Flickr research finds filtered photos increase viewership and engagement

filtered photos increase viewership engagement flickr yahoo labs filters
The RAW image (left), with warm (middle) and cool (right) filters applied, taken by David Shamma, a Yahoo Labs and Flickr researcher. According to Yahoo Labs researchers, filtered images can increase a photo's views and engagement, and viewers gravitate toward warm filters than cool ones. Credit: David Shamma/Yahoo Labs, Flickr

Love them or hate them, it seems that you can’t look at a photograph these days without it having been filtered in some way, shape, or form. According to a new observation by Yahoo Labs, there’s a really good reason for it: filtered photos are more enjoyable and popular.

Today, you can apply photo filters on Instagram, Flickr, and just about any photo app you can name, including a smartphone’s native camera app; you can even do so with new digital cameras. Instagram, the most popular photo app, continues to churn out new ones; it recently added three last April .

The Yahoo study reveals two main findings. One, filtered photos are 21 percent more likely to be viewed. Second, filtered photos are 45 percent likelier to receive comments. The study also determined that filters creating a warmer color temperature enjoy a higher engagement than cooler color effects.

The research team analyzed photos on Flickr in particular, and they interviewed various Flickr users of different photographic expertise (Yahoo owns Flickr). What they found was surprising because they looked at users’ motivations and perceptions about filter usage, and not everyone uses filters for the same reason.

For example, self-described photography enthusiasts don’t always rely on real cameras. In fact, despite access to high-quality cameras, they still used smartphones to snap pictures and then used their phone apps to filter them. The main reason for using filters was to fix mistakes or improve their photography aesthetics. It’s one of the reasons why filters became popular in the first place, to mask the low quality of early smartphones; despite improved camera technology, people seem to still like them.

On the flip side, the more casual photographers relied on their smartphone cameras to shoot everyday things like people and places. This group’s main purpose for using photo filters was to personalize their images because they found this entertaining – not because they wanted to enhance or manipulate image quality.

Engagement – defined as the number of comments a photo gets – was improved with filters, but not equally, the study found. Filters producing a warmer effect, by fixing exposure and improving contrast, caused greater engagement, while cooler filtering effects that produced more blues and purples in an image weren’t as successful in boosting engagement.

The big takeaway from the study is twofold. First, more serious photographers rely on filters to improve their images’ quality, but more casual photographers used filters to add unusual effects and make them more entertaining. However, both motivations for using filters produced the same result: both viewership and community engagement were increased.