Violated by photographers: travel in the world of colour corrections

I am not quite sure what came first: the tendency to enhance saturation and colour-correct your travel photos, or Instagram as means to disseminate this deadly disease.

I have been hearing about the addictiveness of Instagram for a while before I actually got to create my own account. Instagram was originally designed for people who prefer snapping photos of their food, feet, face, or bathroom window view with a camera phone, whose quality ranges from iPhone 6 to potato. Despite this, major brands in travel, tech and other industries now have Instagram accounts to interact with their followers, and the photos they post are obviously taken with a proper photographing device (I am trying to imagine what National Geographic would look like if all their staff used solely phone cameras). One of the main perks of Instagram is the ‘filters’ that give your camera phone photos a semi-professional look. Those filters, in brightness and saturation, vary from ‘stoned haze of Wes Anderson’s movies’ to ‘Exploded unicorn uterus’, and are designed to get your photographs as far away from reality as it is humanly possible.

Anyway, I am sure Instagram will bring me more joy and laughs while I am exploring the world of modern travel blogging and social media sharing. Instagram in travel blogging is like ancient cave paintings – for people who are too lazy (or cannot) read but still want to follow your stories from around the world. There is nothing wrong with this: some people are just better at perceiving visual content than written or spoken word.

One thing that keeps me wondering, however, is when will the travel media get over extreme colour corrections. A recent spike of buzzfeed-style articles about how great it is to live in Istanbul and travel around Turkey (duh!) caused some stir on my friend feed, and floating above the text as a header I inevitably saw a picture of the Blue Mosque, as blue as Jennifer Lawrence in ‘X-Men’.

Now, for those of you who have never been to Istanbul: you should definitely go. But for the love of reason, the Blue Mosque is not blue.

‘Why not blue?’ the owner of a travel agency frowns at the poor photographer, a print of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque lying between them on the table.
’T-t-the sun was at a bad angle,’ the photographer mumbles.
‘We want blue,’ the agent shrieks. ‘Blue Mosque be blue!’

The Blue Mosque is, indeed, an astoundingly beautiful building. I love it much more than the neighbouring Hagia Sofia, and remember countless walks I took in the inner yard of the Blue Mosque with my CouchSurfers or random visitors. The real name of it is actually Sultanahmet Mosque, but it is often referred to as ‘blue’ because of the interior decorations one can see if they wander inside the mosque. The exterior walls, the minarets, the pointy roofs – are all made of gray stone. However, many photoshop addicts view this name as a pretext to enhance the colors of their photos to an extent that even Avatar creators would be blinded.

Istanbul, Turkey
A different mosque, and nope, still not blue in real life
The Blue Mosque at dusk
Blue mosque blue sky blue water
Blue pink yellow who needs more colours

Another place that gets Photoshop/Instagram-raped too often is Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein castle. I cannot argue that it is a magically beautiful and picture-perfect place, like no other European castle. But some photos you come across online would give Disney a heart attack.

I just pooped rainbow

My beloved Ireland certainly gets a lot of Instagram violation, with everyone feeling obliged to contribute their 5 cents to the name ‘Emerald isle’. I mean, Ireland is really the greenest place I’ve ever been to, but maybe we should not raise the expectations of inexperienced readers too much, because then they arrive to Dublin airport and come face-to-face with the showers of cold pissing rain and other shite – Ireland has that, too. You should know that in Irish language, there is actually one adjective, glas, that describes ‘blue’, ‘green’ and ‘gray’, which is perhaps a testimony of how confused ancient people were about Ireland’s ever-changing weather and colour palette.

I can’t tell if it’s a photo or a picture, but nope, that’s not what the town looks like in real life

Instagram accounts for Irish tourism basically all have a liking for acidic green colour (in Irish, ‘uaine’): https://instagram.com/ireland_gram/, https://instagram.com/tourismireland/

Dozens of other travel sites, such as Angkor Wat, Coliseum, Bagan, Cappadocia, all get colour-raped by amateur travel photographers who seek new ways to make their photos stand out among millions of other snapshots of these places in the endless archives of the internet.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe filtering your photographs with crazy colors and posing them as real is what makes you happy. Indeed, the brighter your pictures are, the more social media followers get hooked on the visual perfection of your travel life. Travel agencies, of course, use the unrealistic portraits of their destinations as a bait for unsuspecting tourists. It is much like with celebrity magazines: they set extremely high standards of ‘beauty’ for their readers, while in fact, colour and shape corrections leave almost nothing natural of the person’s real look.

I’m not saying that everyone should just upload travel pictures as they are, without as much as a Lightroom editing (that would be fairly horrible). After all, travel photography and post-editing is a steep learning curve. But when it comes to blogging, we probably should be honest. Blue Mosque is not blue, no matter what angle and lighting you choose. Ireland’s hills are not the colour of leprechaun’s ass. They are beautiful just as they are, in the imperfect light of our Earthly Sun.

Header image: one awesome graffiti from the alleyways of Istanbul. Artist, please get in touch to be credited.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. rlishman84 says:

    Ha, an interesting topic! I have to admit that I’m guilty of doing a bit of editing in IPhoto but never usually the colour – I seem to spend much of my time cropping unwanted people out of the corners! It’s a conundrum that most professional photographers must face – I guess they need to make the place seem as ‘appealing’ as possible to sell their wares. Although personally, I think it’s very obvious when pics have been doctored beyond all reality (As you say)

    1. Hey thanks for the comment!
      We are all guilty of it. The funny thing, as I see from my instagram, colour-corrected photos gather way more likes than naturally looking ones.
      A little bit of editing is always necessary, and practice is the best way to learn how to turn mediocre potato photos into something contest-worthy. But when ot comes to obviously unnatural photos with purple skiea and orange fields, I cannot help but thinking: “How stupid do you think your reader is to believe that this is what the place looks like?”

  2. It is so refreshing to hear a traveler bring up this topic. Like you, I feel like is an indication of something deeper, that people mostly prefer something artificially beautiful rather than imperfect and genuine. I don’t understand the draw. And is collecting fake photos really the reason we travel?

    Thanks for your post and your blog. Its cool to see your journey towards something so awesome. I feel like I am in the same place, trying to find a way to support my self while I travel. I am hoping it will eventually be my blog, but who knows.

    Here’s to the wanderers’ spirit!

    1. Hi Heather, thanks for the comment!
      I mainly wrote this after seeing way too many photos of my beloved places absolutely colour-raped by photoshoppers and instagrammers. Istanbul, Ireland, Iceland (why do they all start with ‘I’?..) True, it’s an attempt to create something artificially pretty and shallow rather than accept the fact that nothing looks as good on the picture as it is in real life. Simply because pictures have but two dimensions, while the real spirit of the place is transmitted to all our senses: through sounds, smells, colours, the length of the road we had to walk to get here.

  3. I remember looking at my pictures of the sunrise at the Angkor Wat and thinking – ‘why no crazy colours in the sky!’ (mine were a bunch of regular sunrise-in-background-temple towers-in-foreground, without the fantastical technicolour skies in everything I had seen on social media before).

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