On Instagram, #nofilter is Just Another Filter

By Will Simon

On a platform known for its photo-enhancing filters, what does it mean when users invent something called #nofilter?

If you’ve ever used Instagram, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it before — it’s a way of saying “this photo is so rad, it didn’t even need a filter.”


This sunset is so damn beautiful, you need to see the real thing… through your iPhone.

Emergent behavior is usually a sign of a healthy platform. For example, the retweet was originally created by Twitter users — now it’s a real thing. Instagram, now at its peak of adoption, has its own set of emergent features — like the #regram (reposting a photo from another user), and the #latergram (posting a photo long after the event took place). These are like growing pains for a piece of software.

So what does #nofilter say about Instagram? On one hand, it shows the platform outgrowing its original use, taking on the responsibilities of a full-fledged photography tool. It’s a way for the user base to shed its skin, bringing the product full-circle to encompass the very thing it sought out to oppose — simple, ugly cell phone pictures.

On the other hand, #nofilter shows how we want to separate what’s real from what’s artificial. It’s sort of a truth-telling mechanism. The way we’re able to manipulate things now means if something is authentic, it’s more meaningful. And so #nofilter, ironically, adds a layer of nostalgia over all the “vintage” filters out there.

Instagram has always been about more than just sharing photos. It’s a way to curate what you’ve seen or where you’ve been — showing your life in an ideal, filtered way. #nofilter is a reaction to that, an attempt to show life in a more authentic state.

It’s also a reminder that Instagram is really about communication. The real meaning of a ‘gram isn’t just the image — it’s the interplay between the image and its caption. The words frame the photo, giving it context and augmenting its meaning. They’re just another type of filter. You can see the same thing in nearly every internet meme:


There’s a pattern here. Photo + caption = meaning. On Instagram, #nofilter is just another filter – one that changes the image through context rather than content.

And for the record, I’m a big fan of Sierra.

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