For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.

Under the heading "Tourism" a new article has been added on Climate Change (July, 2020)

and also under the heading "Tourism" I have added a new article about Phenomenology and Tourism (Feb. 2020).

Photography and Tourism

All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source

Photography and Tourism

       With the growing popularity of digital photography it is becoming increasingly clear that tourists cannot go on holidays anymore without a camera. During the second half of the 20th century tourists were content with taking 50 to 100 photographs but today people take more than a thousand pictures with no problem, propelled by a tendency to record anything that seems different from their home environment. It must be clear that the role photos play in holidays has changed and therefore for the tourists as well. This may seem obvious but in reality, little research has been done to determine the extent to which the camera rules the holiday or whether the tourist is still in control.

       Apart from these tendencies, there are still “old-fashioned” tourists – and there are many of them – who just take a few snapshots here and there even though they could push the shutter button a thousand times for free.

Let us study this phenomenon a bit closer in the light of the tourists’ tourism: the influence of ImpCal sources and the resulting expectations tourists have on photography and vice versa.

The photograph

       The sheer fact of what a photograph really is has now become a difficult question. Most photos do not survive the phase of simply being glanced at on the camera’s micro-screen, only to be deleted quickly. Then there is the photo shown on a computer or television screen – here we are talking about the really good pictures. The absolute top pictures may reach the important stage of being printed in different formats or forms. During the beginning of the 21st century it was the screen format of the photograph that began to dominate, while the printed version was losing its importance to some extent. More and more tourists show their pictures on the Internet, to the great relief of family and friends who were harassed in earlier times by having to watch photo albums or slide shows. In this sense it is interesting to see how photographs have become images more than pictures, mainly because of their enormous quantities. Tourists take ten pictures of the same thing, erase five and remain in doubt about the other five, which ones are the best and should be kept. These five pictures form one image.

       What is this image and what is its function? I assume that a photograph is a fragmented and subjective documentation of tangible and intangible memories, whereby two worlds are evoked at the same time: the material and the immaterial ones. The image suggests something of reality, but at the same time it presents us with a symbol to be interpreted.

       Each photograph taken by a tourist is loaded with symbolic significance or value. The reason why a photo has been taken and the way it is done show the vision, the ideas and referential frameworks of the photographer. The moment a picture is made, it is just that: a picture and the ties with reality have been broken.


Moreno photo

Seeing often means imaging in tourism. Observation with the naked eye sometimes is made subordenate in the process of experiencing.

       When talking about images in tourism, we can see their function as a cycle. When the tourist decides to go to Patagonia in Argentina, images of penguins or glaciers may come to mind, some may have read Paul Theroux’s “The Patagonia Express”, while others may have seen a car rally on TV. Many parts of our memory have stored images (material as well as mental ones) and when trying to compile all one knows about a destination, the memory drags all the info to one place. We are talking about the initial phase of forming expectations for a particular holiday.

       Expectations are then being fed nearly continuously by new information and (photographic) images. On arrival in Patagonia, the process of putting the images to the test will begin, while at the same time the tourist is adding his own recently shot photos. At the end of the holidays all the pictures are studied extensively (or not) and they serve as experience for the next holiday, but also as informational material for family, friends or colleagues, with which the cycle closes. The tourist will use his pictures later as pegs for his holiday memories. These memories may fade when time passes, while the images of the pictures linger on, unless things or phenomena were so impressive that they continue to be present in our memory. A glacier’s blue colour is so intense it is hardly possible to capture this phenomenon in a picture, but it will remain stamped on one’s memory – at least in my case.

       It may be that some tourists will skip certain parts in this cycle. “How was your trip to Patagonia?” “I do not know, because I have not seen the pictures yet” is such example, while another tourist may cry out desperately “I wish I had taken more pictures, and then I would have had more holiday memories!” The role of material as well as mental images are inseparably linked to tourism, at least as far as the organized part of tourism is concerned. Later on in this article we shall see that tourists arranging their own journey often show a different behaviour in this respect.

The tourist as photographer

       Three levels of photography can be distinguished in tourism. First of all there is the photographer, then there is the moment of taking a picture, and finally there is the usage of these pictures.

