Iconic Photos “Re-taken” with Instagram

I am not anti-Instgram, nor am I anti-cellphone photography. But there is a tendency to believe that the art filters that are readily available with many cellphone photo apps somehow “improve” reality. Many of the frequently used filters either significantly boost color saturation, or try to give the appearance of an antiqued, polaroid-esque photo.

But this doesn’t mean it’s better than a more true-to-life image. To prove my point, here are a few iconic photos “re-taken” with art filters a la Instagram. Do you agree?

Neil Leifer‘s amazing photo of Ali vs Liston II from 1965 (seen above). This is arguably the most effective of the “retaken” photos for a few reasons. First, the original format was a square, so there’s no cropping. And because it was shot in 1965, there’s an antiqued look to the photos already. If you didn’t have the original to compare against, you might think that this was the original.

I puked a little in my mouth upon seeing Steve McCurry‘s Afghan Girl reimagined. The original was shot on Kodachrome with a perfect exposure and buttery color. The square crop and false color completely destroys so much of essence of the photo.

Many art filters compress the tonal range, and then you have the fake tilt/shift. One of Todd Heisler‘s most moving photos from his Pulitzer Prize winning series on soliders returning from Iraq is completely ruined by creating a false focus. The original image has amazing detail in the plane passengers who are looking out of the windows of the plane as the coffin is unloaded.

Peter Yang‘s portraits have an amazing clarity to them. This reprocessed image of Amy Poehler has a fake center focus, which really kills the detail and superior lighting that is emblematic of his photographic style.

Rich Lam‘s photo from the Stanley Cup riots was one of my favorite images of 2011. The square crop isn’t horrible — I would argue that there is still enough foreground and background information to give you a sense of scene. But the desaturation of this version kills the crazy color spectrum of the original in my humble opinion, and I’m still missing the cropped section.

Take an iconic moment from the recent past. Apply an antiquing filter to try to make it look historic. Flagellate yourself 12 times. Apologies to Toby Melville.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about applying the square crop and art filters to these images is realizing that they still are pretty fantastic images. Martin Schoeller‘s image from TIME magazine is still a great portrait – expression, pose, lighting – it’s all still there even if the crop and the texture of the art filter try its best to ruin it.

So what’s my point? In 2009, Chase Jarvis trademarked “The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You,” and he’s right. For that reason, I love the spontaneity of images that are taken with smart phones, and the incredible distribution capabilities of Instagram. BUT, a high quality, well-composed, properly exposed, accurate color image is still pretty awesome too.

I don’t always shoot with a camera phone, but when I do, I like to apply art filters.

Keep snapping, my friends.

About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and Co-founder of PhotoShelter. Allen authors PhotoShelter’s free business guides for photographers and marketing professionals, including topics like email marketing, search engine optimization, and starting a photography business. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article originally appeared here.

  • Ashley Beolens

    I don’t think I get instagram. But then I never use my mobile for photos.

  • rtfe


  • Sir_Elton_Juan

    And the point is?

  • maczter

    I don’t think I get the purpose of this post. Instagram does not require one to apply any of the filters in order to share a photo and even if it did, there are more appropriate filters that could have been used than the ones used in the above examples, so it seems this post would have been more accurately titled “How You Can Ruin Iconic Photos with Poor Instagram Filter Selection”.

  • Kook

    I bet if all of these iconic photos were shot with a straight phone camera app, they’d look better with the filters. Who did the horrible filter on these examples anyway? It’s easy to prove your point with bad photoshopping. 

  • Squidgebearsmum

    TBH the filters used on most of these photos are unsuitable for the subject matter and appear to have been applied in order to prove a point. I have a canon 5d and a 400d, both of which I love and use as often as possible, however, in situations where I only have my iPhone available I have yet to be disappointed with the results. I find the tilt-shift filter particularly appealing as, when it’s used correctly, I creates a cracking effect which, as yet, I’ve been unable to fully recreate with my “proper cameras” due to budget restraints

  • Mark

    Don’t you have something better to do?

  • TylerI

    I’m like the only person I know who doesn’t use Instagram.

  • Mansgame

    I often use my camera phone when it’s all I have and I post pictures on facebook also, but I have nothing but hatred for instagram.  It’s not that I don’t like to see other people having fun, but the problem is many are taking themselves seriously as artist because in their mind, they can just add a filter to a bad picture and voila!  They’re an artiste.  They even have meetup events and contests.   If a picture is good, it stands on its own without gimmicks. 

