Many people think that if they don't have the best and most expensive editing software, such as Lightroom or Photoshop, they can't create beautiful images. Whether you have a DSLR or an iPhone, you can create striking images that boast beautiful, natural looking tones using one of my all time favorite mobile apps, VSCO.
What is VSCO?
If you have ever dabbled into the world of mobile photography, you no doubt have heard of VSCO. Visual Supply Company, or VSCO, started out as a preset pack for Adobe Lightroom, a powerful image editing software used by a large majority of professional and amateur photographers. The VSCO presets emulated the classic look of popular films such as Kodak Potra & Agfa Vista, essentially bringing those timeless film tones into the digital age. With the success of their first preset pack, VSCO exploded into popularity seemingly overnight and became an industry leader in Lightroom presets, film emulation and in the creative industry as a whole. They soon released a powerful mobile app for editing simple jpegs, VSCOcam; and just like their Lightroom presets, VSCOcam instantly became one of the most popular mobile editing apps in the world. A few rebranding campaigns led them to name the app simply "VSCO".
The VSCO app is on the most well-rounded and well-made mobile editing apps on the market. It's rugged tools and user-friendly interface allow the user to edit their images extensively and give their photos that classic film look in a matter of seconds, which is something that many mobile editing apps cannot boast. This tutorial will show you how to take advantage of the app's tools to give your photos that classic film look without purchasing expensive software or gear. To follow along, download VSCO in the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, and download this set of images. Feel free to download, edit and share your results (with credit of course!)
Importing to VSCO
To import photos stored in your phone, simply tap the plus symbol on the top right of the Studio screen, select one or multiple photos, and tap the check mark symbol on the top right of the Import screen. Once you have imported your selection, the Studio screen will pop back up.
Editing with Presets
There are a few things you need to know before you dive into the Editing module. There are two main editing modules within the VSCO app: Presets and Adjustments. The Presets module is the easiest and quickest way to edit or style your image. On the other hand, the Adjustments module will provide a way to fine tune your image exactly the way you want it, in addition to making image corrections.
To start with Presets, select an image form your Studio screen. Now tap the sliders icon. What will appear next is VSCO's vast selection of Presets, which are displayed as small previews along with an abbreviated title. Swipe the bottom row of presets to browse through the free collection. In case you get bored with their free presets, VSCO offers several preset packs for sale as well as an advanced series of presets purchased through their VSCO X service. My personal favorite presets are A6 & M5 for a moody look, and S2 for a subtle look.
Once you have selected a preset, VSCO offers a function that allows you to tone down the potency of your selected preset. To do so, just tap on the selected preset a second time and slide the white circle. This function helps with certain presets that are way too overpowering such as the C Presets. Now that you've applied and toned down your preset, you can head to the Adjustments module by tapping the white sliders icon as shown below.
Editing with Adjustments
One big caveat I didn't mention at the beginning of this tutorial is that your final, edited image will only be as good as your original, unedited image. Obviously, thats a big caveat. This depends a lot on your eye as a photographer, and it truly doesn't matter whether you've got a Canon 1DX Mark II or an iPhone 5. Mobile photography has exploded in recent years and even an iPhone can capture beautiful photos. Now, just because iPhone CAN capture a beautiful photo, doesn't mean it WILL every time. That's one of the biggest reasons VSCO added the Adjustments module: to make corrections to your original photo. The Adjustments module offers several powerful tools that can radically change your image with just a few slider adjustments. Here's a graphic that shows every tool and what it does.
- Temperature: Adjusts white balance
- Tint: Adjusts green or violet balance
- Exposure: Adjusts brightness/darkness
- Contrast: Adjusts contrast between light and dark areas
- Shadows: Adjusts the dark areas to be slightly brighter
- Saturation: Adjusts the overall color saturation
- Fade: Adjusts the black point(vintage, old school look)
- Straighten: Adjusts the tilt
- Crop: Adjust the composition
- Shadows Tint: Adds a specified tint or color to darker areas
- Highlights Tint: Adds a specified tint or color to brighter areas
- Sharpen: Adds additional detail
- Highlights: Adjusts bright areas to be slightly darker
- Skin Tone: Adjusts skin tone to be either more green or more violet
- Vignette: Darkens the edges of the frame
- Grain: Adds film-style grain
- X-Skew: Adjusts perspective on X-axis (horizontal)
- Y-Skew: Adjusts perspective on Y-axis (vertical)
- Clarity: Adds additional detail to edges or contrasty areas
All of these Adjustments tools can be used to go beyond the Presets module and achieve that classic film look. Two of the most popular tools to do that are Fade and Grain. Fade adjusts the overall black point of an image, bringing the darkest areas of the image to gray. Grain adds tiny specks that looks like film grain across the entire frame. Other tools such as Temperature, Tint, Contrast, Saturation and Skin Tone can help to create a very specific look for your images. These are all very easy to use and self-explanatory, so I wont go into detail on how to use them.
Exporting from VSCO
Now that you've edited your image to perfection, you can export your image. To do so, just tap the three dots icon on the bottom right of the Studio screen, tap Save to Camera Roll, and choose a size (I usually export Large or Actual size).
I won't pretend to have a magical formula that makes every image consistently beautiful, but I can show you what I use on a regular basis to create a consistent style to my mobile work. Below are a few example photos along with the edits I made using VSCO.