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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