20 questions and answers

  • 1. I personally don’t think that photographs are objective “facts,” and I don’t agree with the old adage that “Photographs never lie.”

    So why should I look at TCQ?

    Because TCQ shares your views! TCQ is built on 21st-century attitudes toward photographs, not on outdated thinking from the past.

    In the 19th and 20th century, many people believed that photographs were either (1) objective “facts” or (2) contrived “fictions.”

    But in the 21st century, a new, third attitude toward photographs is dominant: each photograph is regarded as one photographer’s personal interpretation, a unique record that in many cases can be plenty trustworthy.

    TCQ embraces this 21st-century “photographs as records” approach, asserting that no photographs are “objective facts,” that all photographs are “subjective,” and that lots of photographs lie.

    All of these themes are explored at length on this website, especially in this brief and in FAQ #2

  • 2. Why would photographers bother to use the “Guaranteed TCQ” label on their photographs?

    Because viewers are often curious (Why?) about whether a “Wow” photo has been doctored, especially when it’s not a news photo.

    For their part, photographers often want to let viewers know (Why?) when a “Wow” photo has not been doctored, especially when it’s not a news photo.*

    The simple “Guaranteed TCQ” label lets photographers tell viewers 9 things about a photograph (including that it has not been doctored).

    *Any photographer can choose to optimize trustworthiness, but no non-news photographer is ever obligated to do so. More on “every photographer’s choice”

  • 3. Doctored photos have been around since photography was invented. Why label photos now when they never were labeled before?

    Because undetectably doctored photographs were very rare before the digital age but are routine now. (“Detectability” is the big difference.)

    Thanks to digital tools for performing even major manipulations without detection, the trust equation has been reversed:

    • Back in the “film” photography era, it was easy for photographers to win viewers’ trust, because the public knew how hard it was to doctor film photographs without detection.

    • But in the “digital” photography era, it is hard for photographers to win viewers’ trust, because the public knows how easy it is to doctor digital photographs without detection.

    (Because digital technology is so good at making things appear to be something they are not, in the 21st century — for the first time in history — humans will have to teach themselves not to reflexively believe their eyes.)

  • 4. What does TCQ have that no one else has?

    The Trust Checklist.

    There is nothing like it anywhere in the photography world.

    The Trust Checklist is designed to serve as a blueprint for photography’s future.

  • 5. What’s the most important step in making trusted photographs?

    “Show viewers an undoctored record of what the camera saw...

    “. . . and NOT a photo that has been doctored to depict what the photographer wishes the camera had seen.” More

    • Needless to say, photos depicting “what the camera saw” can still be untrustworthy! That’s why there’s Q8.

    Oftentimes in photography “appearance” is more important than “trustworthiness.” TCQ was never intended for those kinds of photos; see #19 below.

  • 6. What will newcomers find most surprising about TCQ?

    The realization that “Photography isn’t just about ‘how the photo looks’ anymore.”

    That new reality reflects the biggest change in the history of photography — and yet many photographers aren’t even aware of it. More

    The implications of that “new reality” — discussed throughout this website — may be quite surprising to newcomers.

    For example, there can be situations when two photographs look identical but are treated very differently from each other by viewers.

  • 7. Why was TCQ created?

    TCQ was created for photography’s future.

    TCQ is a resolution of the photography world’s 40-year search for the “Holy Grail”

    that is, the quest for a confident response to the ever-increasing public skepticism about photographs in the digital age.

    More on “Why there is TCQ”

    That public skepticism will only grow in the future as billions of people learn firsthand — from the smartphone in their pocket — how easy it is to doctor photographs without detection by viewers.

    At the same time, news organizations will increasingly publish photographs taken by ordinary citizens with smartphones.

    All of these factors mean that the issue of “Which images can be trusted?” will be a worldwide concern in the 21st century.

    Why it matters: Photography is now the world’s most universal language (#201)

  • 8. Who is TCQ for?

    TCQ can be helpful on some level for almost everyone, from publishers and content-providers to photographers to photo-contest sponsors to the photo-hungry public to online photo commentators (including vloggers and bloggers).

    TCQ’s Trust Checklist was designed to be a universal standard a timeless benchmark that can serve as a helpful tool in countless different contexts.

    Putting TCQ to real-world use

  • 9. What kinds of photos is TCQ for?

