Love them or hate them, photo filters are a staple of photo sharing. While some may view them as a shortcut to creativity, new research suggests they’re also a powerful lure for eyeballs on the web’s most popular photo platforms.

New research from Saeideh Bakhshi, David Shamma and Lyndon Kennedy of Yahoo Labs and Eric Gilbert at Georgia Tech aims to understand how filtering and “visual post-processing” impacts photo sharing.

What they found, simply put, is that filtering photos drives more engagement: photos with filters were 21 percent more likely to be viewed on Flickr and Instagram than those without. What’s more, filtered photos were 45 percent more likely to be commented on.

There is an art to filtering, though.

“Filters that increase contrast and correct exposure can help a photo’s engagement, and filters that create a warmer color temperature are more engaging than those with cooler color effects,” the authors write. “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.”

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The study gleaned insights from interviews with Flickr users, plus a quantitative analysis of over 7.6 million images from both Flickr and Instagram.

Incidentally, filters aren’t the only means of increasing engagement with images. The researchers also found that the more tags a Flickr image had, the more likely it was to surface in a search. The age of a Flickr account also had a “positive but small role” in the number of eyeballs an image attracted.

The full report, which provides a detailed breakdown on the methodology used in the study, is available here.


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