The classic way to prove a photograph is taken after a certain date is to use a recent newspaper, but what would be best for the opposite? I thought about a structure/building that's been demolished after the picture was taken, but it seems hard to go through with. Any ideas?

closed as off-topic by iphigenie, Hunan Rostomyan, virmaior, Thomas Klimpel, ChristopherE Mar 9 '14 at 22:34

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    Maybe you could add some information on why this is important to you? Is this an exercise or an example that you found? Why is that a philosophical question? – iphigenie Jan 7 '13 at 19:23
  • It's just a problem I've come up with watching TV shows in which kidnapped characters are often photographed in this manner, and I've just been pondering over it, and wanted to see some proper solutions. I apologize if this isn't the right place to post it, but it was the closest I could come on StackExchange with logic and all. – DarkLightA Jan 7 '13 at 19:40
  • I cannot comment. Your question belongs in the Photography section, I believe. – Keelan Jan 7 '13 at 19:53
  • Maybe take a picture of the stars on a landmark. – Koeng Jan 7 '13 at 20:16
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it has nothing to do with philosophy. – Hunan Rostomyan Feb 27 '14 at 21:19

I'd imagine it depends on how you define "simplest" and whether or not you know you need the proof when you're taking the picture, or if you're just attempting to date a photo that already exists.

For example, if I found a picture of someone standing next to Richard Nixon, I'd know the picture was taken before April 22, 1994.

On the other hand, if I wanted to take a picture of myself right now and prove that I'm taking this picture before January 8, 2013, you could do that to a large degree of accuracy by taking the photo in front of a public time-and-date-telling landmark, like the New York Stock Exchange or something. On the other hand, getting to New York may be kind of hard, even though the idea is in principle conceptually simple.


The cogency of photographic content for dating has never been high and has plunged in the digital era. No longer is a newspaper a slam-dunk. We cannot prove in a mathematical sense nor can a photograph ever be a single trusted source for a decision where the stakes are high enough e.g. a cause for war. At best a photograph will only be a part of a body of evidence to warrant a high level of certainty.

To take wmjbyatt's suggestion, a photograph that includes Nixon - it could be with a close look-a-like or at a wax-work-museum or against a blow-up poster or entirely fabricated digitally.

The best we can achieve are justifications that sufficiently rationalise the belief of the date of the photograph to an individual fit for a given context. The standard of the justification for a murder trial is clearly higher than that required to verify your friend ate a 2 ft. long hot-dog.

The simplest routes for personal belief:

  • You took the photo or were present - it corresponds with your own experience
  • It is corroborated by different sources - eye-witnesses or other physical evidence
  • It is consistent with other beliefs - people, environment and events
  • It is physically consistent - film stock was available, file, age or digital meta-data

If taking a photo to convince another then your simplest route would be to seek an independent 3rd party to be the source of the photograph with no motivation to manipulate the content. For example:

  • store's CCTV system
  • speed camera
  • police mug-shot
  • photojournalist
  • professional studio

The more interesting question is who are you planning to kidnap, and what will my cut be?!

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