Many of you asked how I achieve the color tone on my Instagram photos, and today I’m going to break down my editing process with my preferred choice of apps, and tips and tricks on how to achieve the film look on your photos.

First thing first: Forget #nofilter. Let’s talk VSCO.

The (not-so) secret is out: VSCO is my grammin’ weapon. As per January 2017 when I’m writing this journal, it is still the best photo editing apps available on your smartphone. It’s relatively easy to use, offers free filters, manual controls, and most importantly, it can magically transform meh photo into an interesting one with just a single tap.

There are indeed many editing apps out there, but sometimes their filters can be quite harsh and drastic, while VSCO built in filters are more subtle. They do what they have to do to your picture: enhance the natural tone, simulate a film feel, fade or pop the colors as needed, and they do all that without making your photos look overly processed.

Oh and by the way, I haven’t mentioned it in the beginning because I thought most of you would know this already: PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM INSTAGRAM BUILT IN FILTERS FOR YOUR OWN SAKE.

The first step to editing in VSCO is choosing your preset. VSCO has over 86 presets/filters available and the number is still growing. Ten come with the app, eight more are available for free download, and the other 68 are available for purchase. I’m not going to explain about each of the filter here (because I only use a handful of them) but rather I’m going to share you 10 of my favorite filters (5 free ones and 5 purchased), let’s get started:

The Analog/Aesthetics Collection (A4-A6)

The Aesthetics Series is one of the most popular presets in VSCO. They give a higher contrast, subtle color shifts and slight fading while still maintain a natural look on your photo. Well-suited for interiors, portraits and food photography. My favorite is the A4 and A6 and both come free with the VSCO Cam apps bundle.

The A4 Presets from The Analog/Aesthetic Collection is a wonderful filter. It gives a warm and “aged” look with its brownish tone. This filter looks really really good on wooden, leather and distressed wall surfaces as it enhances the depth and increases contrast.

A6 is my favourite preset and the one that I have been using the most lately. I love the warmth and richness it gives to browns, and clean minimalist feel it gives to an image because of the light desaturation. There’s not too much color alteration going on so the final images still look natural (and better looking.)

The Chromatic Collection (C4-C9)

The Chromatic Series are super vibrant and well, super chromatics. Each of the preset gives out different vibes; but all make the colors of your photo pop. Available for purchase in the app for $2.99 and includes six vibrant filters (C4-C9). My personal favorites are the C5 and C7.

C5 gives off a warm mood on your photo by adding rosy tint. This filter work best on darker photos and street photos.

The C7 gives a saturated cool, bluish tones and is also good for lightening up dark photos. This is by far my second most favorite filter after the A6. This filter is very strong so I suggest you to adjust the intensity to half.

The Alchemy Collection (Q1-Q10)

This preset replicates the result of Cross Processing technique in film photography. It creates dramatic color shifts and high contrast on photos. Available for purchase in the app for $2.99 USD and generously includes 10 presets (Q1-Q10). My favorites are the Q1, Q7 and Q8.

With gentle color shifts and high contrast, the Q1 is a perfect filter for nature photos that feature blue sky and foliages. It also compliments skin color. Compared with the other numbers of the Q series, this one does not give an “overly processed” look and retain some natural colors of the original image. I think Q1 resembles a lot like Portra 160, my all time favorite film. On the image below, I also added light flare using the Lens Distortion app.

Q7 : This filter gives off a bright sunny summer feels to the photos by adding yellow midtone and green shadows. It makes me happy when I apply this filter on the photos! The white details will wash out abit but it gives even more vintage feel so I don’t mind.

 

Q8 : The Cross Processing game is strong with this one! I love how this filter add an analog feel to the images in the best way possible. By the way, most of the Q series seem to work best on my Japan images. It just sets off the right mood on them.

 

The Subtle Fade Collection (M4-M6)

I call this the Mellow Presets because they make the images look… well, mellow. These filters add a vintage, 70’s feel to the photos and I love how they instantly set the mood with the pastel brownish tone. Available for purchase for 99 cents but you don’t even have to purchase the whole set because one of the best filters in this series, the M5, come for free with the apps!

M5 is probably the only filters with faded mood that I like. I usually like brighter, more vibrant colors but this one has a certain vintage character that I also love. It flattens white and adds constrast.

 

NikeLab ACG x VSCO (ACG)

This is a pretty extreme filter and works best on street photos. It adds a gritty urban feel by reducing the contrast, adding warmth and muting brighter colors. The best thing about #ACG is, it’s free (!)

 

Hypebeast x VSCO (HB1, HB2)

There was a time when I only used HB2 on all my images. I don’t use it that much anymore lately since I switched to A6. HB2 is pretty similar to A6 but has a darker and more contrast tones, it also gives out a cooler bluish tint. Both HB1 and HB2 are free.

Tip: When using both of these filters, adjust the Temperature slider (on the manual control) a bit to the right if the photo turns out to be a bit too blue for your taste. I will explain more about the manual tweaks below.

  

Manual Adjustment

In many cases you’ll probably need to do some additional manual adjustment tools to fine tune your images; correcting brightness, straightening lines, sharpening, etc. These are some more tips for the essential manual tweaks:

Don’t forget to correct your Perspective and Straighten your image when your lines are crooked, or Crop the unwanted parts of your image. These are subtle touches but can make a huge difference!

