Know the Past to Convey the Proper Message

Photographers can be influential story tellers, just like any author who weaves carefully constructed words into sentences to form a yarn and while a photographer uses a different set of tools, they have at their disposal tools that require more than just imagination.

Post editing tools have the power to not only change the underlying structure of an image but also the direction and meaning, be it intentional or not, by intertwine the visual with a mood, an evocative emotion that conveys feelings in the viewer.

Autumn Leaves and Acorns

Yet all too often I see mobile photographers applying layers and layers of filters to alter their image, failing to understand what they are doing and how their actions can actually create a wrong connotation. It is similar to a writer who uses poor grammar or spelling, because of a lack of training or worst of all, a lack of exposure to works of greatness.

While digital photography and especially in the last several years mobile photography has changed the appearance of this medium, there is a long established history that should not be ignored, especially since applying an iOS post processing application’s filter to ones image may have direct bearing to an old printing process or film. 

Still Life

Towards the end of 2012, Hipstamatic come out with TinType HipstaPak, consisting of Tinto 1884 lens, which emulated shallow depth of field portraiture of that time period, but the two films, D-Type Plate and C-Type Plate film, replicating photographic images developed on tin plates. The use of either this lens or film in combination with other lens and films in Hipstamatic’s tool box quickly became very popular and to this date remains very popular.

Autumn Leaves and Acorns, II

Another camera application like 645 PRO - Mark II, offers the user a variety of film filters to shot with, VSCO on the other hand, a post processing app, based their filter collection not only on films manufactured by Kodak, Ilford, Agfa and other film manufactures, it includes filters that will change ones photograph’s appearance to emulate a print having undergone light damage or an actual printing process.

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge southern tower base

One other post processing application worth mentioning that relies on the past is PhotoCopier from DigitalFilmTools, that offers the photographer four different categories like Movies, Paintings, Photos, and Processes. I am going to bypass the first two categories and focus briefly on Photos and Processes.

In Photos we are given an extensive list of photographers and their photographing and printing methods that spans more than a century. On the other hand, Processes exposes the photographer to Ambrotype, Bromoil, Gum Bichromate, Palladium and even modern processes like Polaroid Image Transfer and Emulsion Lift.


The point I wish to make, is that when using any of these lens and films or photographic processes, it is important to understand when these lens, films or processes were first used and what they were meant to achieve artistically. By having an understanding of the fundamentals of photography’s past, will only give your post processes the authenticity so many of today’s photographic works lack. 

Most of all, this knowledge will only empower you and make the message you wish to communicate through your photographs not only more clear and direct, and not lost in layers of layers that may offer only disorder and bewilderment in the end.

Box Car

San Francisco Fort Point

While composition, lighting and a good eye, even timing now and then, are all essential ingredients in the making of a good photograph, editing, and post production, including digital or traditional darkroom techniques are just as important, along with presentation, in completing the artist’s concept.

So the next time you’re getting ready to post process one of your captures on an iOS device, give some thought before clicking on any application by letting your imagination wonder until the photograph reveals a dialogue to pursue, then map out your course using the hidden secrete language that the filters hold.

All photographs taken with an iPhone 4S by
©2014 Egmont van Dyck - All Rights Reserved

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