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I had a burning thirst as I entered Kashgar. For days, the dust and grit suspended in the Taklamakan’s air got under my clothes, in my hair, in my shoes and in my parched throat. I enjoy a good cold beer. But even this is hard to find. Oh! Beer is in plentiful supply! But cold beer – that seems to be a foreign concept – literally.

After coming to rest at the Barony Tarim Petroleum Hotel on Seman Road, I dropped my gear and set out in the still blinding sun. This large city has a vibe! Here, one shares the sidewalks with different ethnic groups and the dress styles that distinguish them. For me it is exciting, and not a lot different from Toronto – a city with many distinct races and ethnic groups, making for an exciting city. The different cultures provide variety, unique festivals, amazing foods and diverse art & theatre scenes. Here in Kashgar, it may not be as varied, but there is a true cultural blending which is typical of this area so close to so many ancient cultures.

Not far away, as the shadows lengthened is the site of the famed Sunday market. Sadly, I will not be able to extend my visit to attend the market. But standing on the broad steps of the Id Kah Mosque, one can feel the anticipation and almost hear the thousdands of sellers and buyers competing to be heard, and arguing, trying to get the lowest prices for the sheep standing obliviously nearby.

A sight that always intrigues, is a man having his head washed and handsome beard trimmed. The skull cap removed, shows a snow-white scalp, protected by the ever-present cap above a sun-burned face. The man getting a trim is obvioulsy used to the ways of the barber, who with one finger partially missing (not a good omen in my opinion), lathers the virgin scalp with a bar of soap before the gleaming straight razor is whipped out. Fascinated, I continue watching as the barber tips his clients head back by yanking upward on his equally snow-white beard.

As a man who also has a beard – and could do with a trim after days in the desert, I slink away, not noticed, and retreat into the darkening shadows. Perhaps now that I have survived the surgical mastery of an ear cleaning in Chengdu, the next time I find myself in Kashgar, I may pluck up the courage to go under the knife – as it were!

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We’ve all seen it done, and many of us have done it ourselves – altered images. I work for a major Canadian newspaper, the Toronto Star and part of our journalistic ethics surrounds photography. We want our readers to believe and trust what they read and see printed on our pages.

To that end, we have a code of ethics which governs the treatment of photos. For our readers to trust and believe, we have a responsibility to present images truthfully and unaltered.

The same goes for travel photography. The ground is thick with shameful examples of photo manipulation that has run in magazines, newspapers and television. Examples of pyramids being moved in a photo to improve the composition. Electrical wires removed. And one of the worst… skin colour darkened or lightened to make people appear more “ethnic”.

I have taken our newspaper’s photo code of ethics and re-written it so that it directly applies to travel photography. Please feel free to copy this and share it. If we all abide by the sentiments in the Travel Photographer’s Code of Ethics, it will create more accurate images and promote more sensitivity toward scenes and people in different areas of the world.

In this example, I spotted someone's prayer wheel resting on their hat. It was a lovely and simple scene. The before-and-after shows what can be done to enhance the composition without changing the image. I held my camera high over my head and shot down on the hat. I did not touch or move anything, this was shot exactly as I found it. The 'after' image is the result of lightening the highlights, sharpening the image slightly and saturating the colours.


Travel photographers are also journalists. They observe, capture and tell stories with honesty and accuracy, through a visual medium that captures a moment in time.

That same medium can also be misused, abused and cause harm. Photographs taken without sensitivity toward those being photographed can be invasive. Pictures can be manipulated, both during the making & afterwards and they can also be displayed without context. Images can lie.

The Travel Photographer Code of Ethics is committed to the making and publishing of truthful images, free of manipulation, distorting the truth, and also capturing scenes without cultural distortion or interference. Images will captured as events unfold and as unfettered as possible by the presence of the photographer.

Travel photography establishes and maintains credibility and builds viewers confidence that what they are seeing is fair and representative of events as they occurred. Photographs of staged or re-enacted events have no place in travel related web sites or publications, nor should they ever appear in photo essays. Such photographs shall not be orchestrated by any Travel Code of Ethics photographer.

Travel photographers must also ensure caption information is comprehensive, accurate, fair and representative of what the photographer witnessed. If a caption is necessary to explain that the content is not real, then the image should not be used.

Altering the content of travel photographs through technology is not allowed. The moving of a pyramid or the moon, or the merging or erasing of portions of photographs, does photojournalism irreparable harm. What may seem innocuous to some inevitably leads to an erosion of public confidence.

Manipulation aimed at correcting technical deficiencies, such as cropping, burning & dodging, spotting for dust, noise reduction, contrast and colour balancing, are acceptable. That said, these adjustments and enhancements should be used with great care and should not alter the integrity of the image.

I photographed this woman in Litang, in Western Sichuan. I shot her many times, but chose this frame because it is a "moment". I had showed her the pictures iI shot of her and she began to giggle. Quickly, I shot her with her hand covering her smile and that was the shot I liked best. Try to capture a special moment - anticipate what your subject might do next and be ready to capture that moment. Do not ask your subjects to pose for you in any particular way - wait for the right gesture or expression. If you are lucky, you will be able to capture an emotion rather than a static shot of someone simply staring into your lens.

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