Travel photos – Instagram is turning us into idiots

by Apr 23, 2019Humor

Instagram is turning us into idiots as we cling to smartphones in an insatiable quest to garner likes and shares for often ridiculous instagrammable travel moments. Please stop!

Armed with digital cameras and smartphones, travelers are able to detail every idyllic moment of every trip in all its “Instagrammable” glory. And with extra memory cards, we have the ability to easily record thousands of images from every minute of every single trip … despite the fact there are numerous times many of us should probably just put the camera down.

Aside from the proliferation of ridiculous pursed-lip selfies populating way too many of today’s Instagram and Facebook posts or the overabundance of uber-posed “look at me I’m here” images (which in fact block the view trying to be shared), there are also those photos that should never see the light of day … or even be taken. I’m talking about those images one spouse finds funny or endearing and the other merely sees as horrifying and embarrassing.

Instagram Turning Us Into Idiots Michael Morocco Pose

Quite a few years ago (and before Instagram, thankfully), I went to a friend’s slideshow of a trekking expedition he did with his wife in Nepal. Right in the middle of a very inspiring series of spectacular scenery images was a larger-than-life photo of his wife in what she thought was a private moment. While I agreed with all of our friends that we had never seen a more magnificent composition of a woman peeing in front of a snow-capped mountain, his lovely wife failed to appreciate the humor. Good thing the pull-out couch I was seated on appeared comfy. Because it was quite likely he spent a good month or so camping out on it.

Travel photos of that ‘perfect’ wildlife moment

And this brings me to so many aspiring National Geographic photographers in search of that perfect wildlife moment, one that will bring fame and fortune – or at the very least thousands of likes to their Instagram account.

Wildlife photography requires a special patience, skill, nerve, raw talent, and ability to overlook the obvious — like realizing the bear you are trying to take a photo of is just inches away from the lens and apparently only wants to discuss photo ops after lunch has been served.

Despite the dangers, there are very few travel photographers who wouldn’t give just about anything to be able to bring home photos of a wild bear tossing salmon in the air and fileting it like a master sushi chef, or a jaguar melting into the shadows of a sun-dappled evening.

And it is this quest for that one Instagram-worthy wildlife image that inspires many wannabe travel photographers to toss aside sanity and attempt the ludicrous. I once watched dumbfounded while a gentleman in an adjacent campsite nearly ran over his poor wife and through a campfire — scattering dinner everywhere – as he sprinted after a fleeing bear cub. Clutching his smartphone while in hot pursuit I’m pretty sure he was only taking photos of the terrified little one’s behind.

Instagrammable travel photos of wildlife butts

And therein lies the cruel reality: Too often, and despite best efforts, so many wildlife photos just end up being images of, well, rear ends. I have a backup disk full of ’em. Deer butts, moose butts, bear butts, swan butts, rhino butts, lion butts, even my wife’s butt (but please don’t tell her).

As for the brainless one chasing the cub, I later heard from a park ranger that it wasn’t long before the cub’s mother decided the photo session was over and began chasing the man, sending him scurrying up a tree sans smartphone. Apparently, the bear ended up chewing on the man’s smartphone for a while, doubtless to pass time hoping the idiot who chased her offspring might fall out of the tree.

It’s really too bad the mama bear didn’t know how to work the smartphone camera, because she surely could have composed a lovely picture of a man’s butt, hanging out of a pine tree. Now, that’s a photo of an idyllic moment I would have been all too happy to “like” on his Instagram feed.

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  1. Ed and Jenn Coleman

    Thanks Michael. I needed a good laugh today. As it turns out, Jenn’s first husband loved taking pictures of her peeing in nature so I can understand that trope. So if more than one husband does it, it’s not an iso-trope? There’s a joke in there somewhere. I think my favorite Instagram is making us idiots was going to WITS Quebec with Cat from from Two Please (which I pronounced for a year as Fort Woplease) and Juliane from (it’s Five o’clock here). So no shit there we were in a fancy Quebec restaurant when all of a sudden the food comes out. Surely this shouldn’t have been a surprise but everybody’s smartphones popped out and even an off body light to get side depth and shadows on the the food. Before long somebody came over and cursed us up and down in French. I said, we’re sorry but we don’t speak French, to which she just replied “I Know” and walked back to her table. So yeah, spot on with this one. Of course, this was a sponsored meal but we’ve make a paradigm shift to take our photos back by the kitchen so we don’t disturb the other patrons.

    • HI Travel Tales

      Glad I gave you a chuckle when needed. “iso-trope”? Too funny. And I can see the eyes of anger rolling in that Quebec restaurant … you eat the food when brought, you don’t photograph it. Phhhbt. Bwaaa haa. 😉

  2. Joanne

    I LOVE your sense of humour!! Part of what makes it funny is that its oh so true. I’m guilty of trying to get that perfect pic but with three kids along for the ride, it doesn’t often happen. But when I’m close and that building or scenery is perfectly lit, and I can’t get a pic without others trying to take a pic of themselves … well, it makes me grumpy.

    • HI Travel Tales

      Thank you Joanne … my sense of humor (humour) could be the the result of the British blood I have running through my veins. 😉 And we’ve all been there … perfect shot lined up, light perfect, moment perfect and just when you go to click the shutter, some clueless wonder steps into the photo, preens, purses lips, snaps selfie and then moves on without even noticing.

