Love it or hate it, photo editing app Instagram has taken the world by storm. With a total of 19 easy to use filters, snaps of your daily grind can be transformed into something far more glamorous in the blink of an eye. Sure, it’s no Photoshop, but instant and accessible photo editing software is a quick way to generate ideas, get inspired and have a bit of fun with imaging.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative offline, too. You can whip up your own photo filters to echo the effects of Instagram using things you can find around your home, like cardboard, black tights, empty soft-drink bottles, lace and old shades. So long as what you’re using is transparent enough, the world really is your picture-making oyster. Here’s how you can create your own Instagram effects using DIY photo filters.

Note: As some Instagram filters are quite similar and differ only in degrees of contrast and/or brightness, you can use the same filter whilst making slight changes to toy with colour, tone, light and shadow. I’ve pointed out where this is the case. Since it’s impossible to completely mask colour without using digital technology, I’ve left out Willow and Inkwell: Instagram’s two black-and-white filters.

DIY Instagram Filters

The heading is the name of the Instagram filter. Of course, we are not using the real Instagram filters but I’m using the official filter names so you can identify it easily. Let’s start by observing the original photo without any effects.

Original Photo

A not-so-special photo of my books and coffee.

Original picture


To recreate the brassy, sepia tones of Kelvin, I cut an empty plastic bottle of ginger beer in half and pointed the camera lens through the apex of the convex lens created by its curve: it’s slightly lighter in the middle but not as noticeably skewed as with a fish-eye lens.


Kelvin: Digital Filter

Kelvin DIY

DIY: Kelvin Filter

1977 and Earlybird

An old, slightly brown-purple lens of some novelty shades formed the filter for both 1977 and Earlybird: two slightly blurred, murky filters with different degrees of contrast. You can let light into the frame by tilting the sunglasses lens in any given direction, and make the picture more blurred by moving the sunglasses lens further away from the camera. This will also lighten the picture overall. If you don’t have purple shades, you can use a faint brown sort of lens to give off a similarly earthy vibe.


1977 Digital Effect


Earlybird Digital Effect

1977 and Earlybird DIY

DIY: Earlybird and 1977

Walden, Nashville and Hudson

All of these filters have a blue tinge with contrast around the edges, so I used the same basic filter and used different sized cardboard pinhole filters to give the frame more or less contrast.

I used thin cardboard from an old cereal box and made a small hole that just about traced the circumference of my camera lens. Then, I shone the camera through a section of a water-bottle label that was pale blue, and almost completely transparent. You can also use the shade of a green poker hat if you’re so lucky to have one. To increase darkness around the frame of the picture, make the pinhole section smaller, or move the filter further away from the camera lens.


Walden Digital Effect


Nashville Digital Effect


Hudson Digital Effect

Walden, Nashville and Hudson DIY

DIY: Walden, Nashville and Hudson


I tackled Sutro’s dark, moody tone by slightly stretching a section of a thin black shirt over the camera’s lens. It looks slightly patched and distorted, but maintains the lofty air of mystery given off by the original. You can also try it out with sports jerseys, thin black tights or even sections of black lace that aren’t too chunky: anything that you’d need to wear something underneath if you were to tote it in public.


Sutro Digital Effect

Sutro DIY

DIY: Sutro

Sierra, Rise and Valencia

These three filters all share similar warm, burnt-out tones with varying degrees of exposure and contrast. I shone the camera through the thick, transparent section of large tortoise-shell sunglasses to get that same warmth. As the frame itself was slightly mottled, by moving the camera across different sections you can create different areas of light and shadow. The shape of the frame itself is also uneven, so moving the camera around also distorts the image in places.


Sierra Digital Effect


Rise Digital Effect


Valencia Digital Effect

Sierra, Rise, Valencia DIY

DIY: Sierra, Rise and Valencia

Hefe, X-Pro II and Brannan

This filter is deceptively simple. Using a section of the same thin, light cardboard from an old cereal box, I made an uneven hole with frayed edges to create a framed, blurry effect. To make the image more yellow or sepia toned, stick the cereal box filter to the edge of the camera and point it through some shades, a coloured soft drink bottle or some coloured cellophane.


Hefe Digital Effect

X-Pro II

X-Pro II Digital Effect


Brannan Digital Effect

DIY Hefe, X-Pro II and Brannan

DIY: Hefe, X-Pro II and Brannan


Here I again used my even cardboard pinhole lens to frame the shot, before pointing the camera through the section of the ginger beer bottle I’d previously chopped up to create the Kelvin filter. The section I used for Toaster was intact, and so the camera peers through one side of the empty bottle straight through to the other.


Toaster Digital Effect

Toaster DIY

DIY: Toaster

Lo-Fi, Mayfair and Amaro

The lid of a Pringles container became a Petri dish in this final experiment: I put some water and blue food dye inside it, and held the lid in front of the lens before I took the photo. As the lid’s surface isn’t even and had some tiny scratches on it (of which I couldn’t avoid including in the shot, but add a bit of extra character), the water moved about to create different sections of light and shadow. If you’d like more control over how your picture will turn out, use a flatter piece of plastic that has a higher rim, so you can put in more water. If the bottom of the lid is completely covered, then the colour will spread more evenly and you can play around with amounts and different shades of dye to better command colour.


Lo-fi Digital Effect


Mayfair Digital Effect


Amaro Digital Effect

Lo-fi, Mayfair and Amaro DIY

That’s all folks… for tonight that is. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think of my ideas. Your feedback means a lot (it really does).

Author the Author:

Monica Karpinski
Monica is a London-based writer and digital content producer for Hotcourses. She enjoys all things art, culture, design and digital media. You can follow her on Twitter.

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