When you’re correcting Exposure, make sure that the details are not lost. If you want to brighten a really dark photo, sometimes all you have to do is to adjust the Shadows Save. Conversely when your photo is too bright, you can soften the bright areas by adjusting the Highlight Save. Don’t forget to find a good balance to keep the details on your photo.

Another manual adjustment I love is the Clarity tool. This will give dimension to your photos and emphasise details. Don’t use it too much though of your photo will look too processed. Sharpen the photo a bit in the final process.

You can also adjust the Temperature, Tint and Skintone to your liking. I play with the Temperature slider alot, adjusting to the left will give you a cooler tint, and conversely to the right will give you a warmer tint.

Portraits and Fashion images can benefit a lot from the Skintone correction. Sliding to the left will result to a rosy (pink) skin color, and sliding to the right will make the skin looks more yellow.

Final Tips

  1. Find the filters that best compliments your style. My selections above tend to lean towards the vibrant and contrasty side because those are the mood I like, but i know lots of people who prefer a more faded vintage look.
  2. Don’t go overboard with the filters because you’ll lose the photo’s natural quality. I usually use the filters halfway to retain the original tone of the images.
  3. You can always do as much editing as you want, but keep in mind that there are some thing you have to get it right the moment you take it. No amount of editing can save a terribly blurred selfie, for example.
  4. For Instagram, I usually upload a minimum of size of 2000px on the shortest side. When saving on VSCO, always save for the highest quality size.
  5. Those tips above are solely for Instagram purposes only. The process is efficient and very effective with gorgeous result. However I do not use my phone to edit/retouch my commissioned work. All my advertising and editorial work will go through a longer, arduous retouching process in Lightroom and Photoshop.

That’s all love! I will cover the black and white editing on my next tutorial. If there’s anything else you need to know feel free to ask me below!

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25 comments

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Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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Anytime!

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Thankyou ka nicole! <3

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You’re welcome!

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Thank u so much for your sharing!

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You’re welcome dear

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Hi Nicole, you are so generous! And thanks for the detail explanations. Now I pay attention more with those effects you mentioned. Love all your photos!

Will you share some nice Presets for editing photos in computer in the future perhaps 😉

xx,

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Will do Catharine, thank you and hope the tips are useful!

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Love your works so muchhh! Thank you for sharing :)))

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You’re welcome dear!

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I already have vsco for a long time, but never use it properly (ouch), but thanks to you, now I notice the use of those filters.
I love your works, and I can’t hardly wait for the next tutorial.
Just curious, have you ever take a photo of Jakarta or its people?

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Glad they’re helpful! I will be updating Jakarta Journal soon, stay tuned 🙂

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I’ve been using VSCO for quite some time but never had any “picturesque” result, it always looked overdone to me and that’s why I’ve been wondering how the pros do it, I always thought it’s their mirrorless cam who did most of the works. Well now finally my prayer has been answered!
Thank you so much for the quick tip, always adore your work. Oh and just saying, I bumped into you couple of times and you seem like really really nice 🙂

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aww next time just say hi!

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Thank you so much for the tips! It’s very useful for me.
Hope you can sharing about editing black and white photo like you do.
I love your works very much and appreciate about what you do for sharing the tips.

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Will do black and white tutorial soon!

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Thank you for the tips ,always a fan of your works and also your choices of tones. Much love 🙂

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Hi! I want to ask you, even in your instagram feeds do you use almost all of that presets in your photos? Randomly? Thank you for sharing too!

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Hi Nicoline,

thank you for your in-depth explanation about using VSCO, because i think i’m still at the stage where i’m using HB2 for all of my pictures. Actually i’m using Fujifilm X-M1 35mm f/1.4 which turns out it has a weakness that the picture that it produced will have a yellow-ish tone. That’s why i keep using filter S2 before i edit it for the next layer of VSCO using either HB or A6. Do you have any tips and trick so i can edit less-likely?

and to be honest, i keep losing my mind about the triangle love of ISO, Aperture and Speed Shutter. I love photography, and keep using auto mode. I want to learn about it, maybe you can give a simple review about how it works together and how to balance the image while using those three 🙂

Btw your blog is inspiring and beautiful. Thanks a lot!

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Hi Amanda, you can adjust the yellowish tone using the temperature and skintone slider. Adjust the temperature to the left to make the color cooler and the skintone slider also to the left to make the yellow turn more reddish (if it’s what you want). Alternatively, reduce the saturation. I think it should come off less-yellowish and you can apply any of your preferred filter first.

The manual control of the camera totally deserves a whole post, will do that in the near future! Try to start with Av or Tv modes before switching to full manual 🙂 I always feel that the Auto-mode wouldn’t let the camera to perform at the fullest. Glad you enjoy the blog!

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nice sharing kak!
very helpful..
looking forward for another tips..

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This is very new to me. Where can I downoad the filters?

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Dear Nicole,
Thank you so much for sharing your talent and knowledge. I can’t imagine how busy you are, but you still spend a time to share your knowledge and respond to questions and comments. That is very rare! I’d like to learn from you and checked out the npm class website but none of the links are working. I’d like to learn cinematography from you because you always capture the details in a beautiful way that narrate a lovely story. Would love to know if you offer this type of class. Thank YOU!

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This was extremely helpful. Thank you so much! <3

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Mantap tutorial ny ✌️

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