Nowadays we spend as much time picking out the perfect filter for the photos and video we take as we do actually shooting them. With free apps like Instagram, Vine, and SnapSeed, filters have become the norm, and an unfiltered visual is a rare thing—so rare that the mere notion has its own popular hashtag when shared: #nofilter.
Filters are packaged image alterations—for color, sharpness, etc.—that are designed to achieve a specific effect on a photo or video. That effect varies depending on the media type and the composition. Filters can soften hard edges, bring out subtle highlights, and make new footage look vintage. A great example of the latter is Oscar-winning filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, who shot “Searching for Sugar Man” on his iPhone and used the 8mm Vintage Camera app.
Here are some filter styles, and how they can enhance your photo and video projects.
Have you ever looked at real vintage photographs and noticed they are slightly reddish brown in tone? That's sepia at work. Sepia tones were first used in early photography to lend a little warmth to black and white shots, derived from the color of a cuttlefish ink sac. The Instagram filter “Earlybird” is a prime example of a faux vintage filter that can transport your photos back in time.
If you can dodge a ball, you can dodge a photo—and you can dodge a ball in a photo! Dodging is a technique for lightening part of an image, and it was developed back before the dawn of digital photography when darkrooms were the norm. Photographers would use an opaque card or object to “dodge” the light exposure over the photo paper, which would cause the resulting portion of the image under the card to be lighter. Many Instagram filters, like Toaster and Sierra, use dodging.
Burning is the opposite of dodging. It's used to darken a portion of an image. In darkrooms, certain parts of photos would be given extra exposure—while all other parts would be “dodged” by an opaque object—to create the effect. Popular Instagram filters like Sutro use the burning effect to darken the edges of the photo, creating a vignette effect.
A high-pass filter is a term that comes from the technical world of electronics, and it refers to a mechanism that ignores high frequency electronic signals but normalizes or reduces lower frequency signals. In photography, the high-pass filter in Photoshop (or similar editing software) works to soften the hard edges of an image, while leaving anything else in the photo that's not a hard edge alone. It works great for softening wrinkles and lines! The Instagram filter Rise achieves this effect.
For a more in depth look at Instagram filters, Mashable has a great guide, explaining just how they each affect photos.
And have you ever wondered why Instagram filters have such quirky, catchy names? Some of the video filters were named after the developers' dogs!