Why I hate Instagram Filters!

August 03, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Do I really hate Instagram filters?  Why?  Don't they make my iPhone and Android photos look artsy?  The quick and dirty answer is no.  In fact, back in the film days, we were constantly striving for film that did exactly the opposite of what Instagram does.  The photos that are created when you throw a bad filter over a mediocre image are not artsy.  They are busy mediocre images with awful filters thrown over them that make them look worse.

There was a time when photographers were demanding and film companies were striving to manufacture a film that could generate a great image without all the noise and color weirdness that was so common back then.  In fact the consistency was so hard to achieve that when buying film for a wedding it was necessary to check and double-check the lot numbers on even the most expensive professional grade films to make sure they were all the same, so that the emulsions would match each other!  That was a lot of work that we went through in order NOT to have our pictures turn out like Instagram.  Consider this scan of an image originally shot on film:

REG1317-R01-017-7REG1317-R01-017-7A wedding photo shot on Kodak Portra NC 160 color 35 mm film. Notice the overly saturated colors and the extra grain in the veil and the bride's face?  That is not a lovely filter.  At the time those qualities were considered BAD, and yet I see filters out there that seek to imitate this! This was not art, it was one of the bad qualities of photographs that we were forced to live with. Though this image would have been considered a quality image at the time as it was shot using professional quality film and exposed correctly using a professional 35 mm camera, the deficits would have been called just that- deficits, the limitations of the medium used to capture the image.   The true art is in the composition and timing of the photograph.  That look on the bride's face reveals who she truly is, and her placement in the frame while important is not nearly as important as the connection a lovely young bride has her soon-to-be husband. You get caught up in the moment, but not because of the faults in the film but in spite of them.

It's about timing and connection

The image above works because of timing and connection.  The look on her eyes is caught in such a way as you can almost feel the love coming from her heart.  What makes the image is that you feel like you're watching something you shouldn't- it is a very intimate and emotional moment.  Your mind clears away the imperfections of the medium because the emotion is there.  

Now consider this image shot with a modern professional DSLR camera with modern optics:

Date_Night-055-EditDate_Night-055-Edit The difference is striking!  The emotion is just as powerful in this second image, but it is more compelling because of the clarity and the precision of the optics. Notice the detail in the hair, the clarity of the eyes and smiles of each.  No filters need be applied here. This is beauty and art because the connection between the two was captured at just the right time, in just the right way and was conveyed in the most beautiful manner technically possible.  The media is different, but the feeling is the same because I was looking for the same thing each time.  I was looking for raw emotion so that I was able to act in that instant that I saw it. 

If you want to make your photos better, then put away the filters and instead spend some time thinking about the photograph you are making.  What are you trying to say?  What are you sharing with the world?  I promise if you stop and think about your photography you will get much better images to begin with than you ever can by just throwing whatever filter over it as an afterthought.


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