No More #nofilter?

Instagram-Logo My name is Samantha Kannegiser and I am a new intern at the Weigle Information Commons. When my colleague Jaime suggested I write a post about photo filters I was unsure how interesting a topic it would be. However, after reading a new study conducted by Yahoo! Labs I was intrigued. The study finds that the ways in which we use filters on the photos we share affects those photos’ popularity and tendency to produce interaction through comments. The focus was on users of Flickr’s mobile application, and it is worth mentioning that Yahoo! Labs is a division of Yahoo!, the company which owns Flickr.

When considering the importance of these findings, think about why social photo sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram are so popular (92 million and 300 million users respectively). Mobile capabilities make it easy for us to quickly snap and document moments in our days, creating a sometimes overwhelming digital collection of memories. The desire to document and preserve is age-old and only part of this process, though. Photo sharing sites have made it possible for us to use our photos to tell a story to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers while also allowing us to interact socially in a digital setting. These snapshots of our lives are no longer bound to film and photo albums, but are now part of a larger story.

Given the importance we place on creating and sharing content our next logical question should be: How can I reach more people? The above study indicates that the use of filters has a significant impact on the amount of people we reach and interact with through our photos. Below is an example of why and how users are most likely to employ filters:

Motive Example
improving aesthetics make the clouds look distinct from the sky
adding vintage effects give an old look to an old theater
highlighting objects focus the attention on the face
manipulating colors change the saturation of food
making photos appear more fun and unique emulate film by removing colors from a portrait of an old man

Table 1: Summary of users’ motives in applying filters on their photos. We provided an example for each motive. (Baskhshi et al, 2015)

So, which filters will increase viewings and comments? From Hyperallergic’s review of the same study, “The most compelling conclusions, drawn from analysis of 7.6 million photos uploaded to Flickr between late 2012 and mid-2013 — either through its mobile app (3.5 million) or through Instagram (4.1 million) — include:

  • Overall, photos with filters are 21% more likely to be looked at than non-filtered photos and 45% more likely to elicit comments.
  • The filters most likely to boost images’ popularity are those “that impose warm color temperature, boost contrast, and increase exposure.”
  • Filters that effect the saturation of a photo inexplicably have a small and negative impact on the number of views, but a positive impact on the number of comments garnered.
  • Filters that give an image an aged look — your sepia-tone and black-and-white filters, for instance — boost the number of views while decreasing images’ chances of garnering comments.”

Just for fun, here is a picture taken at the Weigle Information Commons as seen through different filters:


Filters used, left to right: Hefe, Willow, Earlybird, Lo-fi, X-ProII, Sierra

The photo in the center is the unfiltered, truest form of the image. According to this study, though, we would be better off posting a picture with a vintage or “warm” filter if we want more people interested in and commenting on our content. So, do you prefer these filters to #nofilter photos?

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