  • Ashyrigh

    Oh c’mon. Is Instagram really threatening to take over the minds and replace the skills of the professional (or serious amateur) photographers who take iconic photos? On any day I’d rather look at an Instagram filtered photo of my facebook friend’s pet chicken than another eye bleeding HDR cityscape photo taken by an aspiring pro photog. This critique is quite silly.

  • Christopher 

    I love Instagram, and I’m a regular user, but seeing these photos violated made me wanna puke.

    I should say I love Instagram a bit less now, because of certain users taking pics from other users, including NatGeo, and posting them as their own. This is happening with increasing frequency, it seems. But I digress…

  • Christopher 

    This is why I’ve rarely been using those filters. Most of the time, they ruin an image, rarely enhancing it.

  • J. Smith

    No, there is not a tendency to believe that photo apps improve reality. There is only a creative impulse to see the world in new ways, an impulse that apparently many “photographers” don’t have. Some painters had this impulse, too – Monet, Picasso, a few others.

    I agree with Mark. Find something better to do than criticize people whose non-harmful playing offends your conservative values.

  • Steve Banks

    One question: Did the author of this piece
    ask permission from the photographers or their
    Estate… Before violating their artistic integrity?


  • ennuipoet

    What is this?  I don’t even…just stop, please, just stop f*cking with iconic photos with your little filters and apps.  Want to take your own photos and over saturate and blur, please, do, make yourself happy.  But, for the love of all that is good and reasonable, please, please, PLEASE stop messing with other people’s work.  It’s just wrong.

  • Tzctplus -

    This is really inane…

  • John Kantor

    Textures rarely help. But these are just hack photojournalists to start with. (Most with an agenda.) Anything would be an improvement. Just because you recorded an important event or person doesn’t make it a great image.

  • Val E1005

    Its something different for many people who have never given photography much thought. To me, how can you deny the joy anyone gets from capturing a point of time in their life. As far as understanding, I don’t understand quantum physics a whole lot, but I am not afraid or condemn it. For being not within my sphere of logic.
    I do not have Instagram, but I do enjoy seeing people expressing themselves.

  • xoxotta

    I have never used it either. You aren’t alone.

  • Werner

    The point is that applying filters will not make images better all the time. Instagram or any other tools are one (out of many) tools to help the photographer to create an image with an expression. But it can ruin it too.

  • Guest

    PLEASE, Michael Zhang–or whoever manages this site now–PLEASE. I beg of you, PLEASE stop posting everything that everyone does with Instagram and iPhones!

  • Jens Hamada

    i agree the examples are all pure crap.. like 99,5% of all instagram-cellphone-junkie crap

  • Jeff Haynes

    Moi Aussii

  • cristian tudorache

    what is art in this art filters?

  • Flgraphics

    this is a pretty pointless post

  • Angie O

    The craptastic examples above are not the fault of Instagram. They are the fault of poor choices made by the author. 

  • Christian Pena

    I like using instagram for some photos I choose to take with my phone , but I like the original photos the way they were shot . Filters can improve not the originals

  • Aaron Tsuru

    Seriously. Instagram’s fun and “real photographers” get their tighty-whities in a bunch over nothing. 

    It’s really not about the filters. The filters just add a fun/cool factor to what it’s really about… What I love about instagram is that instead of just some dumb status update on twitter/facebook/etc, the user is forced to think in terms of a photograph of some kind. It’s not just “Mmm… Coffee”, it’s “Mmm.. Coffee + a photo”. 

    As a photographer, I love it. I love that people all over the world have to think about what their status or moment or whatever looks like in 2 dimensions versus just tweeting a couple of mindless words. 

    I can’t understand why “purists” (for lack of a better term) get so hung up on it, unless they feel threatened by it somehow? That a mobile phone & an app can make photography to easy for someone with a decent eye to excel at???

    Back in the old days, to the film guys, the digital guys were cheating. Now to the digital & film guys, the mobile guys are cheating, now the app guys are cheating.  B&W mock the colour guys, photoshoppers versus untouched. Blah blah blah blah blah. 

    Seriously… why can’t we just be happy that people, with ALLLL this technology around us, video, CGI, etc, etc, STILL love a two dimensional photo of something. That they want to take pictures, share them, see other peoples tiny little moments, no matter how trivial. 

    This is a good thing.

  • Ashyrigh

    Oh so very much agreed, Aaron. 

  • Danny San Diego

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said Aaron…these “photographers” seem to think they deserve to hoard the craft for themselves because they’ve invested in all this expensive equipment. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. 