  3. Alison

    So, so true. You had me laughing. Love your take on this and the title. I also take WAY too many pictures sometimes I wonder why. They all just need sorting, editing and deleting later which takes boatloads of time! I feel privileged to have lived in a time when we savoured what we were seeing and carefully thought about what would be that special shot #36 on the last roll of film in the woods. That being said, I might have a little “instagrammable idiot” in me for it would have been very tempting to sneak up behind mama Bear to get a shot of that moron in the tree!

    • HI Travel Tales

      Oh we all have a little “instagrammable idiot” in us Alison. Some of us just know how to control the beast a bit more than others it seems. And there is a BIG difference between sneaking up on something and running after a bear cub like a blithering idiot. 😉

  4. Heather Trimm

    Oh how I LOVE this article. Pure truth. And I’m guilty of wanting to get the photo. I also thoroughly enjoy wildlife photography, but that is where I draw the line on ahem “adventure”. I don’t mess around with that. I have some great wildlife shots (and a few of bears) from a very long distance away. I prefer something called a zoom lens to make it seem like I’m really close! 😉 But I know what you’re talking about. I have seen some absolutely absurd, stupid stuff going on for a photo. It isn’t worth that, guys. And whew, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who took (never mind SHOWED) a photo of his wife peeing! Yikes!

  5. HI Travel Tales

    I honestly don’t see the fascination in taking photos of someone peeing, but to each his or her own. 😉 And yes, I always cheer for the wild animal in human encounters … it would have been so wonderful if that mama bear could have worked the smartphone. 😉

  6. Mohana

    Loved how you laced humor in your post where you also rightfully pointed out this deluge of selfie-crazed zombies who forget to look at something beautiful while being too busy trying to cram it in ever so innovative frames. I guess as a species we are slowly unlearning how to appreciate ephemeral beauty and fleeting moments.

    • HI Travel Tales

      Mohana — we love your statement “appreciate ephemeral beauty and fleeting moments.” Some of the best photos we have ever taken were photos we didn’t actually take … they are simply snapshots of time stored in our memories.

  7. Dani

    This is all so true. I used to get mad at my husband for taking so many photos on our trips, when I wanted him to just enjoy our time! …And then I got Instagram, haha. Now he has to put up with endless attempts at the “perfect” picture… you know, where neither of us looks too fat. But at least he’s never taken a picture of me peeing! (At least as far as I know!)

  8. Punita Malhotra

    Everyone is a self-proclaimed photographer these days…blame it on the smartphone. i suppose what makes the difference is the motivation to take pictures. Would you still do it, if no one would see what you clicked?

    • HI Travel Tales

      Such an excellent point Punita — would you still take the photo if no one was going to see it? Love that.

  9. Candy

    Wow..that story of the trekking expedition and the photo of the private moment…I wonder how long he had to camp out 🙂 I have always loved taking photos since I was a kid. I get it from my parents since they took a ton of photos of us growing up. I would love to take wildlife photos out on the safari some day.

  10. Elsie

    I like the humor in the article. The “only wants to discuss photo ops after lunch has been served”.. haha. As much as I like capturing moments.. I put the camera aside at some point just enjoy the scenery.

    • HI Travel Tales

      Yes, we all do need to remind ourselves to put the camera down. And thank you for appreciating the humor! 😉

  11. Bernie

    Great points, entertainingly made. I did have a vision of bearstagram, where ursine solidarity is articulated through confiscated smartphone captures of the hapless photographer in panic mode. 🙂 But yes, we (some of us way more than others) are in danger of starting to see the world through a lens, and forgetting to enjoy it as is – along with all the scents of the outdoors, the sound of rustling in the trees and the taste of salt in the breeze. I love what Mohana says about experiencing ephemeral beauty; that’s so true.

  12. Jim Jones

    As a serious amateur photographer (with a DSLR, not a schmuck with a smartphone!) I struggle with this a lot. I have to remind myself to put the camera down once in a while and not “live through the lens” (as my wife says). Great article, and something we should all consider thinking through.

    • HI Travel Tales

      Glad you enjoyed the post Jim. Though we do gently remind you that using a DSLR does not identify one as a non-schumuck — we’ve encountered many clueless DSLR users as well in our travels. And consider this — many serious and professional photographers use smartphones too (as we do and for Michael it is often is second video camera for different angles) — it’s just another form of camera. Too, award-winning documentaries and Sundance Film Festival submissions have been filmed entirely using a smartphone (albeit with enhancements and apps) and numerous award-winning photos have been taken too just with a smartphone — hardly schumck material 😉

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About The Author

Michael Hodgson

Adventurer, curious traveler, photojournalist, and lover of gin. Winner of multiple gold, silver, and bronze medals from NATJA for travel writing & photography excellence -- earning medals every year since 2018. Gold medal winner 2021 to 2023 in the IFWTWA Travel Photography Awards, Best in Show award winner in the 2023 photography awards, and winner of the Excellence in Journalism award in 2022. Winner of a Juror's Award and Best in Show in the 2023 California State Fair photography competition. Still searching for the perfect gin and tonic.