Part I - Why
This will be a two part series. The first is "why", the second is "how"
I began using VSCO for a reason that many relate to: I wanted to shoot digital, but not have the result look "digital". The term in this case describes how digital photos can often look overly sharp, too contrasty, and plastic—in other words, different than scanned film, which has a painterly quality, and smoother gradations between tones and light.
At first glance VSCO appears to offer a one or two click fix: select the film stock you like most, and click the preset. However, I have found that the presets often introduce whack colors, especially in objects that are primary red (a tshirt), green (grass and leaves), and blue (the sky).
I often needed to wrestle with the presets after I applied them, manually toning down the whacked-out colors that would appear. VSCO also messes with the RGB curves, and thus gives one less control over the highlights, shadows, blacks, and whites sliders.
On top of that, the presets often white out or flatten shadows. The people behind the presets seem to think every film stock out there has flattened shadows (unless it is slide film) which, if properly exposed, just isn't true.
A few weeks ago I decided to edit a photo without using the presets. Instead, I used a built in camera profile on my Fuji XT-1 called Astia. I was encouraged, so I spent a minute more working, and came up with the image below.
This next image is the VSCO preset attempt, which took about 3 minutes to get to after clicking "Kodak 100"
Right click each image, then click "Open In New Tab." Switch back and forth between tabs to understand the difference more clearly
After using it VSCO for several years, here are my thoughts in summation —
- VSCO is primarily for people photography. VSCO makes colors whack because the presets are trying to control for skintones. I haven't been able to always match what VSCO does for skintones, so if your a portraitist, you might like using it
- VSCO works sometimes. Maybe 1 in 10 times I will think "hey, that looks OK" after I click the preset
- VSCO is good for editors without a clear vision. Not sure what you want your photos to look like? VSCO is a great for clicking until you find the right balance of colors/exposure
- VSCO is a great learning tool, but in the end it comes down to you. From the moment you decide the exposure and click the shutter, doors begin to shut. VSCO is a great learning tool, but I feel that it is one people should hope to graduate from
- VSCO wants to make photos look trendy — underexposed, unclear, whacked out.
Below I have included a few more photos for comparison purposes.
Nothing I've written above is absolutely true; your mileage WILL vary. It's part of photography. We as photographers are dealing with a living medium: the world around us. There is no one technique, lighting, composition, camera, etc that will capture everything. But with a lot of practice, things can be made to work...
Below are some recent photos edited without using VSCO whatsoever