       Let us have a look at the tourist as photographer. The photograph may play an important part in tourism; it all starts with the photographer, his camera and his relation to his immediate social environment. The latter concerns family or friends and when the tourist is travelling in a group, it concerns his fellow travelers as well. There is a fast growing number of tourists who think of their camera as a calling-card for other people in the group and they really like to present their camera as such. Usually we are dealing with expensive brand names and, secondly, many attachments, such as lenses or tripods, also play their part. This issue is further emphasized by the rather extroverted way pictures are taken demonstratively; the photographer will lie down flat on the ground to have the best angle (“the real photographer has to suffer”) and more than anything else there are the loud comments on the camera’s special settings. As complicated as digital photography may have become, many tourists carry two camera´s with them: an expensive one for the impressive pictures and a simple automatic one for taking pictures quickly without hassle, demonstrating that photography can hardly be separated from tourism anymore.

       Another issue is the tall stories about how a tourist was able to take a certain impressive picture, thanks to sudden circumstances. The stories sound similar to the hunting stories from earlier days and the photograph takes the place of game as trophies (the fisherman with his huge catch). A central part in these stories is the way that the tourist spotted the possible picture right on time. While the average listener may get bored with this, it emphasizes exactly the tourist’s unique holiday feeling of what he has experienced and no one else will understand.

       Another typical attitude of the holiday photographer should be mentioned here. When staying in a foreign country, a tourist is on his guard, he may feel unsure or afraid, especially about any negative reaction on behalf of the locals against his presence. The solution to this problem can be simple: the tourist hides behind his camera. He is putting up a face as if to say “this isn’t me” and he evades direct contact with the people around him. The tourist feels like a neutral observer and thinks (hidden behind his camera) that he is not interrupting anything and that he can take authentic pictures. The camera plays the role of intermediary between reality and the tourist, not only in the sense that the picture taken is not reality anymore, but the photographer from behind his camera shuns this same reality: Them > My Camera > and Me.


shy photographer

The tourist in the background filming taking on the role of outsider trying not to interfere.

       We should also add that there are still tourists who display nearly the opposite behaviour: they apologize, take one picture and put their camera away quickly, hence creating an opportunity for social contact. This group of tourists is now in the minority but this was different in the past.

Taking pictures

       As stated earlier, there are different reasons for taking a picture and deciding what to do with it afterwards. The motivations for taking particular pictures are diverse and depend mostly on the photographer himself. However, there are some general trends.

       The most noticeable characteristic of a holiday picture taken of some tourist attraction is the presence of the tourist himself, a friend or a family member standing right in front it. There are several explanations. When dealing with a tourist highlight (a main Impsource) it is obvious that a picture must be taken, but in such a way that the photograph does not look like any of the photos in the travel brochures or on the Internet. Tourists are opposed to the material imaging presented by travel organizations. Everybody knows that hundreds of pictures have been published of that famous glacier, but the tourist wants to make clear that his picture is unique by putting himself right there in front of it. It is one way of indicating that this is his picture and not something copied from the Internet.

       Another reason is that a tourist wants to keep something from this moment and he wants to have something tangible as a reminder and a memory at the same time. On the same level as a photograph with you in front of a more-or-less impressive Impsource, it is one way of saying “I was here!”, just as in the old days people carved their names on a tree trunk or scribbled their names on a wall – with the date.

       The character of the holiday photograph usually portrays something idyllic, picturesque, impressive or extraordinary. The camera is maneuvered in such a way that the garbage bin cannot be seen and a tourist nearly risks his life to avoid a lamppost blocking a gorgeous view. The more professional photographer will try to arrange the colors as warm and full as possible. These images correspond to the ones of an ideal holiday as portrayed in travel brochures, guide books or Internet advertisements. First of all the tourist wants to see what he expects to see and those expectations with corresponding material images dominate the first experiences more than the reality that a tourist can experience by absorbing ImpCal. Many tourists wonder how it would feel to live in such a picturesque village, and they try to see the authenticity of it while refusing to recognize any ugly aspects. The dream of what is original, a bit old-fashioned and authentic is very much alive among Western tourists and this can be noticed from the holiday pictures.

