Minimalist Photo Editing in VSCO Cam

I’m always taking pictures with my iPhone. “Tell me about it,” I can hear you say, because I know I’m not the only one. We’re all taking a bunch of pictures all the time. But we want them to look good, and unfortunately the default iOS Camera app just isn’t all it could be when it comes to making our pictures shine. I’m always on the lookout for a way to take my amateur iPhone photos to the next level.

Visual Supply Co has long been looking to make digital photography more beautiful and work better, and VSCO Cam is their attempt to bring gorgeous photography to the iPhone. There are already so many camera apps in the App Store, but VSCO aims to marry spectacular digital picture taking with a minimalist interface for ease of use and a quality photo at the end of the process.

Getting Started with VSCO Cam

Like most photo editing apps for iOS, you can take pictures in the app or import them from your Camera Roll. For ease of use, I always try to take pictures in whatever camera app will be editing them, but because I’m often in a hurry to capture that perfect moment and the default Camera app can be accessed without having to unlock my phone, I find myself importing a lot of pictures, too. The ability to import is key, and though it works in VSCO Cam, it can be pretty slow, and the first few times I tried, I wondered if the app was crashing entirely. (It wasn’t; it was just that slow.)

Taking a photo in VSCO Cam and choosing a picture from some that I'd already imported.

Taking a photo in VSCO Cam and choosing a picture from some that I'd already imported.

Once you’ve chosen the photo to edit, tapping the brush will take you to the edit screens. VSCO Cam’s photo editing defaults to ten preset color and black & white templates. It’s quick to swipe through them and pick a look for your photo, and each of them will make you look and feel like an iOS photo editing pro, but being presets, there’s no customization.

Editing a photo in VSCO Cam.

Editing a photo in VSCO Cam.

Tapping the wrench will get you more options, though being honest, I didn’t fully understand all of them. Fade seems pretty obvious; it desaturates your photo. Grain gives your photo texture, and contrast will lighten and darken different parts of your photo. Temperature was an unexpected tool in VSCO Cam, and one of my favorites. I could “warm up” or “cool down” my pictures, bringing out the oranges and reds or greens and blues. It was a simple way to give a run-of-the-mill photo an ethereal, otherworldly quality, or make it look like a vintage photograph without having to resort to some of the more obvious iOS apps.

Using the Lightbox

I spent a lot of time just playing around with my photos, and tapping Reset undid all the changes I had made so I could start over. This was particularly useful as I was getting used to all the different functions and would accidentally apply filters I hadn’t intended. When you’re done editing, you tap Done, which saves your photo back to the VSCO Cam lightbox — but not to your Camera Roll.

Choosing a picture in the lightbox to share or save and viewing an edited picture.

Choosing a picture in the lightbox to share or save and viewing an edited picture.

To save, share, view or delete a photo in VSCO Cam, you have to first be in the lightbox. Tap the photo you want to work with, and you’ll see a new row of options has appeared at the bottom of the screen (You may select more than one photo at a time in the lightbox, but you won’t be able to view or edit more than one). To save, tap the rectangle with the arrow pointing downwards, and delete by clicking the trash can. The magnifying glass lets you zoom in on one picture, and the paintbrush will reopen the edit menu.

Saving and Sharing

Tapping the speech bubble brings up the share menu. Email does the obvious thing — pops the photo into a new email, with a subject line and a message promoting VSCO Cam. Twitter and Facebook are two of the other sharing options, and work about how you’d expect. It’s great to see Facebook incorporated right in the app, as the iOS Camera App doesn’t have a similar feature and forces you to leave the app and go to the Facebook app if you want to share photos there.

Instagram rounds out the social networks on offer and is a surprise to see. All sharing to Instagram via VSCO Cam does is export directly to the Instagram app, so you don’t remain in VSCO Cam, but it’s a great feature to save you some import frustration if you like to snap your Instagram photos with another camera app like I do. The big hole was Tumblr, and I was surprised not to see it on offer amongst the other social networks. It’s hard to excuse a miss like that, but the Instagram semi-integration does make up for it somewhat.

Sharing and exporting photos.

Sharing and exporting photos.

Something worth noting is that whenever you’re exporting or saving a photo, VSCO Cam will let you choose the output resolution, from really huge, to really small and manageable. Use caution when choosing really huge. I threw caution to the wind and had to force quit the app. Not because it froze necessarily, as it probably would have given me my humongous file eventually, but just because it was taking so long and I wanted to use my phone and go on with my life.

Say Cheese!

While I enjoyed the presets and adjusting filters I’d never think about otherwise, I felt VSCO missed the minimalist mark with VSCO Cam. There really was just too much going on and too much for me to fiddle with for me to get a really beautiful picture easily. Involved options are necessary for professional and digital photographers, but those people probably aren’t doing their photo editing on an iPhone.

If you enjoy doing a lot of futzing with your pictures, VSCO Cam may be for you, because it has lots of options in a really snazzy interface. If you like a simpler experience that just gives you good looking pictures though, you may want to look to other camera apps, like previously reviewed Camera+ or Luminance.


Nice app with lots of functions, but the amateur may get lost in the details.