#Nofilter aka ALL THE FILTERS and Why They Don't/Do Actually Matter
Let's talk about Instagram, and color, and all my favorite hipstery things. We'll start with color, as color is really, very complex.
Color, at its most complex is split into two theories used by the scientific and artist communities. These theories are: Pigment Theory and Light Spectrum Theory. At its simplest, it is the way in which we humans experience the world visually, or at least lots of us. As we've discovered with the advent of modern science and the help of viral media (the blue&black/white&gold dress disaster of 2015) all of our eyes interpret color differently. That's because eyes are complex organs which take in light which is then interpreted by our brains. There is lots of small differences which can change up this process, and loads of them have more to do with the brain than the eye! When making a comparison of body parts to mechanics, a camera would be the eyeball and, in terms of color, the brain would be the film in an analogue camera, or the sensor in a digital camera.
What many people do not stop to think about is that all cameras, like all human eyes, interpret color differently. That's why people in the creative industries utilize various tools to make their images "color correct" or in contrast, control the type of color they wish to use in a given image for artistic purposes. This becomes even more complex, when we consider that computer screens and printers also interpret color differently depending on their make and model.
Examples of color correction tools that can assist a digital artist are a color checker, color calibration monitors, color calibration software, and printer profiles. If you're looking to start out as a designer, digital artist, or photographer, these are tools you will want to familiarize yourself with to get the best quality prints and online portfolios. It is also these tools which make applied medias more technical and difficult than they might at first seem; separating a professional from an amateur.
Many people can make a pleasing photograph on a digital camera, or even an analogue camera, but it takes a professional to craft that image into a final art object (either digitally, or in print). I will go one step further and say that these tools, or knowledge of the craft to this extent, is one of the factors in costs for quality commercial artwork. It could be the difference of the memorable photograph of your beautiful wedding bouquet of white daisies looking pretty, clean, and white; or a bit drab, and kinda grey.
Now, of course color, is to a large degree, subjective, which is where certain styles and looks come into play. Perhaps you're quite happy for your white, wedding bouquet to be a light yellow-brown color, so long as the whole photo is made with a sepia tone, vintage feel to it. That's great, and a commissioned artist should be working with their client to understand what kind of aesthetic they desire; however as in any other field, a professional should still be able to get the foundations accurate.
So if color is subjective, what is an accurate foundation knowledge of color? It's understanding color theory so you know how to make good, intentional, aesthetic decisions. Color is light. How our eyes interpret different wavelengths on the light spectrum determines what color we see. Everything absorbs and reflects light.
For example, I am sitting on a red chair. This chair is absorbing all the light on the light spectrum (white light) except the red wavelength. Red light is bouncing off this chair and hitting my eyes, and my brain is interpreting it as this color we have named "red." In truth, the chair I am sitting on is actually orange-yellow-green-blue-violet. But I can't see those light waves. In the English language we've named colors after the lights which are reflected back at us and we can observe with our eyes, but not the lights which a given object absorbs.
Some colors are more reflective/absorbent than others. Have you ever wondered why you're warmer outside on a sunny day in a black shirt rather than a white one of the same material? It's because "white" is super reflective. When you wear a white shirt; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet light is being reflected outward from the shirt, so it isn't actually absorbing much light. However a black shirt absorbs all the wavelengths of the visible light spectrum. That's a lot of light compared to that absorbed by the white shirt, and light from our sun is of course warmth and energy; thus the black shirt is absorbing more heat because it is absorbing more color.
That is a very basic explanation of how we see color. Obviously, we have many different variations of color in this world, so light theory becomes much more complex when we're talking about an object which is perhaps "mint green" or "blue grey" in color.
Color becomes even more complex when we introduce pigments. Pigments are a bit like the scientific elements in the world of painting; they are the smallest units of solid color while being their own entity. Basically, they are the smallest "thing" of a single color. These pigments are made up of all sorts of materials. Vials of crushed lapis lazuli or ultra marine minerals make brilliant blues. But they are different blues, and thus when mixed with a yellow pigment will yield different greens. In this way, measuring out a certain amount of ultra marine pigment and mixing it with a specific amount of sulfur pigment, will make an accurate, specific green which can be measured, recorded, and replicated.
Luckily, we do not have to think too much of these complexities when we go to the local craft store and buy a tube of paint, but that's only because many great artists of the past have done the hard science for us. In fact, during the formation of guilds in the Medieval era, painters were not part of a special artist guilds, but rather started in medical guilds with doctors and pharmacists because the chemistry of pigment mixing was so complex. This history, is where many of our names for paints (and inks) come from; Titanium white has titanium in it (as opposed to lead), cadmium red, has cadmium in it. This is why many professional paints and inks are toxic, and we make special water based, non toxic alternatives for children.
It's rare nowadays to find painters who mix their own paint colors from crushed pigments. But knowledge about them is really important for control over your color as an artist. Color (be it paint, lumens on a computer screen, or inks) has four main properties that rookies of color theory should study. They are: Hue, Value, Intensity, and Bias.
Hue, is the name of a color. Is it red-orange? Or fire engine red? Or Cadmium red? The Colour Index International, is a color index, which has been responsible for naming and recording colors since 1925. Chances are, you've been misusing the names of your colors, but don't worry, we all have at some point.
Value, is the same meaning as when using a grey scale; it's the "lightness" or "darkness" of a color. Imagine if you had one teaspoon of red paint and you added a half teaspoon of black paint. The red + black mixture would be a red with a darker value than the red you started with.
Intensity, is the "brightness" or "dullness" of a color. Think of a yellow banana compared to a yellow highlighter. They're both yellow, but one is more intense. There are different ways to achieve high or low intensity. The most common way to make a color look more dull, or less intense, is to mix it with its compliment (opposite color on the color wheel).
Bias, is the "red bias" or "blue bias" of a color. This is the most difficult concept of the four to learn. Each color, even the primaries (red, blue, and yellow) tend to have a bit of a red or blue cast to them. For example, a fire-engine red has a red bias, where as a dark-red apple may have a blue bias. Examples of this can be seen below.
So what does this have to do with Instagram and filters? Well everything really. When you tag your photograph #nofilter, you're completely forgetting that your photographic device has already interpreted your image according to its programming, and likewise, the screen your followers are viewing the image on will interpret it differently, meaning without your specific melding, your images has already been edited and color corrected to some degree. Contrastingly, if you're a big fan of filters, there is no reason not to be as your device has already made edits, but you should consider learning how your image will be viewed on other devices. Is it bright enough? Does it automatically expose too green? Too red? What are the color standards and profiles used where you live? Will it look the same if it's printed? Are you living in the EU editing in a European standard color profile while most of your audience is in the US viewing it in another? Theses are all important questions, but the most important thing to remember is to have fun while you learn about color and find what works best for your art!
Remember, you can always contact me with further questions. If this a topic of interest to you I can provide you with further resources. Also, check out the photographs below. They are taken on different devices exemplifying the difference in color; some differences are more subtle than others. While you're at it, do some digging in your computer's display settings to see what the recommended color setting is for your personal device!