Photo Filters Boost Social Engagement

In addition to making every photo look all artsy and brooding – look, it’s a refrigerator, and it’s depressed! – digital photo filters actually boost social media engagement, attracting more clicks and comments. That’s according to a new study by Yahoo Labs and Georgia Tech University, first reported in the New York Times, which looked at more than seven million photos from Flickr, of which half originally came from Instagram.

According to the researchers, photos with digital filters applied to them were 21% more likely to be viewed than photos without filters, and were 45% more likely to receive a comment from viewers. The researchers speculate that this has less to do with the artistic aspects of the filters, and more to do with a subtle technical capability – namely, they allow photographers to correct imperfections, mistakes, and other visual misfires.

The NYT quotes one Yahoo Labs researcher, David Shamma, who explained: “What they want is the puppy a little brighter or the crowds a bit more visceral” (I don’t know about you, but I basically always want my puppies extremely bright, I mean blinding like the sun).

The study also uncovered some specific effects on engagement from different filters. For example, filters that enhance the contrast or raise the exposure of images were slightly more likely to be viewed and commented on. Meanwhile, filters that “age” the image produced more views but not as many comments.

While these results are interesting, I wonder if photo engagement will suffer from the same sort of inflation of expectations that has affected digital video with the introduction of slick production tools. In other words, when everyone is using the filters, and all photos have breathtakingly bright puppies in them, will any of the photos really stand out? Or will uniformly bright puppies just be taken for granted?

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