How To Use VSCO Filters To Create Beautiful iPhone Photos

VSCO filters offer a quick and easy way to apply natural looking edits to your iPhone photos. If you like to keep your editing clean and subtle, you’ll love the collection of elegant film-like presets within the VSCO app. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to edit your iPhone photos with VSCO filters to create beautiful iPhone photos with wonderful mood and aesthetic appeal.

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What Makes VSCO Filters So Special?

Filters (also known as “Presets”) allow you to change the look and feel of your iPhone photos with a single tap. They work by applying a particular set of edits to your image, for example, by changing the color tint, saturation, brightness, contrast or amount of fade.

Many iPhone photo editing apps have a collection of filters that can be applied to your image. However, they can often be garish and overpowering, ruining rather than enhancing your photo.

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Edited with VSCO filter A2

VSCO is one of the few apps that’s known for its subtle and natural looking filters. Inspired by classic film, the VSCO filters keep your edits clean and simple with a beautiful timeless quality.

And that’s why many top iPhone photographers use VSCO filters on their images.

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Edited with VSCO filter HB2

While the VSCO app also offers a handy collection of manual adjustment tools for fine-tuning your edits, in this tutorial we’ll be focusing on using the filter presets to create a particular mood in your iPhone photos. So let’s get started…

1. How To Apply VSCO Filters To Your Photos

If you haven’t already downloaded the free VSCO app, download VSCO from the App Store now.

After opening the VSCO app, you’ll need to import the photo or photos you want to edit. Start by tapping the plus icon (+) at the top left of the screen:

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Select the image or images you want to edit, then tap the circle icon at the top right (the circle icon is the equivalent to the checkmark icon in other apps):

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You’re now ready to start editing. Tap on the image you want to edit – a colored border will appear around the selected image. Now tap the Edit icon (second icon from left) at the bottom of the screen:

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Note that if you have more than one image selected you won’t be able to tap the Edit icon. This is because you can only edit one photo at a time. If you have more than one images selected, deselect all images by tapping the X at the bottom left of the screen, then select a single photo to edit.

Once you’ve accessed the editing options, you’ll see a row of VSCO filters along the bottom of the screen:

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Each filter is labelled with a letter and a number, e.g. A6, F1, HB2, S5, Q10, etc. These are the names of the filters.

The VSCO app comes with a basic set of filters, but there are many more filters that you can download from the VSCO Shop. Some filters are free to download, while others charge a small fee.

If you want to download more VSCO filters now, swipe across to the far right of the list of filters, then tap Shop:

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The filters are organized into bundles or collections with names like The Legacy Collection, The Aesthetic Series and The Minimalist Collection:

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Tapping on the name of a collection allows you to find out more about the filters included in that bundle. To purchase the filter pack tap the Buy option at the bottom of the screen, or to exit the filter pack tap the arrow at the top left:

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When you’ve finished browsing or buying new filter packs, tap the X at the top of the screen to return to the editing screen.

To apply a filter to your photo, simply tap on a filter name at the bottom of the screen. In the screenshot below you can see that I’ve applied the F2 filter which has brightened up my image:

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Swipe across the filters section at the bottom of the screen to see more filters. Tap on the different filters until you find one that you like.

Notice how the colors and brightness of your photo change depending on which filter you’ve applied:

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To compare the edited and unedited versions of your photo, simply tap and hold on the image to see the unedited version, then release to return to the edited image.

If the filter effect looks too strong, you can easily tone it down by reducing its intensity. Once you’ve selected the filter you want to use, that filter icon will turn black as shown below:

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To adjust the filter intensity, tap the black filter icon, then drag the slider left to reduce the effect of the filter. Tap the circle icon at the bottom right of the screen when you’re done:

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When you’re happy with the edit, tap the white bar with the up-arrow at the bottom of the screen. You’ll now see the following options:

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At this point, you could make further edits to your image using the manual adjustment tools (exposure, color, sharpness, etc.). To access these adjustment tools you’d tap the second icon from the left (icon with two sliders), however, we’re not going to cover these adjustments in this tutorial. If you want to learn how to make manual adjustments, check out this VSCO tutorial.

The final step is to save your edited image. Tap the circle icon at the bottom right of the screen (as shown in the screenshot above).

Your edit is now saved within the VSCO app, but it isn’t yet saved to your iPhone’s photo library. To save the edited image into the native Photos app, tap the three dots icon at the bottom of the screen, then tap Save To Camera Roll:

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Finally, ensure you select the Actual Size option so that the image is saved at full resolution:

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Below you can compare the original and edited images that I used for this activity:

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Original image

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Edited with VSCO filter H3

I chose the H3 filter because I liked the way it subtly brightened the image and added pretty pink tones to the flowers and background.

