How to choose the right Instagram filter

    Lunt Hall using the Rise filter. Photo by Megan Suckut / North by Northwestern.

    All the rage in the iPhoneography world, Instagram allows users to take any old picture on their smartphones and apply a filter to age it, change its color or just plain be artsy. The app has its critics in the photography community, but no one can deny the fun of giving a picture more pop and sharing it with the world.

    Instagram has the ability to add photo borders (often super cheesy) and an option to emulate tilt-shift photography (sort of cool when done appropriately), but the main thing that trips up users new and old is proper usage of the filters. It's easy to scroll through them and decide they are all really the same thing. I know I still sometimes do it. But the 17 filters of Instagram are really just as different as the thoughts of the people who choose to use them.


    Amaro: seems to make the photo look like an important, suspended and memorable moment in time with its almost-misty overexposure quality. "Lovin' the hair, girl. The boys will be all over you at the party tonight. Let's take a group pic to commemorate the occasion."

    Rise: gives the image a cozy glow as if you and the subject are casually sitting by a fireplace when you take the picture. "Aww, look at the wittle bunnies over there! Look at them. I'm gonna take a picture and make them look all vintagey."

    Walden: brightens up the majority of the image in order to invoke a sense of timelessness or, in my case, to correct a photo that came out too dark. "Guys, be jealous. I live on Lake Michigan. Northwestern is so quaint, as you can tell by this over-exposed picture of its deep blue waters."

    1977: helps users feel optimistic (see life through rose-colored glasses) at the dining hall. "Mealtime at Hinman. Maybe Instagramming it pink will make it taste better."

    Use these filters to brighten your photos. Photo by Megan Suckut / North by Northwestern.
    Want to darken your pics? Try out these options on Instagram. Photo by Megan Suckut / North by Northwestern.

    MAKES YOUR PHOTO DARKER (lower exposure)

    Hudson: makes what's dark look darker and what's light look like winter. "Ugh, 65 degrees. I guess it's time to take out the North Face."

    X-pro II: ups the saturation of bright colors in the photo while simultaneously making it darker on the edges (I think of it as the quintessential Rich Kids of Instagram filter).

    Lo-fi: works almost like X-Pro II, minus the vignetted edges; the no-shame method to brag about your evidently productive study session in the Core. "So yeah, I did try out this photo on every filter for a few minutes, but it was a necessary study break. Just look at all these books! I'm a busy person."

    Sutro: perfect for finals week when everything sucks and there's no sun and the world is a cruel and unforgiving place. "We don't just have two finals weeks – we have three. Three whole finals weeks. You state school students can try to get it, but you'll never understand what I go through three times every school year. Finals weeks, that's what."

    ADDS COLOR TO YOUR PHOTO (higher saturation)

    Hefe: basically the equivalent of dragging the saturation filter in Photoshop to 50 or higher. "Om nom nom. Hot cookie bar. Only here, and only this vibrant with Hefe."

    Valencia: makes the photograph look like more of an heirloom than the rest; works especially well with Deering Library. "Guys, I finally made it to Hogwarts! I even got sorted into the Special Collections house. Because I'm actually in Deering. Bet you haven't heard that one before."

    Nashville: depending on your photo, may add romantic shades of pink and blue to the image. "Nothing comes between me and my Starbucks Skinny Vanilla Latte."

    Increase the saturation and voila, some new colors are added in. Photo by Megan Suckut / North by Northwestern.
    Concentrate on just a few of the hues by taking out some of the colors. Photo by Megan Suckut / North by Northwestern.


    Sierra: makes the photo look softer and subdued like a painting. "I know thousands of people have taken photos of the Arch through the years, but I have to be the only one who's used Sierra on it and simultaneously blasted it to my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds afterwards."

    Brannan: gives the photo something similar to an Old West sepia effect; perfect for photographing the tumbleweed rolling through the Norris Game Room. "Wait, there's a Game Room in Norris?"

    Inkwell: makes the photo black and white. "Sometimes I just really like photos in black and white. They have a certain air that color photos just don't have. So classic."

    Tweak the colors of your Instagram photos with these three filters. Photo by Megan Suckut / North by Northwestern.


    Earlybird: gives the image an even warmer and more golden sepia (read: Western) tone than Brannan will give it, plus vignetted edges; I imagine it would convey the right idea when you take selfies while guarding the rock. "This rock ain't big enough for the two of our student associations willing to guard it for 24 hours until which we paint it and it lasts for a couple days until the next one comes along and repeats the process."

    Toaster: back in the day, photos developed with this distinctive burnt red and orange tint were most likely mourned and thrown away; nowadays, we do it on purpose and call the effect "Toaster." "Maybe by making it look like I live in a constant state of sunset, people will think I do more exciting things in my college life than bio labs."

    Kelvin: makes Toaster look like a wimp with its all-encompassing, lazy, warm filter for pretending your life is a Best Coast track and North Beach is actually Newport Beach. "'There's something about the summer…' Man, this stuff speaks to me. It just speaks to me."

    So that's the gist of Instagram filters. Experiment with them and take all the pointless, artsy photos you want in order to find your favorite. Will it be Hefe? Lo-fi? Toaster? Who cares! Just please stop Instagramming bathroom mirror selfies. I much prefer food pics anyways.


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