       At the same time, there are other mechanisms at work. There is the phenomenon of the shutter-urge: the tourist who cannot get his finger off the shutter button and keeps on taking pictures. He may reach the point of not experiencing anything anymore – no ImpCal intake of any kind – but he just looks at the world through his camera’s little screen. Just like a little kid who points his finger at anything that draws his attention, this tourist points his camera toward anything that is different from his home environment and presses the button. By the way, this type of tourist hardly looks at the pictures taken. What is important is the moment of taking the picture and not the image that is being recorded.

       Another facet is that tourists want to share their experiences with their friends. One imagines how a friend would react to seeing what you saw. The tourist wants to make their friends and family part of their experiences and that is the reason for taking pictures. How true this may be and quite often what happens is that the tourist really wants to show what marvelous pictures he can take and how fantastic his holiday was, to the envy of his friends. People want to take spectacular pictures thinking of the home crowd, although only few manage to reach the objective.

       What plays a dominant part among many tourists is the urge to see as many as interesting things as possible to be able to make interesting pictures. When you miss a highlight, you miss the chance to shoot some good material. The disappointment when a dense fog hides a glacier is not limited to the failure to see this spectacle, it also means the tourist cannot take pictures of it and has to return empty handed. Expectations also play their part in this process, obviously.

The Use of Holiday Pictures

       Whatever motivations a tourist may have had at the moment of taking a specific photograph, what happens to that picture afterwards is a completely different story. After their holidays, most tourists decide what to do with the thousands of pictures they took, since only then do they realize the potential each picture has. Here we touch one of the fundamental differences between tourist photographers and professional photographers.

       A tourist selects his pictures mainly after the holiday has finished and the time factor usually plays its part. First of all, this selection concerns all the bad pictures, the ones that did not turn out well at all or those for which the tourist can no longer remember what he was trying to capture (such as a wide-angle shot of a forest where you have to spot the little bird). Deleting photos is not one of the favorite pastimes of any tourist, but it is a necessary job to avoid clogging up the computer. Sporadically a dark, blurred picture may serve as screensaver, but many of the pictures will have to be erased.



A bad picture (taken through a wet car window) may suddenly turn out to be a work of art – or not.

       The selection of what are considered to be ‘good’ pictures depends entirely on the tourist. A selection for the photo album (on a blog or other Internet tool) is made while bearing in mind the comments of friends or colleagues. Next, a certain vanity plays its part, too. Any photograph where you appear in a rather silly, dull or ugly position may be deleted quickly, in spite of the impressive background the picture may have.

       Obviously the tourist wants to show off the beautiful pictures he took and the notion of what is beautiful depends more on the content than the technical quality. Wild animals, ravishing views, colourful markets or romantic sunsets are what the tourist is after. Pictures with both attributes – interesting content and high technical standards – are the top photographs all friends and family will be shown extensively. One wants to show how special that holiday was and what great adventures have been lived.

       Another point involves the issues of the memories one has and wants to keep. The photograph serves as a peg to hang memories on. Clearly a photograph evokes a series of memories. The picture of Mary slipping in the mud will circulate among the family for years. Mentioning the incident may not evoke any laughs, but watching the picture itself of Mary lying in the mud will get the same laughs over and over again.

       Those who took few or no pictures during their holidays struggle with the problem of how not to forget things when they do not have tangible things to remind them. Memories are grouped in this case and when one of those memories appears in response to some outside stimulus, the rest will turn up, too.

       A completely different reason for keeping pictures is for historic reasons. One day tourists may want to show children or grandchildren how things were in earlier times. Another point in this case is the diary function that photos may serve to ensure the tourist does not forget the order in which his holiday adventures occurred.

Photographs and Experiences

       In the Pre-tourist / Tourist / Post-tourist chain, expectations play a fundamental part. Tourists start off with expectations and finish their vacation with them. Expectations are mainly based on images and this means that photographs play a crucial role. We are talking about photos presented by travel organizations or tourist boards on the one hand and those taken by tourists on the other.

       The tourist sees first of all what he expects to see. When a tourist has narrow expectations (when he has a clear idea of what he is going to experience) the tourist’s eye and his camera look for what he has seen before – in travel brochures or on TV for example. This is mostly the case with main and side Impsources that are well documented on the Internet and quite familiar to the tourists, since their choice of holiday may have been based on them.