    TCQ is for any situation in which the photographer wants to reassure the viewer that the photograph was not doctored.

    Viewers actually are more likely to ask about doctoring when they see “Wow” photos outside of news settings.

    That’s why TCQ is well-suited to many different kinds of “non-news” subjects, from nature and wildlife to landscapes and cityscapes to adventure and travel to sports to documentary to street photography.

    View a variety of excellent photos that would qualify as TCQ

    But TCQ can also serve as a protective shield for news and information providers, who are increasingly vulnerable to “reputation damage” should they unknowingly publish doctored photos (see “TCQ could become your new BFF” in #1 here).

    TCQ was never intended to suit every kind of photograph or every photographer; see #19

  • 10. Can I make “Guaranteed TCQ” photos with my smartphone?

    Yes! A smartphone camera is actually the easiest way to instantly take TCQ photos. Just take a normal photo, don’t add any effects, leave it as is, and it will usually qualify as TCQ.

    Literally hundreds of millions of TCQ-qualified photos are snapped on smartphones around the world every day.

    The 5 simple steps to making a TCQ photograph

    Of course, photographers can’t perform “any manipulations they want” to a photograph and expect viewers to trust it.

    That’s why the Trust Checklist spells out what can (and what cannot) be done to a photograph without reducing viewers’ trust.

  • 11. Why create a label for a kind of photograph of which there are “hundreds of millions” of examples made every day?

    The reality is that viewers of billions of friends’ snapshots aren’t usually very concerned with how much they can “trust” what they’re seeing.

    The “Guaranteed TCQ” label is only going to be attached to very few of the photos that actually qualify for the label. It’s ideal for images that are so striking that they cause viewers to ask whether they can believe their eyes.

    TCQ reflects a challenge for photographers

    Labeling is not the only use of TCQ

  • 12. Who can put the “Guaranteed TCQ” label on their photos? Which photos do they label?

    Anyone anywhere anytime, at any skill level, can attach the “Guaranteed TCQ” label to any of their own photos they want, without any approval required from anybody.

    All they have to do is attach to their photo their own name (or personal URL) along with the 2-word label “Guaranteed TCQ” when they want to publicly guarantee that the photo fully meets the Trust Checklist.

  • 13. Cost? Registration? Logins? Permission?

    All are non-issues.

    TCQ is a principle, not a product, so — just as with the “Nonfiction” label on books—

    • TCQ is always freely available to all. There is NEVER any cost or fee for using any aspect of TCQ, not for anyone anywhere anytime.

    • There is never any logging in, signing up, registration, licensing, certification, approval, or permission involved in using any aspect of TCQ.

    Anyone can call any photo TCQ

    • Use of TCQ is always completely voluntary and optional. Since the “Guaranteed TCQ” label is credibly applied only to one’s own photographs and never to someone else’s, photographers who have no need for TCQ can just ignore it.

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

  • 14. Where does the “Guaranteed TCQ” go? How big should it be? What names can photographers use for themselves?

    • Both the “Guaranteed TCQ” label and the photographer’s name (or personal URL) can be in any font, color, size, and location, typically “near” the photograph but not “on” it.

    • The label and the photographer’s name/URL need not be with each other.

    • TCQ photographers will want to make their name/URL easy to find, because viewers are told to ignore the “Guaranteed TCQ” label if they can’t quickly identify the photographer making the guarantee.

    • TCQ photographers can use whatever name for themselves that they want. It is in every TCQ photographer’s interest to use a name that is not exactly like that of any other photographer, which is why a personal URL can be a promising option.

    More on how to label “Guaranteed TCQ” photos

    • When someone publishes someone else’s photograph that has “Guaranteed TCQ” label, they simply identify the photographer who is staking his or her reputation on that guarantee.

    More on publishing others’ TCQ-labeled photos

  • 15. What’s to keep unqualified photographs on social media from being labeled as “Guaranteed TCQ”?

    Nothing at all! But one of the goals of TCQ is to help the public think about one of the great questions of the 21st century—

    “Which information sources can be trusted?”

    . . . and seeing “untrustworthy” images labeled as being “trustworthy” will help clarify how much people should trust what they see in various contexts — including social media.

    (Of course, millions of trustworthy photos are posted on social media every day; even the most-trusted news organizations rely on social media.)

