Image by Kyle Kramer / Screenshots via Instagram
Picking the right filter is a crucial part of getting your Instagram post to that magical 11-like milestone, but for me at least, doing so usually entails just clicking on different ones until I get bored. To develop a better understanding of what filters are the best, I decided to study under some of the greatest Instagram masters: pop stars.
Using a package developed for the programming language R by the great Pablo Barberá, I scraped the most recent 250 posts of the top 15 most-followed musicians on Instagram. Instagram is actually really good at making their data accessible, so each post comes with a lot of metadata (hey, if the NSA has it, why shouldn't everyone?), including which filter the post uses.
Filter Breakdown by Chad Major and Sam Chieng / Click here to expand
The first thing I noticed is that using a filter on every post is a serious faux pas. For every user in the sample, Normal was the number one filter, often by a large margin. I had to go pretty far down the list of most popular accounts to find someone for who this is not true; it turns out that Miranda Kerr and Paris Hilton are OBSESSED with Valencia. So I'm definitely going to use that one.
While the top musicians used a large variety of filters, when you aggregate them, some definite patterns emerge. As you can see in the graphic (made beautiful by graphic designer Sam Chieng), the most popular filter overall is Mayfair, followed closely by Amaro, X-Pro II (which is the dumbest filter name other than "Toaster"), and yes, Valencia. Among the filters to be avoided are 1977, Gingham, Brooklyn (try hard much?), Dogpatch, and Maven. And the trenchant cultural observers at Broad City are right about Kelvin--don't use it.
The filter use of the top five accounts is further broken down. As you can see, Queen Bey is the most followed musician on Instagram, and she uses filters less than a quarter of the time; her favorite, too, is Valencia. Ariana Grande is the queen of the #nofilter crowd, while TSwift is a filter fanatic, using them in about two-thirds of posts and favoring Mayfair by a significant margin. The Biebs is also a Mayfair kind of guy, while his former sweetheart Selena Gomez prefers Slumber.
Outside of the top five, filter use is actually less common: Miley and Nicki each use filters in fewer than 5 percent of their posts, and Rihanna is pretty stingy as well. Justin Timberlake is big on Valencia. My favorite findings, though, are from Katy Perry and Drake, who each use the perfectly named filter. "Rise" is basically the same word as "Roar," and it captures Katy Perry's brand of power-pop, while "Willow" is far and away the softest filter in the game.
The three remaining accounts all belong to One Direction (Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and the official band account), and each of them loves Amaro. This coincidence got me digging a little deeper, and I may have uncovered something new about the most obsessed-about lads in the world: I believe the same person manages the Instagram accounts for Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and the group account. My evidence? This significantly less beautiful graph:
Image by Chad Major / Click here to enlarge
The black dots are the band's official account, the red are Harry Styles, and the blue are Niall Horan. Each column is the frequency of filter use for that filter. As you can see, in many of the columns the dots are in almost exactly the same place; other than the band account using no filter a little more often, the similarities are unmistakable.
So the secret's out, One Direction fans: if you want to be just like your idols, you need to use Amaro 10 percent of the time, Mayfair 10 percent of the time, Lo-fi about 8 percent of the time...
For the rest of you: You have as many filters in the ‘gram as Beyoncé. Use them wisely.
"Chad Major" is the Noisey US data scientist at large. Follow him on Twitter.
Sam Chieng is the Noisey US data visualization consultant at large. Follow her on Twitter.