Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.

In Defense of Instagram: A Study Of Contrast

With 14 different filters to choose from to art up your images, Instagram has quickly become the go to app for people who like to share their cellphone photos on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Posterous, Tumblr, and Foursquare.

A regular complaint about the Instagram app by the unconverted, though, is that the filters obscure too many of the details in the photos. What the detractors don't understand is that Instagram is perfectly capable of taking decent photos; it's just that photographers in question are pairing their photos with the wrong filters.

Shanan - no filterSome photos are much better suited to some filters than others depending on the relative contrast, colour saturation, and lighting of the original image. I was curious to take a look at how Instagram's filters dealt with contrast in particular, and so I decided to test them with a black and white photo. I took the photo at left of my friend Shanan using the Hipstamatic app with the Lucifer VI lens and the Claunch 72 Monochrome film, and then I reframed it in Instagram using no filter to get it ready for the study.

I chose to use this black and white photo specifically, because its higher and lower contrast areas will be able to show off the limitations and advantages of each of the 14 Instagram filters better than an image with fewer extremes.

Shanan Shanan

X-Pro II Lomo-fi

Shanan Shanan

Earlybird Sutro

Shanan Shanan

Toaster Inkwell

Shanan Shanan

Walden Hefe

Shanan Shanan

Apollo Poprocket

Shanan Shanan

Nashville Gotham

Shanan Shanan

1977 Lord Kelvin

I think it's an obvious choice to choose a higher contrast filter like X-Pro II or Hefe than a lower contrast one like 1977 or Lord Kelvin for this particular image to avoid losing some of the detail in the lower contrast areas. There is no accounting for taste, though, which is why Instagram sometimes gets a bad rap.

The moral of the story?
Don't blame the Instagram app when there's a handy photographer behind the app to take the blame, because when it comes to Instagram, it's more a problem of individual taste and amateurishness than that the app as a whole is at fault for each and every cloudy picture that comes down through the tubes.

Grace in Small Things: Sunday Edition #53

The Palinode Cuts His Hair