Many dear friends wish I would shut the fuck up regarding the Gotham filter. This article is for you.
In the 2.0 release of Instagram, for reasons never explained, they removed my favorite filter: Gotham. I remember the moment vividly because I was in the midst of falling in love with Instagram. I’d found a compelling reason to take pictures with the iPhone, I was building a small active group of followers, and most importantly, I felt I was actively learning about photography. Suddenly, my favorite filter was gone. Imagine if you were falling in love with someone and one morning they rolled over and said, “Hey, just so you know, we’re never using adverbs. Ever again. Thanks.”
In my cursory research, it didn’t appear that Gotham was the least used filter — it certainly wasn’t the most popular filter — but there didn’t appear to be a compelling reason to remove it either. They had their user interface real estate, so what gives? Why take away an apparently harmless feature? More importantly, a feature that does this:
Instagram’s Gotham wasn’t just a black and white filter. In an article of epic self-serving proportions, I will demonstrate my total lack of photographic experience by describing how Instagram’s Gotham transformed a photo. I will explain how many subsequent Gotham clones failed. How a recent contender might finally allow me to sleep at night, and finally, why all this Gotham angst was worth it.
Turn the Sky Black + Screaming White Clouds
The shot of the Burj Khalifa above contains two major elements that enabled Instagram’s Gotham to shine. First, a broad swath of blue sky. Second, a visually interesting foreground object, which, in this case, is the metallic geometric wonder that is the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, located in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This transformation of the photo by Instagram’s Gotham demonstrates the important effects I loved about the original filter.
- A blue sky is darkened.
- Intricate detail is highlighted.
- Very subtle yellow and blue highlights give the photo a decidedly antique moodiness.
This photo is missing a key attribute that I believe makes a great Gotham photo: screaming white clouds.
Shortly after the removal of Instagram’s Gotham, similarly outraged but enterprising Internet individuals took it upon themselves to figure out the filter process for building Gotham. As I documented in How I Instagram, here’s the process I believe best rebuilds the original Instagram Gotham filter within the Camera+ application:
- Apply a red black and white filter. This doesn’t exist in Camera+ currently, I use Snapseed.
- Select the Darken filter.
- Apply the Silver Gelatin filter at 50%.
- Apply the Vibrant filter at 25%.
- Lastly, apply the Cyanotype filter at ~10%.
For comparison, here’s the original photo, the Instagram Gotham version, and the reconstructed Gotham side by side.
As I’ve already written, black and white photography strips away color and reveals unexpected stories. Gotham is certainly a black and white filter, but the use of the red black and white filter brings a a jarring and compelling black to the sky. This sky provides a stark canvas for foreground elements that jump out of the photograph. Finally, the combination of silver and cyan gives the image a sense of instant history.
I was happy with the results of Reconstructed Gotham, so I took to Instagram with my homegrown filter and began posting each photo with the slightly furious hashtag: #ripgotham. Since I began using this convention, I’m happy to report that a handful of similarly outraged others have done the same and the #ripgotham hashtag continues to collect a lovely set of Reconstructed Gothams.
In the two years since the beautiful travesty that was Instagram 2.0, several obvious and non-obvious Gotham replacements have arrived, and when you compare these contenders, you begin to fully understand the absurdity of my Gotham obsession.
Your thought, if you’re still reading this piece, likely is, “What is the fucking difference?”
To which I respond: Well, if you consider Instagram’s Gotham to be state of the art, clearly Reconstructed Gotham is the best recreation of that filter. Amongst the pre-canned filters, I’d say the best reproduction is the Camera Noir followed closely by Camera+ Gotham. iOS 7 beta never claimed to be Gotham, but does a fine job of using the red black and white filter and making those clouds scream, but Gotham has that smidge of cyan that is missing.
(Note: If your favorite Gotham/Noir filter isn’t listed here, trust me, I’ve seen it. Yes, I’ve seen Flickr. Yes, the new Flickr. It’s not a Gotham, it’s black and white high contrast marquee monstrosity. Yes, I would be willing to explain this to you in great detail over a beer.)
I Can’t Believe You’re Still Here
I’d like to thank Camera+ and Camera Noir for faithfully reproducing my favorite filter and I’d like to apologize to both of these fine teams, because after all my continuous bitching I’m likely to continue to roll my own version of Gotham for two reasons.
First, the #ripgotham tag in Instagram is one of my favorite hashtags to check. I’ve no idea what filters folks are using for many of these photos, but I’m fascinated that we try, that we are expanding the Gotham universe.
Second, I think one of the defining traits of nerds is that we obsess. In these obsessions, we examine the details that others gloss over. The disappearance of Instagram’s Gotham forced me out of filter complacency and pushed me to begin to understand the components of what makes a black and white filter. The more I dive into the details the more detail I find – it’s delicious.
Many dear friends wish I would shut the fuck up regarding the Gotham filter. It’s not happening because obsessing about the details not only continues to educate me, it also provides me the opportunity to form a well-constructed opinion. In a world where we mindlessly repeat the loudest and most compelling tweets as fact, a well-constructed opinion is rare. It’s rare because a well-constructed opinion can defend itself. Through a combination of experience, facts, and, occasionally, passion, a well-constructed opinion is a refreshing signal among a sea of unstructured, unattributed noise.
I have an opinion about Gotham. Yes, I’m spending my time obsessing about a retired, apparently unpopular Instagram filter, but my obsession is a gateway drug. It leads to the real addiction of building a defensible opinion.