To feel threatened by some push-button artsy photo filters is to admit that photography is nothing more than image post-processing. I don’t see why anyone who loves photography should be against Instagram. Do they fear that photography will become a more relevant form of artistic expression for future generations? Does it pain them that more technically proficient-looking images are populating the internet? Is it upsetting that millions of people who would never otherwise take an artistic photo in their lives are wising up to the power and possibility of a well-composed photograph? I think it’s about finally time photographers handed over their bag of tricks and cut some of the bullshit mystery out of photo post-processing. It’s just a tool after all. To covet it is to risk leaning too heavily on it at the expense of what really matters: your composition.
So I’m going to start a project. An Instagram-at-Home project, where I’m going to be trying to figure out, and reproduce, the effects of each of the Iphone 4 Instagram filters in Photoshop CS. I’m going to start w/ a very ordinary picture I took on my Iphone 4s at Acadia National Park this weekend. Which, after the Instagram filter X-Pro II is applied, looks like this:
What’s attractive about this image is that there is the sense of timelessness, which is a very relevant kind of feeling to evoke in a photograph of a landscape. It’s produced through vintage effects in which the whites move toward yellow while the blacks toward blue, similar to how a color photo ages. Adding to that is the vignetting that occurs in older cameras, where the exposure levels are not constant over the film area but rather darker at the edges and lighter in the center directly behind the lens. An image taken from the same spot on my point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix LX5 looks like this, straight out of the camera:
After applying some filters and corrections in photoshop, I was able to obtain this image, which is pretty close to the original Instagram image in terms of color, contrast, vignetting, etc.
Here’s how I did it:
The first layer (from the bottom) is a contrast layer. I used the curves tool to pull up the highlights and push down the shadows in the image for enhanced contrast. Since the image is a bit underexposed, I also increased the overall brightness of the photo. With only that layer active the image looks like this:
Next layer above the contrast adjustment layer is the vignetting. I used the gradient tool to draw a transparent-to-grey radial fill at 40% opacity. That layer alone looks like this:
And the final layer is an exclusion layer, which does the color inversions necessary to produce the aged color photo look. I chose a navy blue fill, so the blacks move towards this navy blue while the whites move towards its inverse which is a kind of dusty yellow. I set the opacity at 50%, which was good enough to give me the approximation of the Instagram photo.
Mine came out a bit too yellow. I would want to desaturate the yellows a bit as a last layer to get closer to the Instagram image. But we’ve got all the crucial bits down. Playing around w/ the sliders: saturation, opacity, colors and levels you can get arbitrarily close to the original photo.