A humorous look at the hype (and paranoia by pro photographers) around using smartphone filters.
I remember that special individual (you know who you are!) who changed my mind about using smartphone filters to totally fuck up an otherwise professional image I had painstakingly processed in Photoshop CC – like the elitist snobby snob I used to be. Yes. There was actually a time when I paid homage to the photographic tradition of actually caring about most – if not all – of the adjustable parameters available to me in a professional photo editing software suite. But thankfully, a random stranger on the street completely blew my mind after I showed him the candid photo of himself that I’d just taken.
“Tell me sonny, just what are you going to do with that photo when you get back home?” he asked me suspiciously.
Oh, don’t worry,” I said assuredly. “I won’t post this image anywhere without your consent.”
He raised his one good eyebrow at me (the one that hadn’t been blown off his face during the Second World War). “That’s not what I meant.”
He proceeded to take out his wallet and retrieved a well-worn picture of his great grandson, whom he then told me about at length starting from birth and ranging all the way up to age 19 and his being accepted into some cult-like Burmese chef school.
“My great grandson uses only Snapseed to tinker with his photos. He says everything else is dog shit. And he should know – he’s got 245 thousand followers on Instagram,” he concluded with an all-knowing grin from the corner of his face that had not be surgically-reconstructed due to a grenade explosion in the Korean War.
The old boy then went on to show me his great grandson’s Instagram feed, mostly selfies with “hotties” he’d met at parties and pictures of beer cans drained and skateboarders in the park. I didn’t want to hurt the old man’s feelings, but his great grandson’s pictures looked like utter dog shit. At least, that was my first impression.
“My great grandson would kill me, but I’ll let you in on his secret to success – because you look like a nice young man yourself and I’d like to see you succeed in your photographic career,” he told me almost too sincerely, while scratching the scar on his elbow that hadn’t been burned off during a friendly fire napalm strike in the Vietnam War.
“Grunge Style 179,” he said with a sly grin and vicious jab to my rib cage.
“What?” I managed to respond.
“And you call yourself a photographer. Fuck me!”
He went on to explain the Grunge Style and how filters work. Apparently, the secret to his great grandson’s Instagram success was using the same filter on every single photo he snapped with his smartphone camera. Then he immediately shared those images to Instagram and watched the Likes, Follows, and Comments flood in like a tsunami. Fuck me, indeed!
“But these are all black-and-white photos,” I pointed out after downloading Snapseed on the spot. “The Grunge 179 Style is in color.”
“Listen up, sonny! Did you think it would be THAT EASY!” He laughed himself so much at that moment that he soiled himself. But he carried on his lecture in dignity nevertheless. “Once he applies the Grunge 179 Style he goes to the black-and-white filter, applies that son-of-a-bitch, and perhaps cranks the fuckin’ contrast up to 80 or 100 because that’s what he says all the fuckin’ street photographers do!”
It was starting to make a lot of fuckin’ sense.
“I see,” I said while looking at my $3,900 full-frame DSLR camera and lens in disillusionment.
“You don’t need that fuckin’ Photoshop and fuckin’ Lightroom nonsense. You don’t need no fancy fuckin’ camera. You just need Snapseed. Oh, and maybe a fuckin’ iPhone. Expensive, those iPhones, but that’s the price of being a professional I reckon.”
The old man had a fuckin’ point. One needed to invest in the right gear to launch a successful photographic venture. And all the talk online about developing a consistent style jived with his grandson’s formula for Instagram stardom.
Upon seeing that he had made his point with me, he whispered a few parting words in my ear.
“But don’t copy my great grandson, you see? You look like a Glamour Glow #2 or a Vintage #4 shooter. Find your own way, my boy. Then post those pics directly to Instagram sans Photoshop and Lightroom. That stuff is for sissies anyway.”
As the old man wheel-chaired himself away with that one good arm, I turned to him and held up my smartphone triumphantly.
“Look!” I screamed maniacally. “You’re right! I’m a Vintage #4 shooter!”
I showed him his picture – freshly processed in Snapseed – and shared it to my Instagram page right on the fuckin’ spot. “You’ll be an Instagram hero when I’m finished with you!”
He showed me his middle finger as he rolled away off into the sunset.
The image of the old man looked like dog shit – but I learned something that day. What looks good to society changes in time. And in the first half of the 21st Century, it looks like shitty smartphone apps are leading the way in how we process our images and in what constitutes engaging, empirical beauty.
So if you’re still using Photoshop and Lightroom, get with the fuckin’ program, will ya? Learn to make your photos look like dog shit – like a pro – and reap the benefits of Instagram fame. And if you’re lucky, maybe another dim-witted editor of some popular magazine will assign one of his writers to publish another fluff story about professional photographers making a living off their iPhone photos using shitty camera apps.
With a little more bit of luck, you could be one of those featured photographers carrying the photographic banner of mediocrity too. But don’t go using my patented Vintage #4, black-and-white-converted, Contrast 100 settings. That’s MY DOG SHIT STYLE, motherfucker!
Now get out there and summon your inner smartphone app. filter self! The world will thank you for it.