A New Rule About Using Instagram Filters


Making your camera phone photos look “vintage” does not make them look better. There’s a reason cameras don’t take pictures like that anymore. They look horrible. Sure, at the time that was the best you could do, but technology has moved on. We have cameras on our phones that are actually starting to approach decent quality imaging. We can almost produce consistent color, correct exposures, and sharp focus these days and that’s what you should be doing, because 30 years from now the photos you take today are going to look vintage anyway.

Sure, the first couple times some one applied one of those old-time filters, it looked pretty cool. It was unique. It gives your pictures a feeling of faux-nostalgia. People and marketers often associate higher quality with things from the past. Instagram filters are designed to make your photos look like they were taken by different types of ancient film cameras that would be extremely difficult to find or even process photos from in this day and age if you were to do it for real. If you were to take pictures like that for real, then absolutely there would be some value in it. It’s the process and difficulty and moment that has the value though, not so much the result.

That’s where Instagram degrades the value. By making these vintage effects an easy one-tap you can bypass the actual value in vintage and historic photography. The one-tap function also bypasses practically all creative value that might have been inherit with the effect. Furthermore, these faux-nostalgia photos have become so prevalent and trite that their value has been degraded even more. Anyone can make a picture like that with a touch of a button. It’s worse than in the 1990’s when every print advertisement had the “Page Curl” filter from Kai’s Power Tools 3 applied to show a little corner of extra info in the graphic. It was cute and creative the first time, but became horribly overused in the graphic design world. A similar thing happened with the 3D dancing baby in commercials and TV shows. The “Page Curl” design element became so out-of-hand that graphic designers had to make a rule in order to bring creativity back to their field and reduce the horrid overuse of the filter: You were only allowed to use that filter once during your career, so make it good.

The problem with Instagram filters is that they’re in such prevalent use by “iPhoneographers” who have very little creative sensibility. The proof is right there in the “popular” tab of the Instagram app (and your Facebook feed). Every time I see an Instagram photo posted online I cringe a bit and think about how much better that photo would have looked if there weren’t off-color flares, vignetting, color degradation, unnecessary blurring or botched exposures. This is especially horrific in vacation photos where you would have beautiful blue skies and gorgeous beaches had you not used an Instagram filter to mess it up. None of them are very creative either. If you’ve seen one Instagram photo, you’ve seen them all.

That’s not to say I have anything against bad pictures. Capturing a moment despite the limitations of your camera and skills is certainly valuable. What’s annoying is that so many people are intentionally making their photos even worse by adding perceived “faux-nostalgia” or “faux-creative” value that’s degrading the actual authentic value of the image as well as the moment you were trying to capture.

Are you an Instagram iPhoneographer who filters every picture you take and loves every minute of it? Or do you think that many Instagram filter users are begining to abuse it a bit too much and may be unknowingly contributing to a loss of respect for nostalgia, creativity in general, authenticity and photography as an art form? Perhaps it’s time we try to adopt a variation on the KPT page curl rule: Only use each filter once. That will help us think about what we’re doing, why we need to do it, and what’s good about it.

Some thoughts inspired from Seldo.com’s “Why I really, really hate Instagram” and Instagram, Hipstamatic and Other Reasons Photography Is Starting To Suck

Picture: Somewhere on Facebook

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!