The reality of travel photographs

Travel has become so mainstream that often it is mistaken for clicking several photographs and then posting them on social media. I know, I am one of the culprits. But do we know that these photos come with a cost that we are knowingly unknowingly ignoring during our quest to get likes and followers on Instagram, no we don’t.

Last week, three influecners from High on life died while trying to ascend up to a waterfall. The members of this famous influencer team were prosecuted and fined for venturing into protected zones, including the restricted areas of Yellowstone National Park. Travel photographs may look fancy, but you may not know what is happening behind the scenes.

Travel photographs have a dark reality that hide behind Instagram filters. Human life, privacy, laws of animal protection are often broken and given no regard.

While I was trekking in Valley of Flowers, a vlogger went too high on a waterfall, an area that was restricted but since it is India, there were no authorities to stop him from doing so. His foot slept and he came tumbling down, getting scratches on his face, arm and legs.

I will like to highlight some of the dark realities of travel photographs. In India, this has been a lot worse because of many reasons. But before that, I will like to highlight the fact that I am no better than these people so I am not trying to ridicule anyone. But if this post even makes a few people to photograph and travel responsibly then I will be really happy.

*Most of these pictures are taken by me, so I stand as guilty as anyone else*

Kila Raipur

Photograph – I will start with my own experience. I went to Kila Raipur twice in two years because of the amazing culture that the event displayed. I clicked a lot of photographs of the Nihangs and their martial art skills, Bhangra Dancers showing their moves and different sportsmen competing to win the prize money.

Reality – I clicked a lot of nice photographs, returned and finally this was the first piece that got published in print. While I earned from the piece, these poor performers who were clicked relentlessly by several other photographers present, didn’t receive anything. They went home after making the visitors happy. I kind of felt bad when I got paid.Next year, when I go there, I’ll try to donate something in my own capacity

Pushkar Camel Fair

Photograph – A beautifully decorated camel stands in the desert while the sun goes down behind him. The vibrant beauty and the mixture of multiple colors just increase the composition of this photo. There is another picture with a few camels walking in the desert while hot air balloons fly in the sky.


Reality – Camels are badly exploited during Pushkar Fair. It is almost pathetic to watch them in this condition. A photographer comes, hands a 100 rs note to the camel owner and asks him to position him according to the preferences. Not only this, but many photography groups who visit Pushkar, often surround the poor camel with their many cameras without any regard on how the animal would to feeling.

Triund Top, Mcleodganj

Photograph – A girl sits on a piece of rock. It seems that there a drop of several hundred feet if someone slips from there. The fog in front of her plays a game of hide and seek with the Dhauldhar Mountains and it seems that this is the most peaceful she’ll ever be.

Reality – Just next to the same piece of rock lays a huge pile of garbage left by tourists like her. Plastic bottles, chips, wafers and a lot more, just lie there. Thankfully, a local NGO is working their best to keep this place clean but visiting tourists just don’t understand.

Dolphin Show, Chennai

Photograph – A beautiful Dolphin pops out from a swimming pool looking right into a camera. In some pictures there are two of them. Tourists also get to click their pictures with these Dolphins for 500 rs per photo.

Reality – News of Dolphin abuse is not rare. They have to go through multiple shows that involves them jumping over hoops and dancing on the tunes of their instructor. When this is not enough, they invite tourists to get a pic clicked with them in order to get some extra money. The tourists, without any regard of these poor creatures, get them more tired in their quest to get a ‘cute’ photograph.


Photograph – A majestic tiger walks in all his glory, he looks at the jeep with the tourists and probably smirks and leaves. Without doubt, every shot of this tiger looks majestic.

Reality – The tiger just had his meal and was resting in a corner when a group of passing tourists spotted him. They started shouting, children began to cry, and the tiger was suddenly woken up from his slumber. Irritated, he walked away to a safe distance. Every jungle safari doesn’t only put the animals at risk but also invades their privacy. Imagine if someone walks by your home and makes so much noise just to get a picture of you. Will you let them do it? No, right!

Amer Fort

Photograph – A couple sits on the top of a majestic elephant. The photo has so much drama, emotions and a glorious backdrop of the fort. The picture looks so royal as if the kings and queens descended from the heaven to relive in the beauty of Amer one more time.


Reality – The elephants in Jaipur are tortured by their handlers. They have marks below their eyes, on the body, on the forehead, all this to control the animal and make them obedient when they don’t even belong here.

