More on FAQ #521

“The more impressive a photograph looks, the more likely viewers are to assume that it is doctored.”

521. Why does the public in the age of Photoshop increasingly assume that impressive photographs have been “Doctored unless labeled otherwise”?

Because people expect that a “non-news” photographer will improve a photograph’s appearance in every possible way that cannot be detected by viewers.

That expectation is nothing new:

For almost 200 years viewers have assumed that “impressive photographs put before the public” have been enhanced in every way possible that doesn’t make the photo look less convincing.

It’s the capabilities that are new:

Back in the film era (19th and 20th centuries), it was very difficult to doctor a photograph without detection.

But now, in the digital era, photographers suddenly have many toolboxes full of ways to doctor photographs without viewer detection. (See for example #209.)

It is not unreasonable for any viewer to assume that if a photographer can doctor a “non-news” photograph to make it look more impressive — without viewers’ knowledge and without any negative consequences — then the photographer is usually going to do so.

Outside of “news” settings, the more impressive a photograph looks, the more likely viewers are to assume that it is doctored.

TCQ’s definitions of “undoctored” and “doctored”

TCQ helps to “level the playing field” (see #5 here) between photographers who optimize “appearance” (by doctoring photos) vs. photographers who optimize “trustworthiness” (by not doctoring photos).

This brief deals with the “appearance vs. trustworthiness” choice that 21st-century photographers often have to make.