“Have we gone too far down the smartphone photography rabbit hole?”
That was my initial reaction when I first discovered the world of photo filter apps half a decade ago. One particular app, Meitu (also known as MTXX), defied photography logic and reasoning with its impressive selfie beautification techniques. How on earth does the app apply or remove makeup to a portrait photo with nearly no point of reference? It was insane for its time.
While it was a must-have app for the better gender, I’ve also found some use for the software. Tweaks like eye bag removal and blemish cover-ups helped reduce the number of police reports made every time I uploaded a selfie to Instagram or Facebook (kidding, it was just regular user reports within the respective social media networks).
Over time, my preference for the natural and real (compounded with my extremely infrequent selfiesnapping habits) meant that I’ve cut down on using beautification apps. Snapseed, however, was still in the occasional employ for non-selfie photographs. It was meant to compensate for the reduced colour vibrancy and contrast handling on my phone, as other more competitive Android models raced past it in the imaging department. The occasional sharpening helps too since phones back then didn’t have the image stabilisation capabilities found in today’s shooters.
Fast forward to date, we have hundreds, if not thousands of photo editing and selfie beautification apps on both Android and iOS app stores. We also have a healthy selection of smartphones if we wanted one that’s photographyoriented. Nearly every Android phone maker has a claim to imaging innovation, and our reviews have uncovered some underrated performers. Despite the growing number of editing apps, they’ve become less necessary for casual photography, as smartphone imaging quality improves over time.
Or so I thought.
Today, you’d see plenty of influencers, friends, and even work colleagues uploading better and better versions of themselves online in both photo and video formats. Some people go far enough to use their edited personas to make a living by fooling others desperate enough to believe.
Sure, men and women have been lied to for centuries with the power of fashionable clothing and makeup, but what makes filter apps ethically open for questioning is how effortless for folks to have a blemishfree, perfect BMI version of themselves. There’s nearly zero dressing up or working out needed - simply point, and press a beautification button on your phone, and you’re good to go.
At this point, I’ve stopped asking if we’ve gone too far down the hole. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, in Jurassic Park (1993), we were so preoccupied with whether we could, but we didn’t stop to think these apps should.
While I’m no authority on smartphone photography, it feels as if these editing apps robbed the last bit of sincerity in how we portray ourselves online. Yes, go ahead and digitally remove an angry pimple that wasn’t there yesterday, I get that. But fabricating a six-pack you never had? Are we really fooling our peers, or ourselves?
I believe that improving imaging quality in phones and the growing popularity of photo filter apps will be here to stay. What helps, however, is a better understanding of how photography works, why your source of light is the ‘brush’ of the canvas (your sensor), and how we can better appreciate the beauty in what we already have. Technology, like image stabilisation and photobomb removal, exists not only because we’re imperfect photographers. It also brings accessibility and convenience to folks who do not have the privilege or opportunity to snap something beautiful.
It’s time we relied less on filters, and more on ourselves for the perfect selfie.
"SURE, MEN AND WOMEN HAVE BEEN LIED TO FOR CENTURIES WITH THE POWER OF FASHIONABLE CLOTHING AND MAKEUP, BUT WHAT MAKES FILTER APPS ETHICALLY OPEN FOR QUESTIONING IS HOW EFFORTLESS FOR FOLKS TO HAVE A BLEMISHFREE, PERFECT BMI VERSION OF THEMSELVES."
"IT FEELS AS IF THESE EDITING APPS ROBBED THE LAST BIT OF SINCERITY IN HOW WE PORTRAY OURSELVES ONLINE.