Ziro Village

Photograph – A picture displays a local Apatani Tribal lady with her face covered with tattoos, huge nose rings. The tattooed tribal ladies are the last of the remaining few so many photographers visit Ziro Valley to get a snap of them in their camera.

Reality – Apatani Tribals are treated like animals by the visitors from the cities. Like showpieces on display, these ladies are made to sit in their home or in the farms and asked to pose. The frail women have become a tourist attraction in the most inhumane way possible.

Leh Ladakh

Photograph –A group of bikers stand in unison on a road leading to one of the world’s highest lakes. The mighty Himalayan Mountains stand in the backdrop, while a vast, endless, cold desert stretches to a huge distance. Go Pro’s wide angle makes this photograph looks really vivid and dramatic. The bikers look badass.


Reality – You can imagine the amount of pollution that a single bike causes on its way from Delhi to the high passes of Ladakh. Bikes consume more fuel compared to cars, jeeps and buses. The noise of these heavy endurance bikes ruins the piece of the hills, disturbs animals and causes a parking problem in the villages. Ladakhis have often protested and demanded a regulations for this bike problem, but there has been no improvement so far.

Jama Masjid, New Delhi

Photograph – It is the day of Eid, thousands of Namazis have gathered in Jama Masjid Complex of Delhi to offer their prayers. In the photographs, the holy ritual being commenced looks really colourful and vibrant.

Reality – On the day of Eid, thousands of photographers from Delhi, visit Jama Masjid. They stand everywhere, on top of the minarets, the roofs, the complex and everywhere. Without giving slightest of regard to the people present there, they barge and bump into them, click their pictures without permission. As if they are animals at a zoo.

Gahirmatha, Odisha

Photograph – It is the month of February. A female Olive Ridley turtle is walking on the beach after laying her eggs. The photograph talks about nature giving and taking and giving back in a very philosophical way. The mother turtle looks so content.

Reality – At 11 PM in the night, these photographers invade Gahirmatha Beach. Looking for the turtles and the moment they spot one, they start clicking pictures. Since it is dark, the need for flash is very important. So let’s not forget to shine bright light at the turtle’s face, who cares, she won’t complain!


Photograph – I started with my experience and so I am ending with mine. Think about a group of tribal people in Bikaner. Their worship of their sacred lord involves eating fire and running on it. The photograph, that I captured, shows a huge flash of fire flying from the ground while a man runs over it.

Reality – I got too close trying to get a nice show. The moment the fire flew, some of the burning particles fell on my lap and jeans. Thankfully, I didn’t burn myself otherwise my experience would be a lot different.

What I mean to say is that it is not only the place that has to pay the cost of the photography but also the photographer. I have seen a guy falling from a mountain trying to click selfie from the edge. Another guy, I heard got his face smashed while trying to record train journey.

Next time when you see a photograph, think or ask, what did it take to capture that picture? Don’t believe in every Instagram caption. The good and happy looking moments may come with a dark side, you never know.

Next time when you see someone around you harming the local life or the environment in their photography endeavours then speak out and complain to the authorities. Tell the world about the wrong and unethical ways of photography may be harming the world. Once, more and more people know about it, at-least a few will do something and make others aware.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 34 Comments

  1. Nancy

    Nice read. Thanks for sharing and being candid 🙂

  2. Well done for revealing the behind the scenes! I think it is so pathetic that these places where local tribes are exploited by tour operators are praised on instagram or blogs of bloggers (and visited in the first place…). Same for shots of animals such as the camel and poor elephants. On our travel website we only write about sustainable initiatives and even though our photos are pretty original and our writing pretty good, we are not getting those hords of fans that people get doing everything for the likes and follows. I think it is better to stay straight in your boots being less popular but knowing that the photos you took during that trip did not harm or contribute to exploitation. Thanks agains for this post, I will follow you 🙂

  3. This is the best travel blog post I’ve read yet. Soooo true! I will be posting this on all my social media. I hope it helps to reduce idiotic behaviour.
    While you’re here, if you care about protecting animals and the environment (and your own body) you should consider going vegan. Drop me a message for any assistance.

  4. laura

    thank you for this post. showing everyone the reality that it is. I often doubt my own travel photos for not being good enough, or crazy enough or the best angle, but then i don’t risk my life to get them, and i shall keep it that way!

  5. A pretty interesting read. I sometimes say to myself if only people knew what surrounded the photo and what it really was like to be there at that point. Photographs are beautiful but the experience is something else. Well written and a great read!!