Please note that you can only apply a single filter when editing in VSCO. If you want to apply multiple VSCO filters to an image, you’ll need to apply the first filter, save it to your camera roll, then import the edited image back into VSCO where you can apply another filter.

You can repeat this process as many times as you want. But remember, the whole point of VSCO filters is that they create clean and elegant edits, so don’t go overboard with lots of unnecessary filters on a single image.

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Edited with VSCO filter G1

2. Create Different Moods With VSCO Filters

Creating a particular mood in your iPhone photos is very important as it helps you tell a story and evoke certain emotions in the viewer.

Of course, mood is often created at the time of shooting. For example, the subject matter, location and lighting all affect how your image is perceived.

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Edited with VSCO filter P5

However, you can also enhance or change the mood of a photo in editing. VSCO filters are a great way of allowing you to subtly change the mood of your images.

There are two main editing techniques that affect mood: color and light. Let’s take the photo below as an example. Here’s the original image of a little boy on a beach in winter:

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Original image

Now take a look at some different edits using a variety of VSCO filters. Notice how the different color tones and brightness levels change the look and feel of the image:

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My favorite filter for this particular photo was F2 as it cooled down the colors slightly (to emphasize the feeling of coldness) without making the image too dark:

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Edited with VSCO filter F2

In the next few tips we’ll explore some specific examples of how you can use VSCO filters to enhance or change the mood of your photos.

3. Create A Light & Airy Mood

To create a light and airy mood in your photos, choose a filter that brightens the image and adds fresh white tones.

Here’s my original photo of some white flowers in a vase:

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Original image

I chose to edit this photo with the S3 filter to brighten up the white flowers and background. Notice how much cleaner and fresher this version looks:

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Edited with VSCO filter S3

Other filters that can create a light and airy feel include K1 and F2. When working with white subjects and backgrounds, pay careful attention to slight changes in color tone when you apply a filter:

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In the screenshots above, the subtle differences in color can can be clearly seen in the white flowers and wall. The left image has a slightly pinkish tone, the middle one is slightly blue, and the right one is more white.

Even subtle differences in color can have a significant effect on the overall mood of your photo.

4. Enhance A Dark & Moody Atmosphere

For a dark and moody atmosphere, go for a filter that tones down the colors and darkens the shadows. Filters that have a blue tint can also work well as they tend to evoke feelings of coldness, loneliness or sadness.

Below is my original photo of a lone man looking out to sea on a windy winter’s day:

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Original image

I decided to use the HB2 filter to enhance the dark and moody feel of the scene:

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Edited with VSCO filter HB2

Notice how the shadows appear darker in the foreground, and the silhouette of the man is emphasized. This filter also has a slightly blueish tone which adds to the feeling of coldness and loneliness.

Other filters that can add a dark, dramatic or moody atmosphere to your images include J1, M2 and T1:

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5. Emphasize A Happy & Energetic Vibe

To enhance a feeling of happiness or energy in your photos, try using a filter that makes the colors more vibrant.

Below is the original photo of my very happy nephew on a muddy cycle ride!

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Original image

To emphasize the happy and energetic mood of this picture, I chose the S3 filter which brightens up the image and makes the colors more vivid:

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Edited with VSCO filter S3

If you’re editing portrait photos, be mindful of how your chosen filter affects the skin tone of your subject. Some filters can make the skin look too orange, red, blue, green, etc. Notice how the subjects skin looks a different color in each of the examples below:

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6. Create A Beautiful Vintage Look

There are a couple of different options for creating a vintage or aged look to your photos.

One technique is to use a filter that fades the colors slightly. The T1, T2 and T3 filters are great for creating a soft and feminine look, and they work particularly well for still life and flower photography.

Below is my original close-up photo of some roses:

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Original image

While colors in the original photo are stunning, using the T2 filter has added a faded effect which creates a soft, vintage style look to the image:

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Edited with VSCO filter T2

Another technique for creating a vintage style photo is to choose a filter that adds a color tint, making it look like an old polaroid picture.

The P series of filters are perfect for creating this effect. Here’s the original image that I chose to work with:

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Original image

And below is the edited version using the P5 filter:

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Edited with VSCO filter P5

There are several different filters in the P series. Each one adds a slightly different color tint so you can create just the look that you’re after:

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7. Opt For Classic Black & White

For a classic and timeless look, you can’t go wrong with a black and white filter. VSCO has great selection of black and white filters, ranging from high contrast to vintage style fades and sepia.

