Creative Filters for Photography

I have heard it said that the creative filter applications available for phone photography are simply a way to make bad photos look good.

Solar Scope
A solar telescope setup to photograph the total solar eclipse 21Aug2017

I would have to say that these filters are a way to make bad photos look worse.

The web is filled with horrible photos of pets, selfies, and dinner plates, often processed through some creative filter application to somehow make the photo look hip or cool. Sorry, a bad photo is still a bad photo. Often it is far worse for the application of the filter. Fancy colors, brush patterns or mosiacs, it does not matter, it is still just bad.

I am not telling you to uninstall the application, quite the opposite! A well composed photo can be a good photo after application of the filter. You can also use the filter to overcome some limitations of phone photography. Technical defects like color, lighting, and noise are often erased when the filter is applied.

The important bit is composition… Use of correct framing, good strong photo elements, and a good subject will make all the difference. With good composition in place a photo is well suited for playing with the filters. Load up the app and have some fun with the photo.

The filters can be used to overcome some phone photography limitations. When boarding an aircraft in Kona recently I took a nicely composed shot of the tail of the aircraft and other passengers proceeding me up the boarding ramp. In this situation the phone was also my boarding pass, thus the phone already in my hand when I saw the photo opportunity. While the good cameras were in my pack, there was no time to get them out, I shot with the phone.

Alaska 850 Redeye
Boarding Alaska flight 850 for the overnight flight to Seattle from Kona

Snapped quickly with the phone the image suffered the usual low light phone issues, soft muddy colors and tons of grainy noise. Using the Avaitor filter in Prisma served to salvage the image, resulting in a photo worth publishing here on DarkerView. I was quite pleased with the results.

Prisma is my favorite of these applications. Available for both iOS and Android phones, the application is the most popular of the filter apps. I find the filters are quite good and very creative. A large library of filters is available for Prisma, far beyond the basic set loaded when you install the app on your device. I have sorted through, uninstalling ones I do not use and loading new ones I find fit my style.

The fishing boat Roedda departs the packing plant dock in Petersburg
Another app I enjoy is Waterlogue. As you might guess from the name, Waterlogue applies effects that are more reminiscent of watercolor painting styles. Waterlogue also features a wide variety of filters to choose from. Unlike Prisma the app gives control over the results in filter strength and detail extraction with some adjustments.

I have enjoyed using both apps, often coming up with photos worth keeping or publishing on the blog. Sitting on a plane, or riding a truck driving up the mountain I find a good time-killer is looking through the photos on my phone for images that might create good fodder for filters. While I do not expect images processed by Prisma, Waterlogue, or similar applications to show up on gallery walls. These images are quite suited for sharing on Facebook, websites, and personal photo albums.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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