disqualifying factor(s) to be insignificant.

  • 764. So various news organizations would allow something (SMP effects) that TCQ does not? They would publish non-TCQ-qualified photographs?

    Yes, that is likely in some situations, for example in the situations described in #763 above.

    • No one is ever expected to publish only TCQ-qualified photographs (unless they expressly declare, “We publish only TCQ-qualified photographs”).

    • No news organizations had any direct input in the creation of TCQ.

    • No news organization is responsible for any of the content or policies on this website.

    TCQ and the “rinairs” standard reflect an amalgamation of industry-wide policies, which is partly why — as it says in the rinairs brief — the Trust Checklist can be useful as an initial “screening filter” for photos submitted to news organizations by the public.

    But many news organizations have their own in-house standards, which may vary in strictness and detail from TCQ’s policies (as well as variances in application and enforcement; see for example “B” on this page).

  • 765. Why does TCQ require that all combined exposures be recorded within the same single minute? Why not some other length of time?

    Because one minute is the shortest “universally familiar time unit” that covers how long it takes for hundreds of millions of smartphones to combine exposures.

    See FAQ #1506.

  • Category 10: “Light”-related changes

  • 781. Why does TCQ distinguish between changes to “light”-related aspects of photos vs. changes to non-“light”-related aspects?

    Because the two aspects behave very differently, in ways that affect viewer trust.

    For more, see the background page on light.

  • 782. Why doesn’t TCQ limit how extensively post-exposure “light”-related aspects can changed be in a TCQ photograph?

    Because TCQ is about “what the camera saw” (see the Trust page). When it comes to tones and colors, “what the camera recorded” can be pretty far from “what the camera saw.”

    In other words, some photographs need extensive “light”-related corrections in order to meet Q7.

    The most extreme corrections are the complete inversion of all tones and colors, an action that is necessary when a photograph is recorded on “negative” photographic film, as billions of photographs have been.

    When discussing allowable “light”-related changes in TCQ photographs, what matters is not the nature or degree of the change but whether the result meets Q7.

    See also #10 of TCQ’s Allowable Changes and see the FAQ on light.

  • 783. Do TCQ photographers have to be more careful than other photographers are about finding perfect exposure settings?


    The automatic settings of most cameras and devices will instantly deliver a TCQ-qualified photograph in most situations most of the time.

    (That is assuming that no special effects are turned on like added “bokeh” blur; see FAQ #1208-1213.)

  • 784. It is not always possible to depict well both the lightest and darkest parts of a scene, especially in a single-exposure photograph. Does TCQ allow for the limited dynamic range of photographs compared to the human eye?

    Yes, of course TCQ allows for the limits of photographs’ dynamic range.


  • 785. So “blown highlights” and “inky shadow areas” don’t disqualify a photograph from TCQ?

    They do not automatically disqualify photographs from TCQ, but they can when their lightness or darkness has been selectively exaggerated compared to contrast levels in other areas of the photograph.

    As explained in the answer to #784, it is often impossible to depict in a single photograph the brightest and darkest parts of a scene.

    That’s why TCQ photographers have some leeway in how they depict contrasty scenes (photographs depicting silhouettes or blown-out skies, for example, routinely qualify as TCQ).

    But a photograph can fail to meet rinairs — and thus fail to meet Q7, and thus be disqualified from the “Guaranteed TCQ” label — when the local lightening or darkening of select areas results in removing the depiction of things that would be visible if the same contrast levels were applied across the entire photograph.

    See also the Key entry on highlight detail and shadow detail.

  • 786. What about tonal rendering when converting colors to grayscale?

    When converting a color photograph to grayscale, darker colors obviously have to be rendered with darker gray tones and lighter colors with lighter gray tones.

    To reverse the tonality of a photograph is to disqualify the result from Q7.

    When two colors render equally in grayscale (red apples in a green bowl, for example, or green apples in a red bowl) most editors applying rinairs would expect grayscale versions of the image to undergo non-radical tonal variations that help distinguish the apples from the bowl.

    By the same token, a photograph would be disqualified by Q7 if the conversion to grayscale were used to eliminate the depiction of forms and shapes.

    An example of this would be if the color sliders were adjusted during a grayscale conversion to make some graffiti the exact same tonality as the colored wall on which it was painted, thereby rendering the graffiti invisible in the grayscale version.

    See #801 for more on black-and-white/monochrome photographs


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