Marketing | Environment | Culture

Opinion on a Hashtag: The Folly of #NoFilter


Prideful. Purist. Fashionable. Bandwagonesque. No matter the nature of the underlying motivation, all kinds of people are tweeting their photos with the hashtag #nofilter.


A photo is shot with a smartphone. It’s shared to Twitter with Instagram. In that process, a filter or effect may be applied. It’s given a description. The description may include one or more hashtags.


Two primary purposes of a Twitter hashtag are to provide context and to increase findability. Hashtags provide definition, tend to be related to subject matter or geography, are often humorous, increase community and conversation, and can be clicked to produce an entire stream of tweets with the same tag. Though they have no function beyond context on Facebook, hashtags are also seen there, especially on photos shared through Instagram.


The purpose of #nofilter in particular is to say “I didn’t use an Instagram filter or effect; this photo is less processed and more pure than many other Instagram pics.”


At one level, the folly of this tag is immediately apparent and reflects several of the cliches for which both Twitter and Instagram are known and mocked. As in: you shot and shared a nearly in focus smartphone pic of your lunch that somehow makes a delicious meal look unappetizing … congratulations on refusing to filter it! Way to hold the high ground.


Here’s a sampling of photos shared to Twitter through Instagram with the #nofilter hashtag this morning:


nofilter, pic, photo, pics, photos, Twitter, Instagram, hashtag, #nofilter, hashtagged

Random selection of Instagram photos with #nofilter hashtag found on Twitter this morning.




Most of them are good, right? Some are very good or even great, right? You can’t even tell a few were shot with a smartphone, right!?


The folly of the #nofilter hashtag is in the answers to these questions. The answers are completely subjective; they depend on the viewer. The tools employed to create the image have no relationship to a photo’s merit. It’s truly great if you think or feel it’s truly great – if it impacts you in a meaningful way. Any of the photos above might do that; I think a couple of them are great.


They’re much different and much better than Instagram photos with filters, right?


Nope. In the 20 minutes I spent looking at images tagged #nofilter, I experienced no discernable difference from the hundreds of other Instagram photos I’ve seen. They demonstrate the same range of subjects, interest levels, and general qualities. From my view, they’re no more or less successful than filtered images.


My View of Photography


Whether for art, aesthetic, and emotion or for journalism, documentation, and storytelling, photography is a powerful medium. I very much enjoy in all its uses. I like looking at photos online, in books, and in museums. I like shooting, editing, and sharing photos. I’m a fan.


As a consequence, I pay attention to photography groups, thought leaders, and brands across social networks. One running debate I’ve observed is on the role of equipment. Another is on the title of “photographer” (who uses it versus who deserves it).


An elitist* subset of photo enthusiasts denigrates smartphone photography. Another scoffs at amateurs and hobbyists who drop serious cash on high end cameras, lenses, or software and watermark their images. These are likely the same types of people who demonized digital a decade ago and instead worshiped film.


What does a harmless hashtag on a smartphone photo have to do with a $3,000 camera body or a $1,200 lens? Any focus on the tools is foolish. Tools are simply means to ends by definition.


In my opinion, two things make a photo successful – achieve a successful end. The first is the experience of the photographer in producing the image. The second is the experience of the viewer in consuming the image. Provided that emotion or meaning is found in either or both of these experiences … success!


Bottom Line:


A photo is no better and no worse for having had an Instagram filter applied. A photo is no better and no worse for having been shot on a smartphone … or with a $10,000 rig. “Purity” in this process is irrelevant and illusory.


So settle down, prideful smartphone photographer. Whether or not that shot of your dessert has a filter on it just doesn’t matter. Images speak for themselves.


Closing Thoughts:


*”elitist” used here in a literal rather than pejorarive sense
No: this is not about you.
Yes: you can use any hashtag you want at any time.
Probably: you have an opinion, too – share it below!



  1. David Bauer

    Very well written Ethan. I came upon your blog by accident as i was googling some things for my new business endeavor. Great perspective and thoughts, I couldn’t agree more. We should do coffee.

  2. Josh

    “A photo is no better and no worse for having had an Instagram filter applied.”

    Agreed, but the photographer is a less interesting person.

  3. Tracee

    Thanks, Ethan! I was developing a complex over filtered, smartphone pics I enjoy snapping and sharing.

  4. anontheelfarose

    “Tools means to ends by definition.”

    Seems to have lost its verb somewhere. Maybe try something like, “Tools are simply a means to an end by definition.”

  5. Ethan Beute

    Thanks for that. Appreciate the catch.

  6. Porch

    Is not the camera itself already a filter? The ozone, our eyes, our action of framing a shot, digitization, translation, the social media interface, the eye of the beholder, all filters. With or without that stank-ass hashtag, that sh!tty image of a half-eaten hamburger has already been through dozens of filters. Why stop there?

  7. Rudy

    Good call on the hashtag. It is one of those things we disliked the first time we saw it…much like the way we all instantly hated the term “selfie”. Bandwagonesque indeed–now THERE is a word I can make use of for the next few weeks. 😉

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