Our fascination with grungy photo filters

I don’t’ know about you, but I’m completely smitten with the simple, fun, and highly filtered effects of software like Snapseed and Instagram. Once I start editing my photos with these filter apps I just can’t stop! And every time I post one of my creations on my facebook page, I get a huge amount of comments.

It all started when I got my iPad

I was on holidays far away from home and experiencing WiFi withdrawal symptoms when I first discovered quick and dirty edits. There was something liberating about editing photos with simple taps and finger painting techniques that felt so much more creative than agonizing over histograms and white balance.

It felt like every creation was art!

I never would have thought that wrecking my photos would make them better. Applying these instant gratification filters to photos liberated me from the confines of Photoshop and my own perfectionist tendencies. The filters helped me loosen up. My creativity was more free flowing as a result. I was having fun with photography again!

But what do art directors and creatives really think about them?

I thought I better get a second opinion on the topic, because clearly I’m having trouble seeing past the loudness of these filter effects. So I asked Pamela Wilson over at Big Brand System what she thought. Pamela is an experienced graphic designer who also teaches design and marketing, and she wrote this about how to draw attention with images which you need to read too.

Here's our conversation

As a designer, do you think these filter effects look good?

Pamela: Filter effects can work well, but they should be used carefully. For instance, if you’re writing a blog post or a magazine article that will run several images, it looks best if you apply the same effect to all the images so they look cohesive throughout. You want them to look like they all exist in the same world, so you wouldn’t pair a washed-out pastel effect with a dark, grungy effect in the same piece.

It’s important to not go overboard with them, too. The basic structure of a well-composed photo must be there to start.

Filters can enhance an already-good image, but they won’t make a great image out of a weak photo.

Do you think art directors or photo editors take this type of photography seriously?

Pamela: Definitely. It’s another tool in the visual tool bag, and the more you have of those, the better.

Are they publishable?

Pamela: As long as you use them with intention so that they’re communicating the visual message and style you want to convey, they can be very effective.

These are some very useful things to keep in mind. Thanks so much Pamela!

Some Snapseed Techniques

Snapseed is a very easy software program to use, and once you get started you won’t be able to quit – guaranteed! Get the iPad, iPhone or Android app before your next vacation. It’s free. Click here to find out more.

I’m rather fond of:

  • Drama
  • Grunge
  • Vintage
  • Frames

I seem to do similar edits on all my photos, maybe because these filters give my photos nostalgic qualities that I love.

I have also discovered that certain types of photos work better than others, and I find myself shooting for Snapseed. In other words, I’m seeking out images that will work well using these types of edits. And I guess if that increases how much and how often I’m shooting for fun, that’s a good thing.

This video shows my Snapseed workflow. Once you edit a couple of your own photos, you’ll start to see what filters and effects you like best.

The repeatability problem with quick and dirty edits from simple software

It frustrates me that I can’t repeat exactly the same process on subsequent photos using Snapseed. Well I can, but it’s a lot of work to keep track of every setting if I do multiple edits. And as Pamela said, if your images are going to illustrate an article or hang on a wall, they should look cohesive.

Yes you can certainly create your own effects using Photoshop and layering textures with your photos. Been there. Done that. Made the video!

But if filter effects are something you’re looking to use to develop your creative vision and style, then you might want to try out some of the full featured software that’s out there.

Other software for grungy photo effects

  • Luminar My favourite image editor
  • Snapseed by Google – for iPhone and Android
  • Nik software has a full suite of Photoshop filters and apps for Lightroom and Aperture
  • Instagram
  • OnOne software – Stand alone filter software for your computer
  • There are other apps as well. These are just a few popular ones.

Have you tried any of these grungy filter apps?