Instagram has been in the news a lot lately. Well, by news I mean Twitter and gossipy social media types. But if you’re a fan of the photo-sharing platform, then you’ve no doubt noticed many of the changes that have had millions of users up in digital arms. Yeah, this post isn’t about all that, but it did prompt this post so I thought it important to at least mention. It spurred this post because as I considered the fact that a relatively small percentage of my followers are actually allowed by Instagram to even see my photos, I thought about many of the more popular travel accounts out there and how unrealistic they really are. There are exceptions, there is to every rule, but a significant percentage of travel-related Instagram influencers are actually doing a disservice not only to their fans and followers, but the broader travel community. Instagram has been an incredible force for good and many experts now believe that it is at least in part responsible for the incredible percentage of Millennials who travel the world. And that’s great. Well, it’s great until their hopes and dreams are shattered once they actually visit that so-called idyllic spot. So, with all of this in mind, as well as a fair dose of crankiness, I want to address some of the realities of the travel experience that you most likely will never actually see as you scroll down your Instagram photo stream. (Note: All photos in this post are mine, proving that we all evolve and grow.)
Not everyone is a model
I don’t know about you, but after going through just a few images on Instagram I immediately wish I had 6-pack abs and could look as wistfully into the sunset as many of those Instagram “models.” That’s actually a major problem with what’s going on in the travel-related content on Instagram, it’s too focused on these influencers who think they should be gracing the pages of Vogue or Men’s Fitness. Instagram for travel should be all about story-telling. Sure, once in a while it’s good for us to get in front of the camera IF it furthers the story, but in most cases it should be about the destination. A PR pro recently confided to me that an influencer they worked with refused to share any photos of the hotel she was visiting, even though she was being paid to do so. Instead, it was all moody pictures of her in the pool or in bed. If travel bloggers and influencers want to be successful in the long term and not just short term, they should learn how to craft a story through imagery instead of finding the perfect bikini.
Not every place is a postcard
While the world is indeed a stunning place, that doesn’t mean that every square inch of it is. In my opinion, and it really is just my opinion, Instagram shouldn’t be a running montage of the travel experience but rather a carefully curated gallery sharing images that are representative of one’s travels. I don’t want to see five dark and unedited photos of the same dreary street in a row by the same person – that is of no interest whatsoever. If that’s honestly the most interesting thing you did all day, best to leave it off Instagram in the first place. No, rather think about your day, the experience that was either the most impactful or visually appealing and share that instead. Tell us why it’s important and why the destination is so special. If you really can’t stop yourself from over-sharing, at least keep it relegated to Instagram Stories so that we may elect to see the photos or not.
There’s a Pizza Hut next to the Sphinx
This is actually an issue that has been covered by the mainstream press in recent months, all keen to disrupt the influence of platforms like Instagram. At issue is the fact that most photographers and influencers on Instagram sometimes show only the cheeriest side to destinations, they fail to mention either the drawbacks or qualities which may diminish the travel experience. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. If a National Geographic photographer shoots the Sphinx, they will probably look for the best way to showcase that impressive world monument and not the Pizza Hut across the street. Yes, there is a large fast food restaurant next to the Sphinx, but the Giza Plateau is next to modern day Cairo and it’s one of the most important tourist spots on the planet, so the fact that there are restaurants shouldn’t shock anyone. But perhaps the detractors are right, perhaps we as creatives should do more to share the full picture of a destination and not just the stereotypical images we know are commonplace.
No one eats that much breakfast in bed
This is somewhat similar to the other points made, but if there is something Instagram doesn’t need more of it’s moody photos of the “artist” eating a hotel breakfast in bed. First of all, who does that? I don’t want crumbs in the bed and the coffee would just spill everywhere. No, normal humans eat on a table and I suspect that these influencers do as well. But, the image of white bedding, white breakfast linens and the pop of color from fruit is visually just too hard to resist. It’s not realistic though and ultimately it doesn’t help their hotel clients at all. Every decent hotel has room service, it’s not some great innovation that deserves publicity. Instead that influencer would be better off taking a photo of the hotel itself, otherwise known as the reason why they’re there in the first place, and share with their audience what makes that particular property unique and special. A fruit plate doesn’t accomplish that goal.
Purple rivers don’t exist
I edit almost every photo I post to Instagram although, over the years, my approach has been much less heavy handed than it used to be. For the most part, that’s the norm amongst the professionals who use Instagram as a way to showcase their work, but there are some who cannot quit their addiction to HDR. High-dynamic range (HDR) imaging seeks to mimic the range of luminosity that the human eye interprets and as a tool isn’t a bad one, if used properly and with a light touch. Sadly, too many people posting to Instagram see the option on their photo editing app and just click it, without fine-tuning it in any way. The results are images that seem too fantastical to be real and that’s because they’re not real. Rivers shouldn’t be purple, food photos shouldn’t have that weird washed out halo effect around them and horses aren’t bright red, unless you somehow managed to stage a photo shoot in Oz. The goal with any editing app, I think, is to reproduce as well as possible what the actual experience looks like in terms of color and light. Going overboard looks ridiculous because it is.
I admitted at the beginning of this post that I was slightly cranky and I am. I’m frustrated by the lack of commonsense, creativity and honesty on Instagram. I’m tired of so-called influencers buying both followers and engagement not from a place of jealousy, but because they harm all of us who share on the platform. Most travel bloggers and photographers are good, honest people sharing amazing content. But not all of them are, so if you see these negative qualities in someone you follow, I’d encourage you to take a closer look and determine if they’re really providing valuable content at all.