What, you might be wondering, is a VSCO girl and why am I just hearing of her? A VSCO girl is a Gen Z stereotype named from the mobile photo-editing app that is forever open on her phone, ready to enhance ever selfie she’s ever thought to share with the world. She’s an effortlessly cool (or seems so, anyway) middle-class girl who’s never seen without a Fjallraven backpack, a Hydroflask, puka-shells and Birkenstocks, with her beachy hair in a scrunchie.
This summer, the VSCO girl had a moment, reaching the apex of cultural obsession. Which naturally led to vicious satirization—it’s totally a meme now. But despite her cringe-worthy reputation, the VSCO girl may have a more useful skillset than just “chasing sunsets,” as her profiles suggest. At the very least, she knows her way around VSCO.
Here’s how to edit photos like a VSCO girl.
The VSCO Basics
VSCO, much like Instagram, lets users edit their photos using a series of presets and tools, but they offer a greater degree of control than the Gram’s do and can create a clean look in a way that feels more natural than the heavy-handed Instagram filters. And, because there are no ads, no likes, and no comments, the platform is not built on popularity—it’s built on aesthetics. For those of you who have never been on the mobile site, here’s a little tour.
Like other mobile apps, VSCO has a feed, which is where you can see what your fellow VSCO creators are posting. And there’s also a Discover tab, which is where you can find suggestions made just for you based on what you’ve previously liked.
Notice what’s not here: VSCO doesn’t track likes, so when you click on a photo to get more information, you find only three options—to favorite, to repost, and to send. But that’s not all that’s there. It also shows what preset—or filter—the photo was edited in, so that when it comes time to create your own stuff, it’s easy to replicate a certain style or mood.
If you want to have the most flexibility for editing your photo, consider using VSCO’s in-app RAW feature. That’s right—you can shoot RAW files in VSCO.
Pick your preset
Presets are what sets VSCO apart from other editing apps, and they come in a range of styles. There are entire collections of presets with subtle differences between them that can be used based on the kind of photograph you’ve taken (landscape, portrait, bright sunlight, etc.) and the kind of effect you’re hoping to achieve (retro, analog film, minimalist, vibrant, etc.). In a way, it’s a lot like what Instagram used to be.
Every time you upload or take a photo in VSCO and begin to edit it, VSCO recommends presets that will work for the particular image.
As a VSCO creator, you also have some control over what that preset looks like. You can adjust the intensity of every filter on a sliding scale. And if you have a VSCO membership—granting access to additional presets and editing flexibility for $19.99 per year—some presets can be adjusted not just by intensity, but also by “warmth” and “character.”
Keep it Uniform
It’s not just what preset you use, it’s your “recipe.”
Creating an influencer-level VSCO girl feed is all about finding the mood that works for you, and then sticking with it. That goes beyond the initial preset, and it involves getting the whole toolkit to work for you as uniformly as possible.
First, let’s take a look at the tools:
The VSCO tools are similar to many other editing apps, including Instagram or even Lightroom, which makes them pretty intuitive to use. But a VSCO membership gives you access to some of these advanced tools, including borders and HSL, which gives the creator a great deal of control over the color palette of a photo.
While there are a lot of options to choose from, it’s also important to remember to keep it simple—the point is to enhance the mood of the composition, not totally distort it. The best places to start are with brightening the exposure, increasing the contrast a little, and then adjusting the white balance to see if a change in temperature helps with the overall look and feel of the photograph.
Once you’ve made a series of changes to an image in VSCO, you can save it as a recipe, which you can then apply to other images similar to it. This can help maintain continuity—in true influencer fashion—across a feed, no matter the image.
If you’re looking for a little recipe inspiration, spend some time with the Instagram account VSCOcheats. They’re outrageous—and fun—to play with. And they’re just good practice for understanding how specific tools can help convey certain moods.
In “Bleach,” the boosted “Shadows” and lowered “Temperature” help create a washed-out, cool-toned look.
In “Ardent,” the lowered “Contrast,” increased “Fade,” and added “Grain,” all contribute to a hazy, natural look. Source: VSCOcheats / Instagram
Sometimes when you want to get that extra special look, the easiest way to achieve it is to double up on presets.
Getting Started with Classic Presets
If you’re going for that warm-toned VSCO girl look, here are five standbys that will always work in a pinch.
C1: Chromatic / Vibrant Classic
No VSCO girl is without this Vibrant Classic preset, which boosts colors to create a dynamic image. It works well in natural settings—like at the beach.
A6: The Aesthetic Series
A6 is good with natural tones, subtly changing colors, and a little slight fading. Inspired by the understated effects of analog film, A6 works with both interior and exterior spaces, portraits, and with food photography.
F2: Mellow Fade
This preset also has some of the qualities of analog film—and can elegantly desaturate an image, giving blues and grays a moody quality. It can also works well on skin tones.
This preset has a sharpening, vibrant colorful effect that is great for evening out skin tones and capturing the brilliant hues of a scene.
M4: Subtle Fade
This destaurated, moody preset lends a vintage ’70s look to an image, which works particularly well for grungy cityscapes and Lana del Rey-esque portraits.
Playing with PicsArt
If you really want to get that ultimate cool teenage girl thing going on, forget VSCO. PicsArt—the photo-editing app that lets you add special effects to your images (and is also, incidentally, being sued by VSCO for allegedly stealing their filters) has become an integral part of the VSCO girl aesthetic.
PicsArt lets you add stickers, change backgrounds, and splice and distort images in all sorts of creative ways that give your images a fun, glitter-heavy vibe.
Check out the PicsArt Instagram for tutorials on how to take advantage of all of their best features, including how to change your background and how to make an aesthetic summer edit. While these tutorials won’t necessarily explain why the spongebob sky has become so popular with VSCO girls, it will make it clear how to do it for yourself.
Beyond VSCO: Finding the right photo editor for you
VSCO certainly has a gold star reputation—but there are a host of mobile photo-editing options out there, depending on what it is your trying to achieve. There’s Snapseed, the Lightroom app, and Afterlight. Even though you have to pay for that last one, photographers and influencers swear by.
Whatever your choice, just remember that the VSCO girl ethos is all about having fun—yes, in the sun—so even though you want to try to perfectly convey the right mood of your photo before you post, don’t try too hard.