I like to think of editing less as a fix-it shop and more as the place where photos come to life, where the story or subject is emphasized. Honestly, there’s not an exact science to this process for me, and many of the skills I now use, I’ve learned over the years through observation and playing with settings and filters. There’s simply no substitute for practice when taking photos or editing. Generally, I prefer images with natural light, clean angles, a focused subject and muted tones. Perhaps your own style is similar, perhaps not. There are millions of different ways to edit a photo, but as I mentioned previously, this is simply my contribution to the conversation. I hope it inspires you.
edit with VSCO | There are several fantastic editing applications for phones these days. It can almost be overwhelming. Since each one works a little differently, it’s best to choose one or two and stick with them. I use the VSCO application (Visual Supply Co.) for all of my editing. I love its simple format, filter options and settings, and its ease for storing and sharing. There are several other high-quality editing applications, such as Afterlight and Pic-Tap-Go, even Instagram itself is offering more range these days, but for purposes of sharing my own tips and tricks here, this will be more specific to the VSCO application.
upload 1-3 images | VSCO organizes the photos in a grid gallery just like Instagram. As I mentioned earlier, I often take more than one image, often with different angles in mind, so I choose my top favorites and upload them into the VSCO app gallery. Sometimes I immediately have a favorite, even before editing, but usually I have more than one I like. I upload both or even three, edit, choose my favorite, and delete the other two from the VSCO.
crop + straighten | I always take images in full portrait or horizontal orientation. So the first thing I do in VSCO is crop to make a square image for Instagram. I then use the straightening tool to either turn the image completely–sometimes the aerial shots will turn out upside-down–or I simply straighten the existing lines, i.e. adjusting the horizon to be horizontal, or the fence, windows, or tree trunk in the background to be vertical.
exposure | If the image is a little dark, I might brighten the exposure a tad. If I’ve taken an image midday, I might lower the exposure a notch to make the color more rich.
filters | I don’t use the same filter for every image. I like to have a similar feel to all of my images, so I’ll use different filters based on the light conditions to create a similar style throughout my Instagram gallery. For bright light or white backgrounds, I generally use the “bright + clean” presets (favorite: S2) or the “aesthetic series” (favorites: A4 or A6). For moodier lighting (grey days, early mornings indoor, table scenes, etc.), I use the “minimalist collection” (favorites: A8, A9, J2, J5). Occasionally, I use other filters but the ones I listed are my regular go-to’s. Also, to note, I rarely use a filter at full strength. I usually knock it down to between 6 and 8 on the filter scale, and then I tweak individually using the settings.
temperature + tint | All of the filters have specific temperature (cooler blue tones or warmer red tones) and tint (green and purple). Sometimes after applying a filter, one of the two is a little off for matching my other images, so I tweak one a bit to balance the whites in my gallery.
contrast + saturation + sharpening | These are the final things I sometimes do to tweak after using the filter. I prefer less color-saturated images, so sometimes I knock the saturation down a notch to give a more muted feel. Or I boost the contrast or sharpen the image a tad to create a little less-muddled light or subject.
For the record, I don’t use every setting every time. Sometimes when the light and focus are perfect, I might barely tweak the image at all. Then again, some images need a little more time than others to bring life to the image’s story or the moment itself–whatever I had envisioned when I first pulled out my phone for the shot. My images aren’t perfect, and often I have to work really hard to let that perfectionism go. In the end, years from now looking back through these, I know I’ll want the memory and story more than the perfect shot. These are just helpful tips I use to make the best of it.