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One Picture – Four Filters

Everyone with an instagram account knows how much fun it is to play with filters.  It’s no doubt that black and white and sepia are classics, but how do you feel about others?   On The Picture Runner, for The Picture, I use them from time to time if it is appropriate for the feel of the picture, but typically, I try to stay true to the reality.  For fun I thought I’d take a look at a case study of four different filters, two classics and two newer ones, from left to right: sepia, cross process red, black and white, and cross process green.

one picture four ways

First off, let me give you the original picture which is from a picture run last week.

Winter Skies

I would say that this is what the scene truly looked like.  I kept it this way in the final image because I love the blue sky contrasted with the empty winter branches.  Even though there is some lingering snow in the foreground, the way the sun lights up the field behind the trees gives a warm, inviting feel to the scene.

Now let’s look at a sepia version of the same picture.

Sepia Version

Winter sepia pictures around here make me think of the Wizard of Oz, which was a classic in our family long before we ever moved to Kansas.  I think sepia is fun.  It gives pictures an old-time-y wild west look, but the sky was so pretty and the sepia for this picture just washes out the approaching snow clouds.  And the winter trees look even more depressing in these colors.  Almost ominous, don’t you think?

Moving on, cross process red.

Red Version

Cross process red really brings out the blueness in the sky.  I love how it warms up the picture.  In fact, it warms up the picture so well that now the grass looks burnt and dry as opposed to just dormant.  It’s super saturated and over processed in this picture.  It’s not right for this picture, but in the right pictures increasing the red tones can give a more earthy, rich color to the winter browns.

ok, Black and White.

Black and White Version

Ever since I was in middle school and my dad came home with some Ansel Adams prints, I’ve been in love with black and white photography.  I like how clean and simple it is.  If cross process red warms up a picture then the black and white cools it down.  There is a stillness in this picture when it is in black and white that isn’t there in the color version.  It feels frozen in time.  For all anyone knows, this picture could be from 1920, except the quality is too good.

Cross process green.


How fun is cross process green?  This is my favorite filter.  There is a dreamy vintage feel to the picture.  I like the muted sky.  This one should have a quote put on it using a script-handwritten style font.  What I don’t like about it is that it is over used in the pinterest-instagram world.  It’s mainstream now instead of artsy, which is why I try to use it sparingly.

My Approach

I read an article at some point about saturation and it suggested to increase the saturation to what you like and then scale it back a touch and you’re probably spot on.  I feel the same way about most editing.  It’s so easy to over do it and then you take a step back and it’s hard to see what’s real.  My photography goal right now is to take the best picture I can before editing.  I’m trying to get my white balance, ISO, shutter speed, etc correct so I can capture what I’m truly seeing.  When reality gives such a pretty picture to begin with, then it’s easy to stay with the true colors.  When the sky is grey and there isn’t much color then it’s nice to go to sepia or black and white.  I don’t think I’ve used the red on a picture run, but I’ve used the cross process green once.  In theory, the filters should alter the feel of an already good picture.  They shouldn’t be trying to fix a bad one.  In theory.  For me, that’s still a work in progress.  You guys all know by now that I’m a beginner.  (You can read about what I think makes a good picture here.)

I think it comes down to three things:

  1. What is the picture for?
  2. How do you, the photographer, feel about the picture?
  3. How do you want your audience to feel about the picture?

Once you’ve mentally answered those questions then you can move on to:

Favorite one?

So tell me, which one IS your favorite?  Would you have changed this picture to black and white or kept it in its true colors like I did?


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4 thoughts on “One Picture – Four Filters”

  • Tough one…but I would prefer the cross process red and green over the black-and-white and sepia. I think for your subject the black-and-white and sepia make it a little bit too depressing, whereas the color of the sky in the other two is my favorite part 😉

  • I agree with Vanessa! The cross process are really fun and bring the liveliness of the sky or trees into the photo!! But I have to say, having LOVED (and still loving) the Wizard of Oz, I’m then drawn to that picture. Just on principle.

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