Let’s work with this beach photo taken around sunset:

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Original image

Below is my black and white edit that I created using the B1 filter:

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Edited with VSCO filter B1

When using VSCO’s black and white filters, you’ll notice that different filters apply different levels of brightness and contrast.

Below are three examples showing the differences between the B2, B1 and B4 filters:

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Another set of filters you might like to try is the X series. These are perfect for creating vintage style black and white edits.

Below you can see that the X1 filter creates a black and white edit with slight fade, the X4 filter creates a sepia style edit, and the X6 filter has a subtle blue tint:

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8. Develop Your Own VSCO Style

As you can see from the the examples so far, your choice of VSCO filter can have a big impact on the overall look and mood of your photo.

Taking the time to try out different filters to achieve just the right color and brightness will make all the difference to the final image.

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Edited with VSCO filter N2

The great thing about VSCO filters is that it’s very easy to develop your own editing style. By using the same or similar style filters on all of your photos, you can create a wonderfully cohesive collection of images.

So rather than applying lots of different types of filters to your photos, try sticking to just a few of your favorite filters of a similar style.

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Edited with VSCO filter A5

Editing in a similar style will create a more inviting and beautiful collection of photos to share online or print as an album or photo book.

Your style might change over time or for different sets of photos, but if your share your images on Instagram or enjoy printing collections of photos, they’ll have much more impact if they’re all edited with a similar look and feel.

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Edited with VSCO filter G2

Below I’ve featured a couple of Instagram feeds of iPhone photographers that we’ve interviewed.

Sara Tasker (@me_and_orla) always uses VSCO filters on her images before posting to Instagram. She particularly likes using filters from the Aesthetic and Minimalist collections:

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Even though she shoots different kinds of subjects, her choice of similar style VSCO filters creates a beautifully cohesive Instagram feed.

Another extremely talented iPhone photographer who uses VSCO filters is Vlad Vasylkevych (@vlad.vasylkevych). His Instagram feed shows how effective it is to choose the same kind of filter for similar style images:

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Conclusion: Using VSCO Filters

One tap filters are often frowned upon in the world of photo editing because they can overpower your images with their garish effects.

But VSCO filters are subtle and elegant, allowing you to create a natural and timeless feel to your images.

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Edited with VSCO filter A5

Choosing the right filter for a particular photo is the key to creating a stunning edit that will stand out from the crowd.

A filter should always enhance the original image by subtly altering the colors and tones for a more beautiful final result. Remember that you can reduce a filter’s intensity if the initial effect is too strong.

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Edited with VSCO filter HB1

Don’t forget that different filters will create different moods and evoke different emotions in the viewer.

It’s always worth spending a few minutes trying out a variety of filters to find the one that most suits the message you’re trying to convey.

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Edited with VSCO filter C3

Once you’ve become familiar with the range of VSCO filters, try using just a handful of your favorites to create a more cohesive collection of images with a similar look and feel.

Your pictures are more likely to stand out on photo sharing platforms such as Instagram if they’re all edited in a similar style.

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Edited with VSCO filter C2

Don’t forget that filters are only one aspect of photo editing. Many editing apps, including VSCO, have a wide selection of manual adjustment tools for fine-tuning the color and exposure of your image.

While VSCO filters can be used to quickly enhance your photos, you may also need to make some manual adjustments. You can apply these adjustments before or after using a filter.

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Edited with VSCO filter B4

Finally, remember that less is often more with photo editing. Keeping your edits subtle will allow the natural beauty of your image to shine through.

With the right amount of filter intensity and editing, you can turn a good photo into something truly special.

It's easy to take a quick snapshot with iPhone, but most people don't know how to take full control of their iPhone's camera. That's why we created a free video revealing 7 hidden iPhone camera features that every photographer should use.

  • Liz Anderson

    great article, Kate. I particularly liked that you showed the specific filters that you use for different photos. That helps a lot to get started. I love the soft quality that VSCO gives to photos. Thanks!

    • Thank you Liz! So glad to hear you enjoyed this tutorial and that you found the filter labels helpful. I’m sure you’ll create some beautiful edits with VSCO 🙂

  • Love this article and this whole site quite frankly. Here i am sitting with an iPhone 6 plus and not knowing that I could be creating masterpieces every day! Thank you for sharing this!

    • Glad you enjoyed this article and have found our site so useful! I hope you enjoy creating beautiful images with your iPhone 🙂

  • Mary Patricia

    Well done