If you're at all interested in using your phone to take great photos, you've probably heard of VSCO. As far as mobile apps go, VSCO has it all: a great camera, sophisticated filters and editing options, and social features that allow you to instantly publish your images online.
In our last tutorial on VSCO, How to Take Photos with the VSCO Cam App, we took an in-depth look at VSCO's camera capabilities and why it beats out your phone's default camera app. This time let's take a walk through VSCO's filters and editing options. You'll learn show you how to add subtle filters, crop, tint and sharpen your images.
Note: In this tutorial we're using what is currently the newest version of VSCO. If you're using an older version of the app some of the features I'm going to cover won't be available.
VSCO started out as a powerful set of film simulation presets for Adobe Lightroom, and became popular seemingly overnight: all kinds of photographers have adopted these Lightroom presets to bring vintage styles to the digital era.
So it's no surprise that when VSCO launched a free mobile app for iOS and Android photographers flocked to it as a way to give their mobile images a filmic look. VSCO is simple and easy to use, but this tutorial will help you get the most out of it to style your images beautifully.
As far as mobile apps go, VSCO has it all: a great camera, sophisticated filters and editing options, and social features that allow you to instantly publish your images online. It's no wonder it frequently tops the Photo sections of the mobile app stores. Let's look at how to use it.
For New VSCO Users
VSCO is a free app available for iOS on the App Store and the Google Play Store. It's also important to note that people sometimes confuse the mobile VSCO app, with the VSCO Lightroom presets. Both are made by a company called VSCO and create film-style edits, but are different products.
VSCO for Mobile does a lot, from acting as a photo exploration service, to a capture and editing tool, to a social service of its own for sharing photos. This tutorial will focus on what VSCO calls the studio, which is the center icon on the navigation and used for capture and edit.
Note: This tutorial's screenshots were generated in VSCO for iOS. The Android version works more or less the same.
Capture Images with VSCO
To capture images from within VSCO, tap the Studio icon at the bottom of the app. Then, swipe down, pulling down to switch to the camera mode.
Above, I've annotated the five key settings in camera mode:
- Just for fun, VSCO has a facial sticker overlay that tracks and overlays a cartoon style facial expression.
- You can toggle on RAW image capture to natively capture images just like your DSLR would.
- Toggles through the grid overlays and crop modes.
- Cycle through flash options, including a continuous light option.
- Switch from the rear-facing to front-facing camera.
Import Images to VSCO
If you're using VSCO both as a camera and as an image editor, the photos you take will automatically be in your VSCO image feed.
If you use another app to capture images, you can import them later into VSCO as well. Importing them to VSCO creates a copy. To import images into VSCO, make sure that you're working in the studio and press the + button near the upper right corner.
After the import menu opens, tap on the images to import. When you've selected a number of images, press the check mark to import them.
VSCO doesn't automatically delete images from your camera roll. Once you've imported your images into VSCO, it creates a copy contained solely within the app. You'll need to export it for the changes to take effect.
Now, let's get to the strength of the app: creative image styling.
Use VSCO's Image Presets
The quickest way to style an image in VSCO is to apply one of the built in presets.
To apply a filter to an image, double tap on an image to open it. At the bottom of the app, you'll see small thumbnails. To try out a preset, just tap one of these to apply to an image.
You can scroll to the right to apply other presets. When you find one that you like, press the tiny arrow at the bottom of the app and press the check mark to apply the preset.
If you tire of the built-in presets, VSCO also offers additional presets in the VSCO store right inside of the app. Scroll to the far right side of the presets and tap Shop to find more paid options.
VSCO has some great looking presets, but you might want to dial them back to apply them subtly.
To fade a preset, start by tapping on the thumbnail for the preset. Pull the slider to the left to fade the preset slightly. Then, press the checkmark to save your changes.
Also try out applying multiple presets to an image. Fade one preset, then save your edit and apply another.
In addition to presets, VSCO offers the standard suite of correction tools, such as exposure, contrast, and sharpening. However, these tools are tailored for stylistic image edits.
To launch the correction tools, select an image from Studio view. Tap the slider icon just like you did when we entered the presets menu. Then, press the small arrow at the bottom of the screen, and press the sliders icon from this menu.
VSCO offers a litany of tools for correcting and styling your images. These controls appear below an image. Tap a tool to open its slider and apply it to an image, or scroll to the right to find more controls.
Here's a key to the tools in VSCO:
- Exposure: adjust the overall brightness of an image
- Contrast: reduce or increase the contrast between light and dark portions of an image.
- Straighten: correct tilt.
- Horizontal Perspective: correct for perspective, left to right.
- Vertical Perspective: great for correcting an image when you've pointed your camera sharply up or down.
- Cropping: adjust the composition of an image in post.
- Clarity: brings additional definition to the edges of an image.
- Sharpening: add additional detail to an image.
- Saturation: adjust the intensity of an image's colors.
- Highlights Save: pull back the brightest parts of an image, adjusting whites to light gray.
- Shadows Save: pull the darkest parts of images brighter, pulling the black point into a dark gray.
- Temperature: adjust white balance.
- Tint: apply a green to violet type correction to an image.
- Skin tone: targeted adjustments for correcting skin tone.
- Vignette: darken the edges of an image.
- Grain: add a bit of film-style coarseness to an image.
- Fade: shift the black point of an image to add an old-school style look.
- Shadows Tint: add a colored tint to the dark parts of an image.
- Highlights Tint: add a colored tint to the brightest parts of an image.
Many of these features will be familiar if you've used any other photo editor. Let's look at three of my favorite tools for film style edits.
Fading an image gives it that beautiful aged image look. The fade look is similar to tone curve adjustments applied in apps like Adobe Lightroom. A slider from 0 to 12 adjusts the amount of fade to apply to an image. Broadly speaking, fade works by lifting the shadows and dropping the highlights (slightly) to create a low-contrast look. This can help hide some of the most characteristic flaws of smartphone cameras.
Highlights & Shadows Tint
Film is often preferred for its unique color renditions. Every film has that signature style for rendering color.
Two of my favorite tools in VSCO are the shadows tint and highlight tint options. Tap these options and choose a color to bring some tinting to the bright or dark parts of an image.
Bonus: tap a second time on an individual color to adjust how much tinting is applied.
These days, the high ISO capabilities of modern digital cameras have reduced much of the grain seen in images. Even then, the digital grain is different from the grain seen in the film era.
VSCO has a great option for making grain look more random and film-like. Pull the slider up until you add a desired amount of coarseness to your images.
Publish Your VSCO Images
When you've finished editing your image, you'll need to export it from VSCO. The edits are non-destructive and can be changed over and over, as long as the image is inside of VSCO.
When I finish editing an image, I save my edited image to the camera roll and delete it from VSCO to save space on my iPhone. With a single image selected, tap the "..." menu. There are several options for exporting an image; you can Share the image directly to social services, or save it to your device.
You can also export multiple images from VSCO. From the thumbnail view of the studio, tap to select several images and then tap the same "..." menu option.
Recap & Keep Learning
VSCO and powerful is easy to use, but I hope this tutorial helped you master it and get the most out of it.
If you like the look that VSCO gives your mobile images, check out these tutorials as a follow-up:
- If you're still on the fence about using your mobile device as a serious camera, check out my recent tutorial on why you shouldn't pass it over.
- Want to use something that fits with Adobe Lightroom? Find out about 3 Changes to Lightroom Mobile that make it more capable than ever.
- If you want to build film-style looks of your own in Adobe Lightroom, check out this tutorial on Building a Film Style Look in Lightroom.
Are you using VCSO, or do you prefer another mobile editor? Let me know in the comments.