"Time travel with one click: Effects of digital filters on perceptions of photographs." Proceedings of ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2017

Yilang Peng

Today’s digital photographs are being heavily “filtered.” By simple clicks on mobile apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram, users can easily apply digital filters to their pictures to create effects such as faux-vintage and light leaks. To understand the potential impacts of photo filters, we conducted an online experiment and investigated how the use of the black-and-white and film-style photo filters changed viewers’ perceptions and descriptions of photographs. We found that photo filters substantially increased viewers’ perceived temporal distances to photographs. Participants also tended to describe analogue-style photos more interpretively and tentatively than unfiltered ones, indicating an increase in construal levels. We suggest that the widely used photo filter is not just a tool to change aesthetics; it also adds a layer of history, meaning, and defamiliarization to photographs, allowing users to construct a mental distance in images that deviates from everyday experiences. We offer insights into the psychology of visual styles and implications for designing filter apps and photo-sharing platforms.