Combined, the hashtags #vsco and #vscocam reach over 300 million tags on Instagram – one would think there are plenty of tutorials on how to use VSCO to its full potential. While that is certainly the case for English speakers, Germans get the short end of the stick, as there are almost no helpful tutorials out there. No matter which group you belong to, VSCO might change the way you edit pictures and help you find a new community – reasons enough to check out our article! But what exactly does VSCO and why are millions using it?

Getting started with VSCO

Using VSCO for the first time, one is quickly reminded of Instagram, as classic functions like searching for #fashion or #interior work the same and deliver results. However, as soon as you explore more of the app, you realize that VSCO’s target audience is not everybody, but rather photographers and those who are on their way to becoming one. The app’s focus is 100% on high-quality pictures and ways to edit them. This becomes evident when you look at the three categories for each search: first, you see users who have the keyword in their profile, second, pictures that are tagged with the keyword, and third, journals. The latter is unique to VSCO and give users the opportunity to curate their very own gallery online. They can arrange their pictures and add commentary on their thought process. Journals are a special feature in VSCO, as photographers can let their creativity flow and commit themselves to one particular theme. Admittedly, Instagrammers also curate their feeds and pay attention to an engaging and appealing overall image; however, journals are self-contained galleries with the goal of dedicating both the images and their editing to a particular theme. Photographers have here the chance to go on a creative streak and, similar to a museum, really set the scene and tone for the collection of photographs they select for this particular journal. Giving VSCO’s community this option of self-expression shows how the approach really is leaning toward a more exclusive set of users.

The journals also serve another purpose and that is to motivate the community to partake in current events; this spring, for example, journals dedicated to the worldwide Fashion Weeks were published on a regular basis. These journals featured members of the VSCO community to their peers with a selection of their pictures of the fashion events. This commitment of the people behind the scenes shows how they strive to stimulate interactions and communication between both the community and VSCO and within the community itself.

Communication in VSCO – Likes and Comments

Probably, to ensure the exclusivity of the community and to stand out from other Social Media apps, VSCO does not allow common features like commenting on pictures. Instead, users can like pictures and share them in their own feed to show their appreciation and support. Once you like a picture or share it in your own feed, the author receives a notification; however, there is no public display of how many likes a picture actually has. Here, the focus shifts from competing for likes to the images themselves and considerations like which hashtags will result in the most likes disappear. Naturally, users can follow one another and keep up with their uploads, but VSCO does not aspire to enable and encourage chats amongst its users. Accordingly, you will not find a chat option in the app. Instead, many users link their personal blogs in their profile, in case somebody wants to contact them.

Founded in 2011, the app had 30 million users in 2016, with 90% of them being Millennials and 70% daily active users.

VSCO is geared towards pros and beginners; however, the minimalistic design, the exclusive atmosphere, the sparse means of communication, and the stance against public like counts separate it from platforms like Instagram. While Instagram informs and inspires millions worldwide about almost every topic under the sun, VSCO appeals to all those who have an obsession with photography, want to learn more, and are looking for a platform to explore and grow. By comparison, VSCO is then not better or worse as a Social Media platform; it just reaches out to a different, smaller circle of people, who all share one passion – photography. And this is where we are headed now, the center piece of the app.

Editing with VSCO – Mobile

VSCO can be used either in the app or on your laptop. Photographers, and those aspiring to be, appreciate the minimalistic design of the app, which draws your attention to the pictures themselves. Here is also where VSCO really shines – the tools and filters that are available to edit the pictures are simply amazing. In its free version, VSCO offers its users the chance to upload pictures, create galleries, and edit their pictures with the existing tools and filters. They can, for example, change the sharpness, redefine the saturation and grain size, play with shadows and light, and have access to many more different options. Especially in direct comparison with Instagram, VSCO is much more powerful and allows its users to develop their own style. Even the filters in the free version are already either a great help to get started or to find new inspiration. Users can also buy additional filters to extend their possibilities when working with the app.

VSCO often offers its users free filters that result from cooperation with famous photographers, brands, or magazines. In July, for example, users could download three new filters from a cooperation with Oakley. True enthusiasts and advanced photographers still exhaust these filters pretty quickly and want more filters and tools.

One step further with VSCO X

For those who can’t get enough of VSCO, the upgrade VSCO X is the right choice. It’s a subscription that offers a mobile library of over 100 additional filters, as well as a few exclusive filters only for subscribers. On top of this, they can access Film X, a collection of more tools to help you edit your pictures even better. VSCO X comes at $19,99 per year, so just a bit under $2 a month. Whoever decides to use VSCO for longer should consider buying the upgrade as it is a real bargain, especially compared to buying the filters one by one. The subscription also includes educational videos and invitations to community events, but the center piece of VSCO X are the filters for the mobile app, Film X, and the wealth of new editing options that come with it.

Editing with VSCO – Desktop

Real pros use several editing softwares and have high standards for each of them. This is why VSCO not only offers its in-app-filters but also filters for desktop applications like Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, with customized camera profiles for Fuji, Sony, Canon, Leica, Nikon, and Olympus. These filter packs always follow a certain theme; for example, the “Alternativ Process Films” pack is ideal for outdoor shots, lifestyle photography, modern portraiture, and sunwashed settings. Generally, all filters (mobile and desktop-based) simulate the imagery and color saturation of old, analog films. The different filter packs usually contain about 12-15 filters and all cost $59. Once you buy and include them into Lightroom and Camera Raw, the probably most commonly used editing softwares, you reach an almost perfect symbiosis. Either you edit your pictures on the go through your smartphone or you fine-tune them on your laptop.

The growing interest in filters is reflected by more and more influencers and their fans, who are curious about how their idols edit their photos. Influencers like the Instagram couple A New Kind of Love have started selling their own filter packs, as they tell us in their interview. VSCO itself has realized the popularity of its mobile filters as well and recently released a filter pack with 58 original mobile filters for desktop applications.

Final words

VSCO is great for both pros and beginners. The free version already offers so many options like reading journals, creating your own feed, finding unlimited inspiration from others, and trying out new editing styles with the free filters. Pros have here the opportunity to present themselves to an interested community and promote their own blog. Sharing your content on other Social Media platforms is also easily done, through VSCO’s connection to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, Tumblr, and Weibo. Who then really wants to get started, can either buy VSCO X and boost the quality of their mobile shots within seconds or use the desktop-based filters for Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw and fine-tune the details to the tiniest pixel. Because it is so affordable, most VSCO users will probably use a combination of the two – especially influencers who want to perform well on Instagram. They need the quick and easy editing on the go as well as relaxed editing on their laptops. VSCO’s cooperations, new filters, and the possibility to be featured in a journal make sure to keep everybody involved and motivated to be part of the community.

Exclusivity, however, also has its price. If you aren’t already convinced of VSCO before using it, you might get discouraged within the first few minutes. Both the app and the website offer little help on how to navigate the various options, filters, and tools. If you, for instance, explore and explore the community, you will be directed to a seemingly arbitrary feed compiled of pictures from users. Even when you start browsing them, you will likely still be lost, as without comments or follower numbers it’s a guessing game who of those users regularly uploads quality content. What’s more, in the desktop version you can only follow, liking or reposting is only possible in the app; however, you can share pictures via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or email on your laptop. Your desktop also offers you a better overview of your feed, because you can view several pictures next to each other, as opposed to the mobile feed, which only allows one picture at a time. These small inconsistencies prevent you from enjoying VSCO to its fullest at the start; however, those, who pull through are rewarded with an extremely powerful software and a very lively community that loves the exchange and serves as a never-ending source of inspiration.


*numbers current at the time of writing