  6. Chloe Croucher

    People spend too much time getting the perfect photo to prove they were there and giving into mass tourism by paying for nature which is there for all to enjoy and respect resulting in rubbish and demanding locals, the dark side of tourism is so sad, thanks for producing this thought provoking post x

  7. airmailadventures

    Super interesting read, I see it all too often , people pushing the boundaries for the perfect photo. Just days after the 3 influencers fell in BC I saw tourists climbing slippery rocks at the top of a waterfall. In the same day I also saw people actively following a bear cub. As travellers we need to be respectful of the places we are visiting. Thanks for talking about such an important topic.

  8. Annie

    Thank you for sharing this. This is so eye opening and important for people to be aware of – especially after what happened to those influencers in BC.

  9. sinjanag

    Completely agree with your views. Many waterfalls and trekking spots are closed in Karnataka because of mishaps caused by such irresponsible behavior. And you are right, we all are guilty of some unnecessary risks we take for getting the right views.

  10. thetravellingsociologist

    I appreciate your perspectives and the contrasting realities of photos that you set out to analyze. This is an important discourse for all travellers, not just travel bloggers, and certainly anyone who posts photos on Instagram. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  11. brokenlimitz

    This is a very unique piece of content to talk about, and a reality of traveling these days. Definitely an eye opener and something that needs to be talked about more! Thanks for sharing

  12. Thank you for this honest post. It’s a pity that a lot (read: most) travellers out there do not know/understand how to travel responsibly. I have read about the mistreatment of camels and elephants in Rajasthan. Are there any organizations that are working for that cause?

  13. Appreciate your honesty in bringing out the dark side behind photography. We are sure it is not easy since this is a profession and sometimes, one has to ignore certain things to make a living. But your courage is commendable and we hope, you are able to bring about some change as to make a change, one has to be a part of it! Thank you for this honest and candid post. Inspire to act! Cheers.

  14. Good narration, honest words. Most of the travellers get themselves complex on this aspect. Thanks for bringing this up.

  15. The Carters On Tour

    You make so many good points in this article. For me, the big thing about photography when you travel is to remember that fundamentally you are trying to capture a shot for your own memories. You want it it one great, but putting yourself or the environment at risk to take that photos is crazy – you have the best memory card in your brain and no amount of insta likes is worth risking yourself for.

  16. Alexander Popkov

    I do a lot of travel photography, the more you improve, the more complicated it is. But, I guess it is true for every profession. There are many things, unseen by regular people.

  17. Claire

    That was a fascinating read! I started to explore a bit more the behind the scene myself through videos. I think it’s important as traveller and storytellers for us to also say it like it really is!

  18. Amy

    Thank you for sharing, very imformative and probably the best I’ve seen so far on photography! 🙂

  19. Aditinona

    I am so glad someone wrote about this, each and every line that you have written is so relatable because I have seen it myself on so many occasions. There is really a lot of difference in what we present and what the reality is. Sad but true

  20. Blair Villanueva

    Travel photography nowadays become a means to boost many egos, telling the world that “they made it”. It is sad and pathetic.

  21. Farah Al Zadjaly

    Travel photography has been unrealistic for a while. Its like the sense of everything needs to perfect with no faults. I love your honesty in this all. Wonderful photos.

  22. Daisy Blue

    This is sadly true many times but not always. You made a point, though.

  23. A very interesting, honest and heart-felt post. Yes, I do see some Instagram accounts that are too good to be true. Yes, when something is too good to be true, perhaps it is!
    I’ve read quite a bit about the jeeps getting too close to tigers in Ranthambore.
    Hats off to the NGO clearing up the trash in Mcleodgang…

  24. Great post. Definitely not something you can read everywhere, which makes it that more important. We should be more aware of our impact on local culture and nature when we travel.

  25. tripntravel

    Very awesome and informative article, thanks to sharing this article.

  26. roomsnow

    I like Arunachal Pradesh and Bikaner photos, have you ever been in Gujarat. If yes then kindly share your thoughts

  27. Jessie Randhawa

    Wow I never really thought about the other, darker side to taking travel photographs! Really heart-felt post to read – thanks for sharing!

  28. Eric Johnson

    Travel photography nowadays become a means to boost many egos, telling the world that “they made it”. It is sad and pathetic.

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  30. Hello,
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.

    Have you read Fire on the Water? It is a real story of courage and determination written by Andrew Therriault. It covers all the suffering of this young man and how he survived from that painful experience.