    TCQ photographers who are concerned about how much their photos are trusted — but who value the “visibility” advantages of social media — can post their photos both on social media and in additional places that have more “accountability” (for more on this, see here and here).

  • 16. Where does TCQ draw the line on manipulation?

    It’s very simple: “Light” is the root of all photography, so TCQ uses the behavior of light to “draw the line” on manipulation.


  • 17. Does this website judge which “Guaranteed TCQ”-labeled photos actually meet the Trust Checklist and which do not?

    No, never! This website is solely an information source — never a judge.

    As with the “Nonfiction” label on books, only the creator of each photograph can do that judging, with input from peers, editors, and viewers as warranted (online photo commentators may also choose to comment).

    TCQ uses a “bottom-up” model, not a “top-down” model.

    That means that no one anywhere — and no organization — ever has a “police” or “watchdog” role over photographers’ decisions regarding the “Guaranteed TCQ” label.

  • 18. What about photos that aren’t “doctored” but can be deceptive, like a zoo animal that looks like it was photographed in the wild, or a set-up scene that looks like it was spontaneous?

    No photograph can qualify for the “Guaranteed TCQ” label if it is deceptive about the circumstances behind its creation.

    That’s why TCQ makes it easy for photographers to alert viewers about photos that don’t depict what they appear to depict.

    Whenever viewers might be deceived by “inapparent circumstances” in the making of the photo, the TCQ photographer simply adds an “IC” to the “Guaranteed TCQ” label, so that it says “Guaranteed TCQ/IC”.

    (Viewers can be pointed to further explanation nearby with a * after the IC.)

    All of this is covered by Qualification #8 of the Trust Checklist.

  • 19. What kinds of photos will not be labeled “Guaranteed TCQ”?

    Any photos in areas of the photography world where “appearance” is more important than “trustworthiness.”

    The “Guaranteed TCQ” label will regularly be deemed “not applicable” for two huge groups of photographs (many photos fall into both groups):

    GROUP 1:
    Photos presented in contexts where viewers won’t expect to see the label because those contexts openly emphasize “appearance” more than “trustworthiness” (social media, marketing, advertising, stock photography)

    GROUP 2:
    Photos of types that in the 21st century are usually recorded and manipulated in ways that keep them from meeting the Trust Checklist (studio work of all kinds, panoramics, portraits, fashion, food, product, and architectural/ interior photographs)

    To take just one example of Group 2, TCQ isn’t suited to most portraiture: TCQ doesn’t let your smartphone camera add “bokeh blur,” nor can you apply your smartphone’s lighting effects, nor can you smooth the portrait subject’s skin, nor can you remove depictions of things on their skin like wrinkles, blemishes, freckles, tattoos, and moles....

    (Showing “what the camera saw” — see #5 above on this page — clearly means showing what the camera saw!)

    TCQ was never intended to apply to every photographer or every photograph — but any photographers who see that TCQ doesn’t apply to their own work can easily ignore it.

    See this brief on the choice photographers often must make between optimizing “trustworthiness” vs. optimizing “appearance.”

  • 20. Won’t all of the amazing new ways of changing photographs after they are recorded make TCQ obsolete?

    No, there’s no chance of that happening.

    TCQ photographs are left essentially as recorded, so most of those flashy new ways of changing photographs after they are recorded will not affect TCQ at all.

    There is no question that in the years ahead smartphones will offer amazing new ways of “augmenting reality” in photographs after the photos are recorded.

    But even the most gee-whiz ways of manipulating photos after they are taken will never eclipse the timelessness of the authentic, undoctored image, examples of which are widely cherished and can be preserved, unchanged, for centuries.

    It always has been, and always will be, about human seeing.

    From ancient cave paintings created thousands of years ago to an unforgettable photograph that will be recorded somewhere on the planet tomorrow afternoon, humankind will always celebrate “the undoctored record of what one person saw, in one small corner of the world, at one unrepeatable moment in time.”

    That is the essence of TCQ.


What should I read next?

This website is a bit like Wikipedia: in order to be encylopedic in scope it has many, many pages that may not be of any interest to you personally — but a few select pages can be highly relevant to your needs.

The menu is in the upper left,
so you can look around
based on your personal interests.











“Photoshop” is a registered
trademark of Adobe Systems Inc.