The perception of quality. In general the standard of what is high quality is based on majority rules and thinks as an overall society either nation or world majority. If everyone thinks X product/service, etc. is great and thinks another X product/service, etc. is bad it is the decision of society overall to decide this. As this pertaining to photography is a bit different as photography is an art medium and is extremely subjective to each individual.
The Set Standards for Photography
Not all industries are like the photography industry. The standards are set by the people viewing it ultimately but the people viewing imagery most are those deciding what goes on the covers and inside of popular print magazines or popular magazine websites. This person(s) would be a Photo Editor or Editor in Chief of that publication. They have trained their eye and knowledge knowing their target markets more than anyone for their product, which is their magazine(s). But it is not just 1 publication deciding this standard. The standard is set by all or most of the popular print/web magazines saying X image works for them and most imagery are different in these magazines as most magazines have different markets (with some similar and competing each other). As well most of the certain aspects of the imagery is similar because it has a set standard decided by the print publications, but as mentioned already that decision made by the print publication is based on the knowledge of knowing their audiences.
Style vs. Quality
Each photographer has their unique style. Either as an artistic photographer or a photographer following trends of styles. There is no such thing as a photographer providing low quality imagery… unless you perceive quality as what is featured in print publications, and especially in most national advertising. Some photographers choose their own unique style as an artist. These photographers could not care less of public’s perception of quality as these photographers make art just like a painting artist, they create what they see and feel is their art 100% purely.
Other photographers, as most photographers are, do photography to aim for a style to “professional” and “high quality” which generally is the goal of making it look like the photography shown in popular print publications and national advertisement campaigns. Of course there are many photographers whom are building their eye, and photography skills to meet that look and feel, some can, and some cannot or simply could not care less and do their own style weather the populace likes it or not.
Generally, when a photographer that has goals to “make it big” such as being featured in major print publications they know and understand they have to follow the trends of what these publications like so the styles may need to be duplicated from what is featured in these publications if that is their primary goal in their photography career. I am one example as this is my goal, to be featured in major print publications and not because I could not care less about the art, its a choice of running a business with great photography by following the trends of the market demands or being an artist. I won’t say you cannot be both but generally speaking you cannot be both, if you’re pursuing this type of goal you have to follow the trends weather you like it or not even if it violates your artistic style. You can do both unless both won’t be at 100% entirely focused at the same time. I do some art photography work time to time but its on the bottom of the barrel, at least for me and at this point in time. Who knows I may or would be able to fully concentrate only on my artistic photography.
So, in conclusion…
The decider of quality standards are publication photo editors or/and editor in chiefs, but ultimately it is the people/audiences of those buying the magazines or viewing their websites. People in general will look that type of photography as high quality because that general style is just about everywhere, especially in nationalized publications and advertising campaigns because most people love the style and standardization.
The World’s Standardization non-existent in local content creators.
In some cases in certain areas where an entire region, city, or state that style and standardization does not exist much for localized publications and advertising campaigns, and heck at times overall content creators. Plain and simply because the ones deciding what is standardization and sometimes either intentionally ignore the world’s overall standardization or simply know they cannot afford to provide that standardization. Generally speaking the world’s standardization of what is considered professional and high quality imagery is costly, much more costly than the average professional photographer’s that do not yet have the standardization set or simply could not care about the standardization. But the photographers who know and mastered the world’s standardization can demand a higher price tag as it is not as easy to perform and provide that level of quality. As well, the decider is very likely untrained in what is the standardization in imagery and what is accepted world wide of what is considered professional high quality imagery, which is generally the case, it is not easy to develop an eye for the standardization.