Photoshop has a magical attraction to me. I enjoy tweaking and searching for options to stretch the boundaries of photographic possibility; to balance on the edge between ‘real’ and ‘fake’.

Study after study has shown that seeing manipulated photos of others can lead to anxiety and low self-esteem. It really bothers me, that even though I am fully aware of this fact, I still contribute to these fake world creations.

In ‘Why do I continue to manipulate my personal photos’ I try to explain what it is that keeps me going. In this post I will talk about why and when I remove distracting elements from a photo.


The first thing I do when looking at a photo is figuring out what draws the attention of my eyes. Often I notice small messy details first before moving my gaze to the real subject. Removing these distractions makes sure you redirect the eyes to the most important part of the photo.

In this before photo the most attention-grabbing piece is the photographer in the far end back on the left. Besides that, there are some twigs that ask for unneseccary lingering on the bottom part of the photo. Taking them out sends the gaze back up.

I use the spot healing brush to fix this. It truly is a magic tool with which you just circle the part you don’t want and it fills in the blanks with photo information from the surroundings to make objects disappear.

Apart from obviously having changed the colors and lightning in this photo, it is these little things that make all the difference.

At this dark and stormy scene from Cuba, I cleaned up the beach. With that, I am trying to hide things that were actually there, which changes the scene. I don’t feel too bad about this, because it’s just a little dirt and clutter I got rid of.

But for the news oriented media, even this would not be tolerated. The World Press Photo Contest has stated in it’s regulations that:

“adding, rearranging, reversing, distorting  or removing people and/or objects from within the frame” counts as manipulation and would get you disqualified.

Val Thorens, France, March 2019

So now we already crossed the line of the official guidelines for documenting reality. And this is where it gets interesting.

Because nobody has ever written any rules for photoshopping in the social media world.

And I can tell you, things are taken a lot further over there.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia, March 2012

This photo of me with a Maori Wrasse fish is pretty epic already. But the visible presence of my friend Maaike bothered me a bit. It’s not that I want to forget she was there.

I just couldn’t resist to find out how the photo looked without her distracting hand and foot in it. Facebook delivered me a good deal of likes and comments with this post. I was satisfied.

But it did make me wonder why I had felt the urge to manipulate reality and if this was a wrong thing to do.

It was the first time I altered one of my personal photos and the starting point of my fascination for fake social media appearances. Which eventually led to my fictitious travel project that went viral.

Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka, 2016


Is it fair to take out a huge transmission tower as seen in the photo above? Or does it change the perception of a place to such an extent that it leads to false expectations? 

When browsing my social stream I keep wondering how other content makers deal with the conflicting feelings of ‘I want to make my images as beautiful as possible’ and ‘I have a responsibility to show the truth’.

I myself haven’t figured out the right answer to this question yet. I just know I need to be conscious, open and honest.