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  • Writer's pictureGuillaume Cachia

Beware of Fake Travel Photography

How hard is it to get the right expectations ahead of traveling to a new place?

Can you spot the difference?

Two pictures taken at the exact same spot by two different travelers: one is real (although edited slightly to have a better coloring) and one is fake. Can you spot which one is fake?

Wouldn’t you be disappointed if you made a point to get to that exact spot during your upcoming trip only to realize that the mountain is much smaller and in the far background? It is nonetheless a superb viewpoint, but the added discrepancy between expectations and reality is detrimental to your travel experience!

It’s all around us. Travel magazines, famous travel influencers, social media platforms and more. We can’t escape it anymore and it is exactly why we need to be able to filter the real from the fake, the right from wrong.

And here's what it is supposed to look like:

This one is tricky because it is not obvious right away, but look at the size of Mt. Fuji in Japan and the size of the town below. There are some clear discrepancies. The editor layered two shots together (one of the pagoda in the foreground) and then removed the real background and replaced it with the same background but taken much closer to the town, making the mountain seem larger and much closer than it is in reality. Both beautiful pictures but one of them does not lie and will not set unrealistic expectations of your travel experience!

Advertising has always used this trick and continues to do so today. Outside of the occasional outrage, we are accustomed to it and know (most of the time) a trap when we see one. But is a fabricated version of the truth still the truth? Well, when it comes to travel photography – there is only ONE version of the truth and it is what one sees while staring at a landmark or landscape.

This one is probably the most telling and the most upsetting because of how unashamedly the respective influencers chose to increase the size of the mountain in the background. As more influencers are “influenced” to go, their audiences expect nothing less than grandiose. Therefore it becomes a vicious cycle as these individuals blur the reality of our expectations.

The first picture is the reality shot (although do keep in mind all of them use a mirror for the reflection), with a background mountain, a bit off-centered and quite far in the distance. The second picture is definitely fake (although beautiful) based on the comparison to the real photograph with a much larger mountain in the background and the use of fog and clouds to cover up (you can also clearly see that the reflection in the water is fake as well).

Finally, the third picture follows the same footstep as the second one but decided to go a step further and make it the tallest free-standing mountain on earth! Despite being beautiful, this shot should in no circumstance be an inspiration for future travel.

There are three modifications that lead to fake travel photography:

  1. Heavy filters and fake elements like birds, snow, clouds, or the sky color

  2. Substantial modifications to existing landscapes such as adding mountains that don’t exist, changing the perspective on a specific aspect of the photo to make it seem larger, closer etc.

  3. Completely surreal, fantasy-like editing of photos and landmarks

It is easy to spot the third one and the first is quite unharmful (unless it becomes an eye-sore!). But the second one is often made to perfection and subtle enough that one could believe they will be able to experience the same view, hence influencing people to travel to these other-worldly places using fake travel photography.

These practices follow in the footsteps of too-good-to-be-true products (e.g. weight-loss teas) and persuade people to follow a dream or expectation that will never come to fruition. The only benefactor is the perpetrator. In the case of fake travel photography, the gains could be new followers, more engagement, added publicity, or even paid opportunities for the “influencer.” In reality, all will end up in disappointment.

Having the right expectations of reality is increasingly difficult to gather and therefore making it a very important part of travel planning. Disappointments leave indelible marks on our travel memories, but the fact is that the world is truly an amazing and beautiful place already!

Make sure to trust your sources and take the pledge like we did at WandrHop to only share and use true representations of the world. We are here to sell you a dream but only a dream that can become your reality!

In these pictures, it is a little trickier to see the modification (similar to the Mt Fuji picture). The background has been slightly enlarged on the fake picture to make it seem even more imposing than it already is. A lot of pictures also include touching (and fake) storylines as they will increase the number of likes and followers.

I am all for storytelling through travel photography but only if it is genuine and not photoshopped. Notice the caption under the picture with two people holding hands...

Now look at that same couple standing by the edge and zoom in on their shadows – see something that does not add-up? The shadow of the man in the picture is two perfectly parallel lines. This exact picture is seen countless times all over Instagram (the three below are from @jordhammond) with sometimes a ballerina, sometimes a biker etc. to fit with whatever storyline they want you to “like.”

Another delicate part and the reason why fake travel photography is now booming, and misleading millions of travelers is the fact these photos are spreading like wildfire. Some are shared, reshared and often times found on reputable sites and Instagram pages such as BBC Travel and others.

Travel influencers today have a big enough platform to be able to change travel patterns of millions of people, who, more and more, are influenced by Instagram trending travel pictures! Quite a privilege for those influencers, a privilege that should come with responsibilities and an aim to transparently share their experiences abroad.

There is a very fine line between original photos, edited photos and completely fantastic-looking ones. Unfortunately, fake news is not just for news – and this is enabling many travel influencers to take advantage of their editing skills and promote impossible dreams to the masses!

So next time your favorite travel influencer posts a picture about a trip that seems a little too beautiful to be true, make sure to double check Google Images before you splurge on the next flight to Iceland or Indonesia!

As a disclaimer, a lot of those fake pictures are marvelous to look at and they should be recognized as true works of art, liked and shared! But they should be sold to the audience as just that and not as a representation of a trip once taken.

Take the pledge and join WandrHop in the fight against fake travel photography and end this era of travel deceptions, as we get over the current pandemic and start traveling again. Let’s discover the world the way it truly is, in all its splendor, and stop chasing viewpoints that do not exist!

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