What made VSCO trump actions are its color profiles. Instead of going into Photoshop for every image, I could apply the VSCO presets through Lightroom. It didn’t radically change how my photos looked. It honestly made them look how I saw them in my head. I’ve been a fan of medium format film photography for a long time and here I was getting similar colors and tones to my favorite images. I’m just realizing that it’s one of the reasons I never liked digital medium format as much as film. Yeah, you get the larger sensor but the colors were just too… RGB?
Nowadays, I see the purists put VSCO in that same category as the over-processed images from yesteryear. You know what I say to that? PUMP UP THE GRAIN! Just kidding—Lightroom’s grain is hideous, but you know what I meant.
This is not some paid advertisement for VSCO, nor do I really love promoting people’s products in general, but I wanted to share why I love using the presets and how it’s kept my interest in photography alive. (Make sure to read my salacious opinions at the bottom of the list.)
1) Consistency. Despite having a lot of processing options, VSCO helps keep consistency with my images. I’ll admit, it can also be hard sometimes not to want to choose different processing for every image in a set. With that said, I’ve found that mixing and matching processes can still be done without losing “the look” of the set.
2) Color profiles. When the digital revolution came to the photography world, we saw colors who these RGB sensors and monitors portrayed them. The way colors work between the two created a standard idea of what colors are supposed to look like. Soon, the typical images we saw had the same exaggerated blues and greens and rich blacks. Many of us played with Photoshop and later Lightroom to get closer to what we imagined. For me, I never quite found the magic formula.
When I saw how VSCO’s color profiles worked, it really sold me. If you’re not familiar with color profiles, when you process RAW images from your camera, you have to tell your photo editing program a color profile to use (which is typically set in camera). These color profiles have been calibrated by your camera manufacturer or in your photo editing programing. VSCO gives you a whole new set of color profiles determined by the film presets they created that, for me, are closer to the colors that I want without having to find some magic sauce.
3) Skin tones. Oh, beautiful skin tones that are Kodak Porta. Shooting mainly portraits for the past five years, skin tones were my main concern. All I wanted were my clients to love how their skin looked. The first set I processed solely with VSCO was our first look book. After publishing the book, I wanted to immediately go back and re-edit all of our past sessions with Porta.
4) Variety. It’s the spice of life, eh? Knowing that when I process my photos I can quickly decide the look of my photos without having to have some deep vision of how it should look is really nice. After a few years of using VSCO, I have certain presets that I prefer for the subjects that I’m shooting. For instance, the Fuji presets in Pack 1 work great for nature and landscape images. The colors are slightly richer and it does well with greens and blues. But you then have different ISO options of those films, just like in their film negative originals (160C, 400H, 800Z). Each of these give subtle changes in colors and tones but don’t diverge so much that you can’t mix and match these processes in the same set of images.
5) Community. It’s kind of weird when you think about it, but there’s a sort-of kinship with other folks using VSCO. Through the different online communities and groups online, I’ve made many photography friends I would have never met otherwise. There’s so many photographers these days, it’s harder and harder to find others to talk shop with or just to enjoy each others’ work. Normally, we’re all subdivided by the content we shoot: portraits, weddings, landscape, commercial, etc. I like that I have met all kinds of shooters from “for fun” shooters to “for pay” shooters. (I’m sick of words like amateur/hobbyists and professional, but that’s a post for another day.)
6) Pissing off the purists. After fifteen years of shooting digital, I have seen all kinds of opinions in the photography world. I’m not proud to say that I was wrapped up into how others deemed what was acceptable in terms of processing. Nowadays, I see a lot of those same people crapping on VSCO the same way people did with other action sets. I just don’t see it the same, though.
VSCO processing tries to emulate the look of film. Film, you know, that thing that was used forever before digital. I think some have decided that it’s trying to look vintage but get real. There is no pure. There is no “right way.” Everything is manipulated in some way or another and I just prefer the processing options they’ve added.
7) Looking forward to processing my photos! For a while, I dreaded sitting down to process 100+ images from a session. When I started using VSCO, though, processing became Christmas morning for me. Every image was like opening a present, applying the presets and seeing what my images will look like with colors and tones more how I like them. Seriously, my wife is even surprised how giddy I get now when I have a new batch of photos to look through. As much as I shoot as accurately as possible in camera, when that preset is applied, my images just look magical to me.
*All images featured in this post were shot with the Canon 5D classic or Canon XSi and either the Canon 50mm f/1.4 or Tamron 90mm Macro. When I state images are unprocessed RAW, I exported the original RAW file without adjusting any of the settings that it contained on import including color profiles. All VSCO processed photos were only processed in Adobe Lightroom 3 without any additional processing other than adjusting brightness and contrast sliders. No additional Photoshop was used other than for resizing for the web.