Someday we will apply the filters to our lives. Feeling grey? Tap the little sun icon and roll your finger right to lift your mood to the desired brightness. Is your Monday morning commute a bit flat? X-Pro II will give it that high-drama contrast. For now, the filters exist on Instagram, and alter only our photos, though the before-and-after is no less astounding to contemplate.
Filtering is in fact the final and most crucial stage of the Instagram travel photo. It comes after the pretty scene has been chosen and (if necessary) prop-styled, and the dozen or so pics you snapped from varying angles have been edited down to one somewhat perfect image—say, of you and a friend atop the Vatnajokull glacier, in Iceland.
It’s a landscape dramatic and other-worldly, to be sure. It’s what you’ve flown halfway around the world and taken a three-hour car ride to witness with your own eyes. And yet your photo is underwhelming, somehow. The craggy ice field lacks vivid definition. The composition is tilted by several degrees. As tends to happen upon glaciers, the sky is drably overcast, something you would correct if you knew the first thing about photography.
You could post the photo as-is; it would document the real moment. But it wouldn’t signal to your followers that your life right now is a waking National Geographic expedition. This is where the magic comes in, in the form of adjust, brightness and saturation; and X-Pro II or Hefe; and, if still more photoshopping is needed to achieve max cinematic effect, an editing app like VSCO or Snapseed.
On beholding the results, even you can’t believe this is the same meh photo. Indeed it isn’t. So when you post to Instagram and the comments pour in from people going, “That looks so amazing!” you comment back, “I know!” And in that moment, the filter version becomes your remembered reality.