The damage of #nofilter

Tony Hymes
Jun 27, 2014 · 3 min read

The trend of filtering images to make them more stylish has reached a global level that few technologies will ever witness. With multiple cameras on nearly every device, everyone is an amateur photographer. Instagram’s success has sowed countless competitors because the desire to share something beautiful is impossible to overcome. It’s a dangerous combination that has gotten us to where we are today.

When a filter is applied to a photo, it changes the reality of the image. An image is a reproduction of something visual, that is meant for people to see. People then draw conclusions and feel emotion from images. The more impactful the photo, the stronger the reaction. The first time that we saw Instagrammed photos on Facebook, there was an immediate “wow” factor. But it’s not just the image that is altered, it’s the perceived reality of the image.

Filters can turn even the most mundane backyard sunset picture into something like a photo taken at an ocean coastline after an epic volcanic eruption, with fractals of light arrayed off of billions of stratospheric ash particles. Combine the visual effect with the human need to share beautiful things, and it is no wonder that it’s hard to come by a non-altered photo in your Facebook feed.

But human beings are creatures of habit. We adjust to our surroundings and constantly find new norms. Anything which was once spectacular, if it becomes popular, becomes mundane. As a result, filters are desensitizing us to the actual beauty of the world. Super contrasts, saturations, and focus effects that are designed to enhance our vision means that seeing without them becomes blurry, gray, and flat.

Now that everyone can do it, we become skeptical that a photo is not real. Even the most remarkable photo is viewed as, “well that’s a nice Instagram, probably was nothing like that…” creating the new social need for people to shout #nofilter to point out: “no no! it was really like that, I wasn’t faking it this time!”

Photography is a true art form like painting, sculpting, or writing. It takes intense dedication and practice to master the capturing of light and moments. The conditions around a photo are analyzed. A lot of time is spent waiting for the best possible sunlight. A scientific pairing of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is achieved.

But the option of filtering lets us skip all of those steps. We now take pictures of things that we would’ve never photographed because with a few clicks we can make something that looks, well, pretty decent. As we adapt to the habit of photographing everything, the filter becomes part of the natural action. We photograph so often that we spend more time looking at the photo than the subject we are capturing.

Technology has already augmented our reality

Photos also call upon our personal memories, which fade over time. When we filter photos we apply this new layer again between the reality and our memory. We lose part of our ability to reminisce and connect with our past moments. For now it doesn’t seem like a problem, but what about in 20 years? Will we be able to feel the emotions from moments of actual experience or will we indifferently flick through our various photo albums because every image looks the same and doesn’t feel real?

We don’t need to alter photos, the world is spectacular enough as it is. That backyard sunset was powerful enough to warrant a photo, therefore it is powerful enough to exist by itself, without being enhanced. And when you do happen to be on an ocean coastline at sunset after an epic volcanic eruption, you will have earned the tag #nofilter. The real way to have better photos is to have better experiences.

    Tony Hymes

    Written by

    #Analytics analyst @Disney, #MBA student @ESGMBA, love fresh thinking, buffalo, and lasagna. More about me here:

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