I want to talk about a pet peeve of mine… the #nofilter hashtag on Instagram. I know some of you will immediately file this under 'who cares?' and move on, but please bear with me.
First off, since Instagram has over 700 million users, I’ll assume that most of us either use or are familiar with the social media platform - so I'll skip the primer. However I do want to note that Instagram currently offers 24 different filters that a user can choose to apply to a photograph. The app also offers 13 additional controls that allow users to adjust many aspects of their photograph; such as: brightness, contrast, highlights, etc. Clearly, Instagram is pretty powerful photo-editing tool. It's given our digital cameras an easy way to simulate the unique "look" of different films, expensive lenses, and costly lighting.
Aside from the functionality Instagram extends to our smartphone cameras, it is also a social media platform. To some extent, Instagram is all about the hashtags we append to our photos. Hashtags are how other users find our work and they facilitate making connections beyond our immediate circle.
If you’ve ever used Instagram, I’m certain you’ve regularly run into (and have used) the #nofilter hashtag (I know I’m guilty of this). But, did you know that out of the millions of unique hashtags on Instagram, the #nofilter hashtag (according to shortstack.com) is the 31st most-popular?
So what does this hashtag really mean? And what does this indicate? I think that #nofilter boils down to two meanings or intentions:
The first is obvious. It’s used to indicate that no Instagram filter was applied/no editing done. That is to say that the photo presents authenticity - or objective ‘reality’/innate beauty of a location and/or subject. This is #nofilter intending to be informative. It tells the viewer/follower that none of Instagram's 24 filters were applied. However, Instagram doesn’t cross-reference the #nofilter hashtag to verify that a filter was not applied. Apparently, the practice of hash tagging a photo with #nofilter and applying a filter anyway is so widespread, that there are now websites that are meant to catch ‘#nofilter fakers’. Seriously, check this one out!
Furthermore, we know that every photograph has been manufactured. The photographer has undergone a process to make the photo and every photograph is a subjective representation of reality. This fact is something that the folks at Instagram apparently realise. The first, and default, filter is labelled ‘Normal’ - whatever that is. They recognise that by making a photo, we are making a subjective representation and categorizing 'Normal' as a filter.
The second meaning is the photographer communicating their skill (i.e. the photographer is skilled enough that they don’t need to ‘cheat’/apply filters in order to make a good photo). Uggh... in this instance, #nofilter is a brag (maybe a humble brag?). It’s the photographer letting you know that they don’t need to augment their photos with filters (“You still filter, bro?”).
This makes no sense. A filter is a tool. Why not use all the tools at your disposal to make the photograph you envision (whether or not that includes filters)? If you make a photo without the use of a filter, why feel compelled to share that it was made without the use of certain tools, unless it’s to brag?
In no other arena is this common. Could you imagine a painter letting you know that their latest work was created without the use of a No. 6 fan brush (#nofanbrush)? Or a mechanic letting you know that your engine was rebuilt without the use of their left hand (#nosouthpaw). Or a fireman putting out a fire without a hose (#bucketbrigade4life)?
- #nofilter isn’t a reliable way to inform
- #nofilter doesn’t communicate anything substantive as all photographs (to some degree) are filtered through a photographer's subjective point of view
- #nofilter communicates a photographer’s: satisfaction with either their own skill (blarg!), their ignorance of the tools that are available to them, their laziness in editing their work or, worse still, their superiority over others that are willing to use the tools.
I honestly can’t make a case for using the #nofilter hashtag. When you start to look at it’s intended meaning, it either falls apart or makes you into a bit of an jerk.
So, let's use the tools we have. Let's use filters and adjustments. Let's learn how to edit our photos to get the results we'd like. It isn’t cheating, it’s creating. It's equivalent to switching film rolls from Provia to Kodachrome to Tri-X to achieve a different look/mood. Don’t deny yourself the tools that are out there; they open up virtually limitless creativity. If your photo can be achieved in-camera without editing - great! But realise that in and of itself is a filter. And besides, Ludwig looks fantastic!