    Another positive side benefit that I see developing is that more instagram / casual photographers are taking a lot of care to notice the details, the composition, the light of their photographs because (all of a sudden) their seeing what they do as a small work of art, in their own little way. 

    My girlfriend is a good example, at first she would kinda snap an image at dinner and post. Now she is arranging things on the table to get everything composed just right to create a beautiful image…and it all started for her with instagram. So yea, I’d say it is a positive thing people should be happy about! 

  • Bogdan Radu

    For all Instagram haters out there… There was a time when Polaroids were hated… buy this book and love it : Instant Light, Tarkovsky Polaroids

  • IG/iPhone photographer

    This is a straw man argument. Obviously messing with photos that are already in their finished state is going to ruin them. Some photos are best without filters; others are amazing with them. Ruining already processed photos proves no point.

  • Jack

    I’m sorry but have you ever heard of copyright – I’ve no choice but to bring this travesty too the attention of each of the copyright holders.

  • austintommy

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  • AIP

    First of all, we have nothing against Instagram. Actually, we think it is a pretty awesome app. We can use it, whether to make our good pics nicer or to turn our terrible photos into something cool. But, in today’s digital hurry, sometimes we forget the basics of photography and what make it great.

    Since the beginning, photography is all about light manipulation, whether by controlling the hour you go out to make a shot, the aperture, the shutter, the zoom in or out, the film development, the chemicals, the contrast, the tones, the silver nitrates, pixels, the lens filters, the white balance, even the hand you put in front of a lens because of some flare.That said, we are not narrow minded to think the basics represents only film photo. We consider photography to be all about processes, including digital. Processes are unique, they can turn out worse or better then you predict, but it makes you work for it and wonder the results.Nice images are nice not because they have some crazy cool filter, but instead because they say something to you. Walter Benjamin called it “aura”. You can call it whatever you want.What we flag here is not mere photo decoration, which is fine by the way, but a process that could give life to your photo. Not only “likes”.Join us:  / 

  • Skybase

    As usual, with any Instagram post there’s always the Internet Photography Police force. Folks if you don’t like something, rather than expressing your irritation over such petty matters, go take photos or do something that doesn’t involve fighting little things like this.

    I’m no photographer but I enjoy photography. I would rather see art than commentary that tries to put down things done for the interest of it.

  • Mary Smith

    It all boils down to the eye of the beholder.  What this person says is “wrong” may not be so to others.  There is really no right or wrong…it’s how one perceives how the image should look.  Just because one person says its wrong, does not make it a rule.  Don’t limit yourself…..try everything!

  • HeathHenry

    my roomate’s mom got paid $ 14828 past week. she is making an incom e on the internet and bought a $481700 house. All she did was get fortunate and put into use the guide exposed on this web site 

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  • Aaron Lee

    The only thing this article shows is that you can ruin photos with bad filters. I personally love Instagram – its has tools that are good and bad. You are forgetting the excitement of Instagram being a live feed app complete with GPS location. Even if the photo is not that good – imagine if your friend was actually at the Muhammad Ali fight. In some situations you can lower your standards remembering it was shot on a cell phone, in real-time, GPS-located and that hey that’s my friend who shot this…..

    Find me on Instagram: aaronleepdx

  • derp

    I don’t have an iPhone :D

  • Esteban R

    They are great representations though as many will choose the terrible filter due to their preferences. Haven’t seen many Instagram photos that weren’t terrible out of the bunch.

  • Esteban R

    You said it perfectly.

  • Evans Cheuka

    Not sure what the future hold for photography with apps like intsagram

  • SedanChair

    Watch your article get reposted like “look, this dude made all these photos way more awesome”

  • A Self Cleaning Oven

    I have to agree. This article seemed a bit self-masturbatory, even by Allen’s standards. Great fella, but is this emblematic of the lose of one’s edge? Doubtful, but worth keeping an eye on going forward.

  • A Photo Editor (yawn)

    Much agreed: Allen is a great guy. But this post is a yawn. Professional photography is dying. PhotoShelter is a magnificent tool for amateurs and pros alike. Allen deserves credit for it. But perhaps he and Grover imbibed in a bit too much of all-too-expensive tequila before making this post.

  • A Photo Editor (yawn)

    Fair Use. This post is a commentary of the photos themselves.

  • Chris Barrance

    “Here’s how I ruined some photos using Instagram” Urm, ok… good for you.

  • Chris L

    Would have been a much more powerful article with before and after side-by-side