       Tourists with broad expectations (those with no clear idea of what to expect) or those with none must first see what is going on before they can start taking pictures. This is especially the case for shared and incidental Impsources whereby anything occurring among a local population may be considered suitable for a picture. With this type of photograph the tourist’s interpretation plays a more pronounced role, not only because he selects the picture’s topic, but he composes it as well. With this type of Impsource it is nearly impossible to stand in front of a picture and it is unlikely there will be any resemblance to previously encountered commercial photos. When something sudden happens, the only thing a tourist can do is grab his camera and shoot pictures as quickly as possible (feeling like a journalist), secretly hoping they will be top pictures no one has ever taken (although practice proves differently). In other words we see that there is a difference in the type of pictures in the case of main and side Impsources versus the ones taken of shared or incidental ones.

       There is something else that plays an important part. An Impsource may be object related authentic (absolutely real in all meanings), but this is often not the case in tourism. In the case of main and side Impsources, what is of importance is the story that goes with the Impsource and the light shed on it. This type of authenticity-with-a-story is called symbol related authenticity and it is important in the organized part of what we call tourism. Often we see that what counts for a tourist is the story about a thing or phenomenon, even more than the thing itself. Expectations play a crucial role and even more so when travel organizations fuel them. On a photograph, how can we see this difference between object or symbol related authenticity? The so-called authentic Indian tribe which turned out to be little indigenous or not authentic at all may create a feeling of real disappointment for tourists. However, when the story around the show makes it clear that the modern Indian dresses up to show tourists how the indigenous people used to live, this may lead to an authentic experience among tourists and many interesting pictures can be taken. Back home later on it will be hard to see whether the indigenous people in the pictures were authentic Indians or not. The photograph does not show the difference between object or symbol related authenticity. Here we see the enormous difference between the moment of taking a picture and what happens to the picture afterwards. The photograph shows us just one image, which may be authentic or not – and the picture will not reveal its secret. What is real and looks like real become interposed. It also makes clear the strength a picture has: all too soon one assumes that what you see on the picture is real and all too easily people believe in the way things appear to be.

       There is also the point of what should be considered more important: the experience itself or the tangible and intangible memories one keeps; in other words there is that feeling that if no photograph has been taken, no experience has been gained. Obviously this is not true in practice, but the intake of ImpCal being processed into an experience may intertwine with memories based on pictures, whereby the latter may win the battle because of the principle of reconfirmation. When there is no picture of a certain incident, it may disappear from our memory faster than in the case the incident was recorded – at least that is what many people feel. That is why it is said that photographing shapes a holiday – and definitely the holiday experience. The risk one runs is that the holiday experience turns into a photographic experience and nothing else. One thing that is certain is that people do not want to miss a highlight, because then they are missing the chance of taking impressive pictures.

No pictures taken

       There are groups of tourists who take few or no photos at all. The average backpacker takes few pictures because it does not suit his style of travelling, whereby incidental and sudden incidents shape the journey. Meeting people is important in this case and the few photographs will be of the people they met by chance on their way.

       The truly idealistic tourist (see the TLS-scale) will be careful in handling his camera. For example, in the case of rural tourism, when staying at a farmer’s house, the tourist will not shoot pictures all day long. It is all about shared Impsources and the tourist will not have a clear idea what he can expect and he will be much more discrete with the use of his camera.

       There are also tourists who hardly consider themselves as such. The businessman who has to stay in a foreign town over a weekend may decide to play the role of tourist for a couple of days. His behaviour is different from the common tourist however, and as far as photography is concerned he will take only a few pictures since business people have not prepared themselves mentally to run around with a camera. There are many tourists who are at a certain destination for other reasons and their behaviour is different, mainly because of different expectation patterns.

       Nevertheless, for the vast majority of tourists photography is an inseparable part of their vacation and it gives the tourist an opportunity to better shape his holiday experiences. To what extent photography is now dominating the holiday or the other way around remains an interesting question whereby personal ideas and attitudes still rule.

       Finally we can mention that most of what has been said about photography here holds true for videos or any type of digital film material.

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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source

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