How To Use Photo Filters Like An Instagram Influencer

If you want to edit your Instagram photos like a real influencer, here’s a tip: Don’t use Instagram filters.

We asked six influencers about their editing habits, and the first thing we learned was that Instagram’s own filters are so passé. In fact, everyone who spoke to us admitted they use other programs, like VSCO or Lightroom, to perfect their photos. 

Each influencer showed us three different versions of one of their photos: one unedited photo, one photo using the filter of their nightmares, and another using their ideal filter. They walked us through the details below.

If you’re looking to up your Insta-game (or if you’re just fascinated by other peoples’ abilities to make their photos look so nice), checking out how these influencers edit photos with their own unique touches might be a good place to start.

Tommy Lei aka @mybelonging

“As a rule of thumb (quite literally), I generally tend to avoid filters that are overly harsh, contrasty and over-embellished. This applies to a wide range of commonly used photo editing apps, from Afterlight to VSCO,” Lei told HuffPost via email.

Below, you can see two versions of the same photo ― on the left is the original, on the right is the picture edited in a way he would typically avoid. 

“I’m all about creating and curating a vibe, an aesthetic. A mood that fits the bigger picture of my digital persona. That’s why I have a preference for filters that enhance rather than distract,” Lei said.

“VSCO X (VSCO’s subscription service that unlocks exclusive filters) has been the holy grail of photo-editing apps within my arsenal,” he said. “My current favorites are the AL series, mainly because it does such a fantastic job [to] optimally illuminate the photo — even if captured under less-than-desirable lighting or in indoor environments where natural lighting can be tough to find. If I am looking to make more of a bold statement, however, I do tap into my background as a digital artist/photographer and utilize Adobe Photoshop to further realize my vision.” 

Here, a photo Lei edited to his liking, complete with a digitally enhanced starry sky:

Steffy Degreff aka @steffy

“One app I truly never use is VSCO, I prefer Afterlight because I feel the filters are too high contrast and undersaturated on VSCO,” Degreff told HuffPost. Previously, the lifestyle blogger admitted to hating the color blue, so it’s no surprise she dislikes filters that intensify the contrast and brightness of the hue. 

Below is one of her unedited photos (left), and the same photo edited in a way she dislikes (right):

“I always use the Cascade filter on Afterlight, it’s my favorite! I also love the Snapseed selective tool, and I usually make my image warmer using the option on Instagram!” she added. 

Here, the same photo as above, filtered and edited to her liking:

Bianca Valle aka @vbiancav

“One of my biggest pet peeves on social media is when people use Facetune,” Valle told HuffPost. “Now, I know we all need to live and let live, but when you use Facetune, you aren’t fooling anyone but yourself! Using Facetune, you might be making a dent in your self-esteem, and who would want to do that to themselves? I never would! Keep it natural, baby!” 

On the left is an unedited photo provided by Valle, and on the right is the same image filtered through Facetune:

 “I love VSCO filters,” Valle added. “I always find myself using A6. I don’t really know why I gravitate more toward bright images with high contrast, but that’s my thing!”

Here, Valle’s photo edited to her liking, with her go-to filter:

Tess and Sarah Behannon aka @tess_and_sarah

The Behannon sisters told HuffPost, “Filters we don’t often use are filters with a lot of saturation, ones with a really cold look or ones that change the colors of the original photo too much such as C4, L11, Q3, Q2, and L5 in VSCO or any of the Instagram filters in general, just because they all take too much of the natural color out of the photo.” 

On the left is a photo they provided that is unedited, and on the right the same photo filtered with L11 in VSCO: 

“Our go-to filter we always use is C5 in VSCO,” they said. “We love this one just because of the brown/warm tint it creates. We do, however, turn the filter’s intensity down so it is less harsh!”

They added, “We don’t use Instagram filters mostly because we never have and it’s just not the look we’re trying to create. Most of them are very bright and the look of them is more overdone compared to the simplicity of VSCO. Our favorite VSCO filters are all of the C’s and E’s because most of them are very clean and keep the colors looking nice in pictures!” 

Below is their photo edited through their go-to filter:

Lindsey Louie aka @lindseyalouie

“I don’t usually use filters that overly saturate and enhance the colors in photos. Examples of this might include VSCO’s P Series or SE3 when set on their highest intensity,” Louie told HuffPost. “My goal for my feed is to keep the image looking natural and not overly done.”

On the left is an unedited photo Louie shared, and on the right is that same image filtered in a way she dislikes: 

“I gravitate toward filters that subtlety enhance the neutral tones of my feed’s tonal theme: black, white, tan, blue and green,” Louie said. 

She then noted that the A series filters in VSCO are her go-tos “for mobile editing on the fly.” 

“M5 can be good for adding some warmth,” she said, adding, “I love layering two filters on top of each other in this app to easily create a more customized look as well.” 

Louie also uses Snapseed to “make more detailed edits without affecting the overall image. For instance, she said, you can brighten specific areas, as opposed to the entire photo. Finally, she said she uses Lightroom, and even has a few of her own preset edits to help “streamline” her editing process.

Below is the same image as above filtered to her liking: 

Amanda Weldon aka @belowtheblonde

Weldon told HuffPost that while she usually shoots her photos with a camera (as opposed to her phone), she always uses Adobe Lightroom to add her personal touches. 

“After I import my photos into Adobe Lightroom I will often apply a preliminary filter,” she said. “My favorite VSCO pack in Lightroom is VSCO Film 02. From this pack I generally use the Kodak Portra 400 VC – filter.” 

She said she doesn’t like filters that wash out her photos, or filters like the Kodak Portra 400 NC ++ (part of the Film 02 pack in VSCO) that can make images look dark and dusty. 

Below are two versions of one of her photos: The left is the original, unedited picture and the right is the same picture edited in a way she’d typically avoid, using the Kodak Portra 400 NC ++ (and some other adjustments to exposure, shadows, warmth and tint): 

“After applying the filter I can see what needs work,” she said. “Using the base filter allows me to make sure my photos have consistency. However, each photo is different and needs to be edited to emphasize its best qualities.” 

“The goal when shooting photos is to capture the right exposure,” she added. “However, in most scenarios I will aim for slightly below exposed because this will keep the detail integrity of the photo.”

Here’s the same photo edited to fit Weldon’s aesthetic (Kodak Portra 400 VC – filter, and other adjustments): 

It’s clear that each of these influencers has their own set of preferences and has developed an aesthetic that suits them. It’s a lot more complicated than clicking “Valencia” and posting away.

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