7 Tips for Editing Photos in VSCO

Human hands taking pictures with smartphone over Hong Kong cityscape and Victoria Harbour at sunset
d3sign / Getty Images

Most professional photographers utilize either Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to edit their photos. Known for toting a variety of equipment, editing software is usually reserved for professionals, as tinkering with the systems can be challenging to novice photographers. With VSCO’s introduction of a mobile application, everything changed. Now, iPhone photographers can produce and edit DSLR-quality images all from the simplicity of their cell phone, allowing a new crop of photographers and creatives to rise among the ranks.

VSCO first launched in the Apple store, up-ending the Instagram-only filters that were once the only option. Much more sophisticated and including a far greater range and editing capabilities, the VSCO app is a must for photographers looking to increase their mobile photography prowess.

Here are 7 steps to get you from raw image to final, edited photo utilizing the VSCO app. 

  • 01 of 07

    Analyzing Your Photo

    mountain and reflection

    Before you begin editing your photo, it’s always a great idea to analyze your image. What does it need? Did you document a portrait, a landscape, or a dish? Is it slightly off-centered? Do you need to lift the shadows so the fine details of the image are visible? The analysis step is always important in the editing process, as it allows you to make calculated edits as opposed to blindly clicking through the VSCO functions.

    For this photo taken of Antarctic mountains, it’s clear it needs some work. The photographer happened to be on an oscillating boat, causing the photo to be off center and with some of the boat’s rope visible. The image could also use a filter, which one can select from a variety of VSCO’s offerings. 

  • 02 of 07

    Selecting a Filter

    mountain and reflection

    Our favorite VSCO Instagram filters belong to the Analog/Aesthetic series. This preset pack is perfect for almost any medium of photo. They're particularly good for portraits, landscapes, and even city shots, as the edit creates a neutral consistency to the photo, increasing the brightness and lowering the saturation, creating an even photo finish. Highlights are subdued, creating milky skin tones and a sense of desaturation. As all VSCO filters, Analog/Aesthetic is inspired by classic analog film. With natural tones, subtle color shifts, and slight fading, the filter is well-suited for interiors, portraits, and food photography. It belongs to the A Series Pack and is perfect for those desiring an understated look to complement their images.

  • 03 of 07

    Leverage Brightness

    mountain and reflection

    One crucial step for editing in VSCO is to raise the brightness. Unless the image is drastically over-exposed, almost every image could use a little brightening. It helps create more vibrancy in the image, leveraging you the opportunity to increase the contrast, which always creates a more dynamic photo. 

    For this image, we raised the brightness to .6 out of the full 6 capacity available. This is just enough to expose some of the nice, craggy mountain details without over-exposing the rest of the image. 

  • 04 of 07

    Level Brightness With Contrast

    mountain and reflection

    If you're going to increase the brightness of the image, it's always important to balance this with contrast. This effect creates a high-definition finish, just like some of your favorite travel photographers achieve in Photoshop and Lightroom. When you raise the contrast, the image becomes more dynamic and bold, creating a deeper focus on the details of the photo. 

    For this image, it certainly made the right side of the photo shine. The mountains became illuminated with the combination of heightened brightness and contrast, creating a more emotional photo. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Crop and Straighten

    mountain and reflection

    After the major edits are done, it's time to crop and straighten the image. For this particular photo, it's necessary to eliminate as much of the boat and rope as possible without sacrificing too much of the mountain views.  Paying close attention to the natural line where water meets ​the mountain, we straightened the image and crop out the boat.  

  • 06 of 07

    Increase or Lower the Warmth

    mountain and reflection

    Contrary to popular belief, Antarctica is quite sunny in the summertime. By using the A6 filter, some of this warmth was lost, which one can adjust by increasing the warmth in the VSCO app. This creates a nostalgic look to the mountains, revealing how the sun is piercing through the snowy mountaintops. 

  • 07 of 07

    Open Shadows

    mountain and reflection

    For the last and final step in editing this photo, it's important to open the shadows. This reveals all of the mountains details, creating a professional grade image, all from your cell phone!