To Filter or Not to Filter?

I remember when I first discovered Instagram in its infant stages, the whole “filter” thing looked like a joke. As a professional photographer who aimed to have crisp, true to life colors, placing filters over a “good” photograph seemed like an abomination. I was coming over from photography forums such as dpreview, dpchallenge,, or FredMiranda where crisp, pixel perfect images set the bar for what a good digital photograph should be.

As such, I would agree that an image should be able to stay on it’s own two feet. A photograph should not stand on the merits of strange color manipulation. A photo should be able to stand on solid composition, subject, angles, exposures, accurate colors, etc. But I realized something very important: Instagram is not my portfolio.

Instagram is really unique. As Facebook becomes more privacy aware and Twitter becomes more filled with marketing trash, Instagram has maintained its relative innocence. Sure there are tons of bots and scams floating around, but a user can choose who they want to follow. It’s a social media network driven by our innate desire to be followed and become popular. That means that even famous people are willing to open up their lives for us to quickly digest and double tap while we wait for our friends to come back from the bathroom, all in that effort to get a slice of that “100 million  Instgrammers” pie.

It’s truly a marvel of today’s technology and society where I can follow someone as ridiculous and opulent as Rick Ro$$ and watch him play with stacks of hundred dollar bills and endless amount of swag. Without words or a convoluted bio section, I can instantly find out what it’s like to live in someone’s shoes. It’s a truly unique format that is untouched by any other wildly successful media platform. As a result, yes, I do recognize that there are many amazing and talented photographers around on Instagram, but do I need amazing and talented photography to become popular on Instagram? Not necessarily.

I think because of the limitations set forth by Instagram, such as how we’re restricted to uploading photos from our phone or having our images cropped squares, the app forces photographers to be more creative when it comes to taking their photos seriously.

So the question is: Do I use filters or stay away from them (and join the #nofilter cool group)?

Instagram Filters Collage – Credit: The Atlantic

I tend to use the inherent filters present within Instagram about 50% of them time. And even if I do, it’s applied on top of a photo I’ve already edited outside of the application. What I look for is if these filters ADD or SUBTRACT from what I want the photo to convey. A filter does not take the place of a properly edited and adjusted photo.

Every photo has an ethos, meaning, that every photo has the power to influence the viewers emotions, behaviors, or even morals. I try to stay true to the ethos I set behind each photo I post. I ask myself: Do I want this photo to be moody? To be sad? To be dramatic? To be happy? To be minimalistc? To be complex? What mood will best complement this photo?

Now, because of how I have my real work hosted on its own website in a proper gallery, I have the freedom to just have fun on Instagram. I love staying true to the photo by exploring many different kinds of editing techniques. I would go crazy if I only have one style that had to blanket every one of my photos. My life is just not regular enough!

So to finally answer the question…. it depends. I use the filter if the photo has “room” for it. Sometimes, it’s such a simple, minimalistic photo, that added one of the Instagram really gives it that moody punch it needs. Sometimes, the filter had totally ruin the photo into being this overdone mess of colors and vignettes. A photographer is just like a chef in that we need to know how to “season” our photos too properly. To ride the line that gives you the style and flair you’re looking for without making it disgusting.

Make the distinction between a filter and editing the photo in the digital darkroom. To truly excel, I believe that you should know how to emulate any of the filters through 3rd party programs such as VSCO, Snapseed, or Photoforge2 so that you maintain fine control over every aspect of the edit.

To assist you in your journey, I will be releasing mini-tutorials on how I approach a photo and walk you through my workflow. I’m not claiming to be the best Instagrammer out there because I follow a ton of photographers who blow me away on a daily basis. I just want to provide you the tools to experiment and have fun with Instagram, and hopefully, you’ll inspire others to do the same.

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