We get a reasonable number of questions along the line of "What filter was used for this photograph?", where "filter" is used to mean Instagram-style digital filter rather than a physical-type polarizing, neutral density etc filter. Two recent examples:

The trouble with these questions is that good photos aren't made by selecting a filter in Instagram, but instead by thinking about light, composition and all that difficult stuff. One possibility would be to come up with a canonical type question we can redirect this type of question to, but I can't quite see how to write that canonical question. We could just keep closing them as "unclear", but that doesn't really seem to help the posters learn.

Related: What should we do with questions which assume photography is all Photoshop tricks?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also related (and maybe duplicate?) — What's the best way to ask a "How do I achieve this effect?" question? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that's some of it - the example questions I linked could certainly do with explaining what effect they're trying to achieve - but there's also the assumption in these questions that a great photo can be achieved via filters. I guess it depends if they're after something not achievable with filters (e.g. shallow DoF) or something which might be (low key, warm tone etc), and we won't know which until they explain what they're after. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall Mod
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:24

3 Answers 3


I'm okay with the current way of handling them — direct them to What's the best way to ask a "How do I achieve this effect?" question?, and close it as unclear.

If the person is motivated enough to follow through with the direction to make their question more specific, or to show their work attempting to recreate the effect, like Jeff Atwood suggests as an answer to "What's the best way...", then we can happily reopen the question. This is a win-win: the asker learns something in the process about how the Photo.SE community works, and the Photo.SE community gets a better question, which will almost certainly generate better answers.

If we make it easier for the askers to ask these types of questions, and get something, without giving effort for making the question better, we only encourage drive-by askings of the same question over and over again.

I'm totally in favor of helping people, but it's my opinion that upwards of 95% of the people who ask this type of question won't stick around anyways. And the low-quality examples of this type of question are the chaff of the site, that you have to sift through to get to the good stuff.


Here's a template comment similar to the one I use for "What's this effect" questions, but expanded

Many people assume that software processing is key to what they
like in a photograph — but often, it's lighting, timing, skill,
or something else. Without more information about what specifically
you are interested in here, we can't help you. Please read
[Important information for asking "What's this effect?"
and edit this post accordingly. Make sure to use a descriptive
title, too. Thank you! 

Maybe this will help.


Though I do agree with Scott & Matt's answers, I feel there's more to come from the instagram crowd... & not in a good way.

but often, it's lighting, timing, skill, or something else

No, sometimes it really isn't.

It's a sh... cr... poor photo taken with a mobile phone with some inappropriate LUT overlaid, in the vain attempt to make it look "cooler".

Here is today's, I'm sure there will be more - can someone please help me figure out what filter is used in this photo(s)?

The only possible answers are:-

  1. First press the auto-fix lighting & colour button, then look down the entire 'classic movie' or 'film stock' effect tabs until you find something similar, or...

  2. Ask the photographer.

It's totally pointless explaining that it could be done with such & such lighting, or a Cokin 123 or Lee 456, because the OP doesn't even know what these are, let alone would ever think of buying them or learning how to use them. They don't have access to controls for aperture, exposure or ISO, even if they understand what they are,

About the only "trick" you could persuade them would be to hold their sunglasses over the lens - a plus if they spent the money on polarising sunglasses.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, totally agreed with "I feel there's more to come from the instagram crowd... & not in a good way." I get the sense that most regulars here have a similar opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb Mod
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, agreed with the idea that explaining that it could be done with XYZ optical filter is pointless. Also strictly, it's likely not the correct answer if the photo came from came from Instagram or Tumblr. It was probably made with a one-click-apply effect filter, a few vignette / clarity / saturation slider tweaks, or some combination of all of those. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb Mod
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 14:04

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