Travel Photo Manipulation: Please Stop Doing It

travel photo manipulation

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?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


  1. littlehousebytheferry

    There’s a difference (I think) between “tidying” up a photo – straightening the horizon, cropping the image or Photoshopping out dust on the lens, versus altering the actual image by removing (or adding!) people, buildings, etc. To me, the first is simply”polishing” the photo using the available tools, and I do it all the time! The latter seems more dishonest somehow. I suppose it depends on the purpose of the photo. If it’s meant to be used in a more artistic setting, then edit away. But if it’s meant for use within the context of a travel blog, and it’s somewhere others are likely to go or have been, what’s the point? Everyone will know you’ve altered the image and wonder why you felt the need to manipulate it. Just my two cents. 🙂

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  2. Katherine

    Everybody’s pictures are doctored nowadays. There’s so many tourists everywhere that it’s common to remove people and other objects in photos. I think Amelia’s case is on the extreme side because she uses old photos and superimposes her picture on them (based on what I read from “experts”); it may be misleading to readers. That hotel room photo, what if others have booked in the same hotel and found that there isn’t a view of the river? So in essence I think editing photos is fine, but travel bloggers have to step more carefully in this area to avoid misrepresentation and misleading readers.

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      Alex Schnee

      I’m with you. There’s a difference in editing and totally misleading readers or viewers about a place and what it is like. Also, it’s not always a realistic portrayal of what travel is, which is not fair for those who might be wondering about whether they should or not.

      Thanks for your comment and I agree. 🙂

  3. thatanxioustraveller

    I agree that there’s a line between polishing and deception – the most I’ve ever done is to edit out a sign that looked untidy, and to adjust the curves a little – if there’s something that requires a drastic edit, then the photo becomes a lie. To me, the whole point of travel blogging is to accurately depict somewhere, and to doctor the photos in an extreme way seems to be more in the spirit of “give my blog more likes and follows than my competitors!” rather than the spirit of travel.

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      Alex Schnee

      You’re so right on the “likes” game. Unfortunately, it tends to be the travel influencers with the most likes that receive the perks–fancy hotels, press trips, and more. That’s all fine and I’m not much into that anyway, but I think it’s more important to be real with readers about the unsaid benefits of traveling.

      Thanks for your wonderful comment (as always)!

      1. thatanxioustraveller

        I agree completely. I get frustrated at some of the travel influencers on Instagram in particular; it always seems like the travel itself becomes a mere backdrop to selling some fashion product, or convincing people how fabulous your life is in order to get more products. That doesn’t inspire me at all, other than to not travel like that! I’d rather read about what a place is like, how life is for the people who live there, etc. (I may need to write a blog piece about this at some point and get it out of my system, lol :D)

        Aw, thank you! And thank you for a wonderful article as always! 🙂

  4. Sophie B.

    I agree with thatanxioustraveler, when we talk about traveling and we share our experiences, we should show the truth. I see no point in removing people from pictures because the picture actually reflects the situation.
    Almost everyone today uses Photoshop or other programs to edit their pictures. We should all keep in mind that we are all human beings and not robots, we should all know that people are not always perfectly in shape, that our skin is not always very clear and that we are not the only one who is traveling.

    If you are interested, click at the link to my blog:
    I was in NYC two years ago and I was taking a picture of the street when suddenly a random stranger “bombed” my photo, I did not remove him, I thought it was funny.

    Thank you for sharing this blogpost with us!

  5. Saint Facetious

    I was typing this just now and writing that we’ve an obligation to show the true sides of things and blabbing about honor or whatever. But then so do journalists, and they hardly ever not sensationalize things. Blogging isn’t journalism, and to a level, it can be art. Everything is art. People can photoshop themselves onto Mars and make a blog around that. Why not? I think it depends on the intention of the blogger, how much fantasy they want to go into versus reality, and how much are the readers aware of it. If this Emilia or whoever was straightforward about her editing, then all power to her. It’s trickery, or deception, that’s the line.

    Myself, I do err towards honesty. I’d never remove someone, only adjust framing or saturation, or make it black and white.

  6. theflyjetsetter

    I have a love/hate relationship with instagram for this very reason. I love it because I’ve been able to discover so many new places to visit, but some of those places have also been very underwhelming and unrealistic due to all the photoshop and manipulation. I understand a few simple retouches (lighting, straighten, etc) but some people take it too far, inserting stuff especially is a no-no.

  7. Pingback: 3 Ways You Don’t Know You’re Hurting a Culture When You Travel – The Wayfaring Voyager

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