May 13, 2013

My Journey Through VSCO Film

Education - Photographers

(Are you Looking for a VSCO 05 Review? No worries, you can find that here: VSCO Film 05.)

I came across the Visual Supply Company (VSCO) for the first time when I was 21 years old, broke, living in Eastern Europe, and working at an international University. Most likely I was not VSCO’s target demographic. I was preparing to move back to the United States to move closer to my then-girlfriend (now wife) and was carefully plotting out what I would do when I get back to the US. I had already determined that I would commit myself to photography, so the hard part came in deciding when and how I would be able to make this happen. Some of the problems I had at the time, like many other photographers, was that I didn’t have a voice as a photographer. This was mostly due to the fact that I was fairly new to photography  and didn’t have a large body of work with which to find my voice–in fact, I barely had any work to show. On top of ‘finding my voice’ I also didn’t really know how to edit or even where to begin when it came to processing images. One of the reasons I am doing the photography that I am now is because I randomly happened to see a wedding that Nordica Photography had shot in Iceland. I quickly become so enthralled, so absolutely enamored, by their photography, that I determined that I wanted to do something just as amazing. Prior to that, photography was more of a pipe dream–seeing those photos, the surreal-ness of it all, gave me passion. If there is anything I love, it’s pushing myself beyond my status quo.

So, with no voice, no body of work, and very minimal experience, I committed myself to something that was way over my head. I shot personal work, I shot with friends, and before I knew it, I was creating something bigger than myself. Every photograph became amazing to me; not because of what I was photographing, but because I had found something I loved.

But I still had no voice. Visual Supply Co. released VSCO Film 01 when I was living in Lithuania and immediately it became something I resonated with. It wasn’t the fact that it was a ‘one-click’ gesture; it was because, at it’s core, it gave me tools I never had before. I’m fairly young still and, at best, Polaroids were going out of style when I was in middle-school. By the time I was in high-school, digital photography was the only photography I knew existed.

VSCO Film brought me back to square one and gave me a photographic history in which I began to identify with. I think the reason I loved it so much was because what they were doing was entirely based and inspired by the story of (Film) Photography. It was built and established on the notion that, from the beginning, photos were meant to communicate much more than just a static image. It was meant to communicate something sublime.

Shortly thereafter, I flew to Edinburgh to photograph my first solo, paid gig. It was the beginning of something I could no longer contain. Talk about high stakes. To this day, my blood pressure has never been so high for so many consecutive days.

When I got back home, I edited all the photos using VSCO…obviously tweaking the photographs to my liking as I went. I finalized the photos, mailed a disk out to the UK and life went on. But my photography has never been the same. I hadn’t ‘defined my style’ (and I still don’t feel like I have) but I had taken steps to really tell a story bigger than myself. This train was out of the station, and, if there were any brakes, I wasn’t going to pull them.

This all happened about 15 months ago. Since then, I’ve been working on cultivating my style and my craft, and VSCO has helped a ton along the way. I find myself customizing my work more and more along the way as I go. What started as my base (VSCO Film) has now become more of a compass. I have learned what mistakes not to make and how to process things in a way that suits my vision. Starting out with VSCO Film, though, really gave me a place to start putting my ideas to the test. I quickly realized that processing can never match good light and good composition.

For those of you not familiar with VSCO, or with film photography in general, I’ve re-processed a bunch of my photos using VSCO Film to give an example of the tones, colors, and effects it can add to photos. Visual Supply Co. has put out three Film Packs, each emulating classic and instant films. This is to give you, more of less, an idea of how I helped figured out where the heck to begin processing and what I felt matched the content of the stories that I got the privilege of sharing. The Cameras used are a Nikon D7000, Nikon D700, Canon 5D Mark II, and Canon 5D Mark III. As you’ll soon see, your camera matters very little. What really matters is your content.

The reality is that many of today’s photos are very over-processed. I loved VSCO from the get-go because it was so incredibly simple and straight-forward. It wasn’t like getting punched in the face with crappy sepia filters and I was comfortable knowing that, when using VSCO Film, I didn’t need to feel like there should be a unicorn in the background.

