There’s been a large debate in the travel blogging sphere of what we should do about photo manipulation and whether or not we as travel influencers should employ it when we post about our journeys. As the internet usually makes things, it seemed to come down the idea of whether images that are manipulated are really truthful to what a culture and place is like.
The blogger who has received the most flack lately is Amelia Liana, who seems to have taken the World Trade Center building out of pictures of the New York City skyline, erased tourists and local Indians from the Taj Mahal, and stoutly defended herself and why she went to the effort to make these already sought-after destinations more photo-worthy:
“I would never wish to deceive you, and so I have established these principles and shared them with you, so that you understand that I am striving for authenticity as well as giving you imagery that is stylish, progressive, and inspiring.”
In theory, I see nothing wrong with photo manipulation. We all have times where we choose to crop out fellow travelers from our photos, and where we know the lighting wasn’t great and easily fixable. I’ve had gunk on my lens, have cropped some photos to work better with various platforms, and played around with settings on my camera to get the right shot.
But I do understand where the anger is coming from and why this has been such a huge issue on the internet. I’ve talked about traveling authentically before and how as a travel blogger, it’s important to be honest with readers about what’s going on. After so many years of escapism through social media, it seems things have been turned around and influencers have had to find new ways to appeal to followers.
Being straightforward about what traveling to these countries is like and the ethical concerns involved is important. While most of probably know that the Taj Mahal is jam-packed or that the World Trade Center Building dominates the city’s skyline, it’s the idea that you are manipulating a place that everyone shares (and not just an image of yourself) that has made people angry.
Personally, I find it hard to manipulate my photos. Even on my Instagram page, I don’t use filters because most the places I visit really are that beautiful—they don’t need all the extra technology in order to make them look worthy of visiting. I never did get a good picture of the Mona Lisa since there were too many people who were trying to take a photo alongside me. But that was all part of the experience. By photo-shopping other tourists or locals out, you are giving an inaccurate representation of what a place truly is.
Good photos take time and effort, and I love seeing beautiful pictures of new and favorite destinations as much as the next person. But the focus of travel shouldn’t be visiting a place because of the photo—but maybe in spite of it.
The anger directed at Liana might have been a little strong, and she was doing what she could to inspire her followers to travel. However, I understand the sentiment that many were feeling. Life is gritty and imperfect and travel is too. Showing all of it, including the bad parts as well as the good, is really what we should be doing as travel bloggers. It’s not always easy, but neither is choosing to really expose yourself as a traveler in the first place.
Have you ever manipulated a travel photo?