The Instagram Effect
When Instagram launched, it offered 12 settings to augment users’ photos in ways that produced lovely and often surprising results. You’d take a picture, put on the Lomo-fi filter, and boom—the popping colors made an otherwise drab party picture emotionally vibrant. Or the Hefe filter—my personal favorite—which boosts contrast while reducing saturation, uncovering subtle details I don’t notice with my naked eye.
As I used the app more and more, something surprising happened: I became increasingly observant of the world around me. Walking to the subway the other day, I spotted a backhoe parked on a corner and got curious—what could I do with that? Presto: Hefe helped me turn it into the dirty claw of a weary dragon. Later that day, a filtered snap of my living-room floor revealed how it secretly looks like the wood on a country barn.
In old analog cameras, many such filter “effects” were a chemical byproduct of the film, so photographers became expert at understanding the unique powers of each. Fujifilm’s Velvia film, with its high saturation and strong contrast, attracts photographers looking to capture the vibrancy of nature, Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom notes.
But casual photographers rarely developed this type of eye, because they just wanted to point and shoot. What Instagram is doing—along with the myriad other photo apps that have recently emerged—is giving newbies a way to develop deeper visual literacy.