Since the introduction of Instagram, the Web has been flooded with millions of photos, taken with good cameras, only to have effects applied to them to make them look old and weathered. The fad was popularized by Instagram, and there are now dozens (if not hundreds) of apps designed to apply these types of filters to your photos. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Most people seem very opinionated on the subject. Everyone seems to either love or hate it. My personal opinion falls somewhere in the middle. First and foremost, let me address the opinion I hear too often from accomplished photographers: That of “why would you take a good photo and intentionally turn it into a bad one?” This, in my opinion, simply doesn’t happen as often as they would have you believe. A good shot (one that’s balanced, well-composed, properly exposed, has a clearly-defined subject, etc.) typically isn’t going to be turned into a “bad photo” when a filter is applied to it, as those underlying elements will still exist. I say “typically” because some people do go way too far with them.
On the flip side, a bad photo with a filter applied to it won’t be magically transformed into a good one either. There was a brief moment in time when these looks were unique enough that they distracted the user from noticing the photo was bad, but that moment passed a long time ago.
So do these effects have a place in good photography or not? In my opinion, they absolutely do, and it comes down to context.
Think about the things you see in homes. Have you ever seen new furniture or hardwood floors that are treated to look old and weathered? Of course! They even come from the factory that way. And how did it look? It may or may not be your personal preference, but it’s hard to dismiss it as a completely invalid design style. It has it’s place, even if you think that place should be restricted to a mountain cabin. Now think about that fancy new space age washer and dryer you just bought. How would those look if you scraped and dinged them up to look old? I don’t even need to answer that one.
When you think about applying that vintage filter to a photo you just took, think about the home decorating scenarios above. A shot of an old stage coach at a historical site out west is probably a better subject for a vintage photo filter than the architectural shot you took of the newest uber-modern building downtown.
Then again, art is art. It’s 100% subjective, and you should do what makes you happy. Just do it intentionally, and not blindly. Sort of like the old saying that says “you should know the rules before you break them”.