If you’re stuck in your processing and not sure where to go, start small. Start with something basic, like Fuji 400H or Fuji 800Z. Mess around with it. Make mistakes. Shoot more content. Use different light. Make something you hate. Everything that I did, at the beginning, was polarized. I either loved it or hated it. Making things I hated helped me know the direction I wanted to head. VSCO Film is not the be-all-end-all of processing, but it helped give me a structured foundation to find a voice.

Just because you use VSCO doesn’t mean your work has to be like everybody else’s. These are merely tools to help you get going. The real progress comes when you sit down, take the time to be frustrated and keep working despite that. That’s when growth happens.

UPDATE 2/6/2014: I’ve been spending a lot of time recently working on my own rendition of post-production. If you’d like to see the updated process of my post-production work, you can see my process here.

Polaroid 669 – / VSCO Film 03 / Shot on Canon 5D Mark II/ Minneapolis, Minnesota

C - Polaroid 669 --1

 Polaroid 669 ++ / VSCO Film 03 / Shot on Canon 5D Mark III / Minneapolis, Minnesota

C - Polaroid 669 ++-1

Polaroid 669 Cold + / VSCO Film 03 / Shot on Canon 5D Mark III / Denver, Colorado

C - Polaroid 669 Cold +-1

Polaroid 669 / VSCO Film 03 / Shot on Canon 5D Mark III / Denver, Colorado

C - Polaroid 669-1

Fuji 160C ++ / VSCO Film 01 / Shot on Canon 5D Mark III / Skógar, Iceland

N - Fuji 160C ++ -1

Fuji 400H / VSCO Film 01 / Shot on Nikon D700 / Minneapolis, Minnesota

N - Fuji 400H - -1

Fuji 400H + / VSCO Film 01 / Shot on Nikon D7000 / Bereldange, Luxembourg

N - Fuji 400H + -1

Fuji 400H  / VSCO Film 01 / Shot on Nikon D700 / Thurmont, Maryland

N - Fuji 400H-1

Kodak Portra 160 ++  / VSCO Film 01 / Shot on Nikon D700 / Thurmont, Maryland

N - Kodak Portra 160 ++ -1

Kodak Portra 800 + / VSCO Film 01 / Shot on Nikon D7000 / Vilnius, Lithuania

N - Kodak Portra 800 + -1



Thanks for this wonderful share…

Gonna try process my photos with VSCO…

Hey! I’m obsessed with all of these shots. I was wondering what are your go to prime lenses to use for portraits?

Hey Michael!

My go-to lens for portraits is the 50L. After that it would be 35L, 85L, 24L in that order

Hi ! Which pack and film for the last one? Thanks 😉

Hey Brennan! Thanks for following along! Right now, I shoot Canon and shoot only prime lenses. Back when I was shooting the Nikon D7000, I shot the Nikon 17-55 2.8 and the Sigma 70-200!


Awesome, I’m a big big fan ! Would be awesome to contact you for some tips…
Scrly from France, Christopher DE QUEIROS

Hey Christopher! Thanks for writing in–never hesitate to reach out and e-mail me along the way–great to hear from you!

what are your thoughts in the grain that is always added? i usually kill it.

Sam, in VSCO, I also usually ditch the grain, I think it’s a bit too heavy, and Lightroom isn’t the greatest for grain. When I want grain, though, I’ll open up the photo in Alien Skin and apply grain there. The options for grain in ASE are much better and you can apply it to the different regions of the photo (shadows, mid tones, and highlights). Film generally has more grain in the mid tones, so in ASE, you can boost that a bit more and get a better looking grain that matches the photo better.

Wow, gorgeous photos and thank you so much for the tutorial. Is there a way to use VSCO filters without adding camera noise/grain to the photos? Thanks.

Hey David! Absolutely–you can control it all in Lightroom and then remove the grain from there as you see fit

Thanks for redirecting me here, Levi. I love this post and these words really speak to me as I embark on my first season as a wedding photographer!

nice article!!
Just wondering, for your second picture, it was taken by nikon d7000 post processed with fuji 400H, did you use Nikon -fuji 400h or other version such as standard, fuji etc

thanks in advance!

Hey Li! Thanks for reading! That is the Nikon version of Fuji 400H +.