Ragesoss via Wikipedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

Sometimes, all it takes to fix a boring picture and jump start the comment section on your social media page is a warming filter. A team of researchers from Georgia Tech and Yahoo Labs studied the effects of filters on photo uploads, looking to find out why amateur and professional photographers use them, and whether their use impacts the number of views and comments an image receives.

The study, “Why We Filter Our Photos and How It Impacts Engagement” [PDF], was conducted in two parts—qualitative and quantitative. First, to understand why photographers apply filters, the team interviewed 15 frequent Flickr users—both professional and amateur—and determined that there is a correlation between photographers' experience and interest level and their motivation for using filters. “Serious hobbyists,” as DSLR users are referred to in the white paper, use them primarily as a correction tool, while “casual photographers,” mainly camera phone users, use them to dramatically alter and enhance an image.

For the quantitative section, the researchers culled data from 7.6 million photo uploads—4.1 million posted from Instagram and 3.5 million from Flickr’s mobile app—and analyzed how filter type affects consumer behavior. Setting overall photostream views, tags, the age of the account, and follower count as controls, they were able to find that the “Existence of a filter can increase the chances of photo being viewed by other users by 21 percent,” and that “filtered photos receive 45 percent more comments than the original ones.”

They then went in further to answer the questions “What makes filters engaging? Are all filters equally engaging? What photo transformations increase the likelihood of being viewed and commented on?”

The team found that increasing contrast and exposure, and/or applying a warming filter, positively affects both views and comments, with the warming filter having the biggest impact of all. Using an aging filter increases the number of views but decreases comments, and toying with saturation has a small but negative effect on views, but a positive effect on comments. Overall, they found that "Photographically speaking, filters which auto-enhance a photo (e.g. correct for contrast and exposure) drive more engagement. We find the less-engaging filters exhibit transformation effects which are exaggerated and often cause photographic artifacts and/or loss of highlight details. The exception being filters which make a photo look antique."

[h/t NYmag]