The Best Photo Filter Apps for Elevating Your Instagram

Updated 01/30/18

Creating a well-curated Instagram is a skill—one that has turned into a career for many an influencer. Like your outfit choice or makeup application, these days, your feed has become an expression of who you are (or at least how you'd like to present yourself to the world at a given moment). That said, photo filter apps have become immensely popular as a way to practically art-direct your own life. If the light isn't right, the background doesn't work, or you have a particular vibe in mind, these apps can help with that.

Below, editors reveal their favorite options and why they chose them. (Hint: VSCO is a big hit.)

For a vintage feel…

@alyssainthecity

"I always strive for a bit of a vintage look in my photos. Two of my favorite effects that I used in this image (and use regularly) are Vignette and Grain in the VSCO app. Turn both of them up, and paired with your usual filter (mine is A4 for a slightly warmer tone), it'll give your photos a more retro look." — Alyssa Coscarelli, fashion market editor at Refinery29

For rich tones…

@gouldhallie

"I tend to keep my photos bright and cool-toned, but I felt compelled to keep this one darker to play off the setting. I was in this opulent, museum-like apartment and wanted the image to look as regal and golden as it did in real life. Instead of upping the brightness and contrast, I used VSCO's C1 filter to bring out the warmer tones of the backdrop and my skin." — Hallie Gould, senior editor at Byrdie

For a magic-hour glow…

@lauren_valenti

"I'm a slave to finding good light, which is why I don't heavily filter photos often. If the light is flattering and mood-invoking to begin with, Instagram's editing features are all you need for small tweaks. In this instance, I just enhanced Paris's magic-hour light by boosting the contrast and warmth a few degrees, playing up my tangerine sweater against the sunset's orange tones." — Lauren Valenti, beauty writer at Vogue

For cool neutrals…

@laurencaruso_

"My photo-editing app of choice is VSCO, and I typically do the same thing to each photo: Up the brightness, lower the saturation, and make sure the temperature matches my feed (which is slightly cooler than it is warm). I exclusively wear neutrals like black, white, grey, and the occasional camel, and the way I edit photos reflects that. Once in a while, I'll use Facetune to edit out something like colorful graffiti or gum stains." — Lauren Caruso, editorial director at Bandier

For nostalgic, Lolita -esque vibes…

@amanda_montell

"I am a big, big fan of the nostalgic, hyper-feminine, almost Lolita-esque vibes of Petra Collins's photographs, so when I took this Instagram photo, that's what I was going for. To tell you the truth, I'd gotten a spray tan and a blowout that day because later on, I had plans to go to an event where I'd be seeing a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a while. But there was a party happening at the Byrdie offices beforehand, so I thought, perfect, I'll get one of my co-workers to help me execute this photo.

I grabbed a pink ice cream cone as a prop, which just so happened to coordinate with my little Reformation dress perfectly. Then I had our social media editor Aimee take about eight quadrillion photos. I chose this one because it seemed the most candid and romantic of the bunch (though there is nothing candid about it). Then in the Instagram app, I brought up the brightness, cooled the temperature way down and de-saturated it, all of which I thought would make for maximum moodiness." — Amanda Montell, features editor at Byrdie

For a moody feeling…

@faith_xue

"It was a particularly gloomy day in Paris when I took this photo, and I wanted to emphasize the moody feeling while adding a bit of brightness and clarity. I usually use VSCO to filter my photos, but all my normal filters (V5, V6, HB1, and HB2) were just making the photo look too dark and grainy. Instead, I used Snapseed to brighten, straighten, and sharpen, then used a filter in Darkroom (which I find to be brighter than VSCO's) to add a bit of graininess. I always turn down the temperature for my photos—I think cooler tones just look nicer, and I like to avoid anything too warm-toned for my feed.

What can I say? I'm a moody person, and I like my feed to reflect that." — Faith Xue, editorial director at Byrdie

For sunset warmth…

@victoriahawsondoff

"I try not to overthink my photos too much since the best ones kind of just happen, but I generally love a rich '70s vibe—golden-hour lighting is obviously ideal for this. This shot is a great example of everything working out organically. Amanda and I were hanging out on the roof of my apartment building before heading to a holiday party, and as the sun began to set, the lighting was just so beautiful (and incredibly flattering), so we started snapping away. The best natural light makes your skin glow and blurs imperfections, so I didn't really make any adjustments on this photo before posting it.

Plus, I love that the orange-yellow cast really lends it that retro aesthetic.

"That said, when I'm looking to capture a similar look but lighting isn't working in my favor, I usually use VSCO filter M5, dial it way down (to the two-to-three range) so it doesn't look too washed out and then warm it up even more in Instagram before posting. It creates that golden, almost-sepia look without looking over-edited." — Victoria Hoff, wellness editor at Byrdie

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