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Basic Image Editing On Your Phone Using VSCO

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

On the blog today I'm going to be showing you how to do some basic editing on your phone using VSCO, without using presets. This skill is great for knowing what a generic image needs before the application of a preset. Now it is worth noting that although the version of the VSCO app that you are seeing is the premium version, the tools that we are going to be working with today are ones that you can use in the free version.

Firstly, open up the VSCO app and select from your gallery which image you would like to edit. We're just going to pick a generic image to edit.

When you first open your image in VSCO, you'll see all of the free presets you can use, but we aren't going to be using any of them today. Today I'm going to be showing you how to make your images pop without presets, which is a great skill to have if you want to find out what will work best for you if you have a particular style and look that you want to achieve in the future with your images. I should say that when you edit an image, it can be subjective. How I edit an image might not be how someone else does, or it might not match their style of editing, so I'm trying to keep things as basic as possible so you can gain the skills needed to make those editing decisions for yourself.

The tools that we will be using today are exposure, contrast, adjustment, sharpening, saturation, tone, white balance and skin tone, clarity.


Usually, your phone will be quite good at exposing an image for you. I know that on my phone, I have the Huawei P20 Pro, I can also manually adjust the exposure of my image when taking a photo. I do find general phone images to be a little dull and flat, so I do like to bump up the exposure. This just helps brighten up the image and gives it a nice natural look.


I like to use contrast to give my images a little more punch to them, as said before, I feel like phone images can sometimes look a little flat, so giving the image a little boost of the contrast adds a little more oomph. Contrast adds a little darkness into the already dark parts of an image. It gives the darkness more dark, and the highlights more light, giving your images a 'punchy' look.


Adjusting, or aligning, is usually one of the very first things I do to an image. I make sure the horizon line is straight, or if you have a person in your image, I like to make sure that either their eye line or shoulders are straight - those are both great ways to tell if your image is a bit wonky. As you can also see, we have the option to skew our image. What this does is changes the horizontal and vertical lines of your image, and this is great if you are taking photos with lots of lines in, so buildings, documents,

product boxes, and even for taking flay lay images. Perhaps you haven't angled your phone quite right;

maybe you haven't got it straight down, this is good for correcting that, but please note that it will skew your subject, whatever that may be, quite a bit - so keep that in mind when shooting. We have different crop options, as well. We have the standard Instagram crop of a 1:1 or a square crop. My phone takes images in the 3:4 aspect ratio, so there's a crop for that, and another main crop that you will want to use is 9:16 - this is the crop for Instagram Stories. I might crop my image a little, and use the thirds guide to give it a bit hout at's just my persinaltre eye-pleasing alignment. For an image like this, I would either have my subject in the middle of the bottom lower third line, or at the bottom lower right where the lines intersect, but that's just personal preference.


I like to sharpen my images a little as it just gives that extra bit of clarity to an image. You don't want too much sharpness in an image; otherwise, it can look a little odd, as you can see with this image, we're getting these weird lines and squares, which we don't want. This tool is great for sharpening slightly blurry images, but please note that it will not make unfocused images clear and focused. Editing apps are great, but they're not a cure for in-camera mistakes.


As you can see, we can go both ways down the spectrum of saturation; we can desaturate and saturate. Once again, I'll add a little bit of saturation, and as you can see, even though we've only made a few slight changes, the difference in the image from before and after looks a lot nicer, and we haven't added a preset. Saturation is a great tool for adding a little bit more 'pop' and colour into an image, but I personally feel that too much saturation makes an image looks a bit tacky - but that's just my own personal opinion.


Tone controls your highlights and shadows. You want to adjust your highlights if you have an image that is bathed in harsh sunlight - it just helps soften the parts of your image that are overexposed. Still, as you can see here, it was an overcast day, so there's no harsh sunlight, but as you can see it helps soften where the light is coming from, which is in the clouds. Adjusting the shadows is great for when you want to bring those darker tones of your image out a bit, so for example, if you're in a shadow, using this will help lighten those darker colours.

White Balance

Your phone is usually quite good at keeping a neutral colour balance, so you will rarely have to adjust this. The only time I would is if I was changing between environments and my phone hadn't had time to adjust automatically, or if I was in an environment with lots of green, purple, blue or yellow. This image looks quite balanced, so I don't think I'm going to change much. With white balance, you have two options to choose from, the temperature, and the tint. Temperature can make your image warmer or cooler (more orange or more blue) and tint balances out those tones by increasing the purple or green in an image. I always find it so much fun trying to strike the right balance between all of those options. Remember to play around with it and have some fun.

Skin Tone

Skin tone does what it says on the tin; it changes the tint of your skin tone. I find that this tool usually adjusts the red, yellow and orange tones in an image, and as you can see here, changing the hue both ways on the scale, it gives those tones a boost.


Clarity also does what it says on the tin. I wouldn't say I like to use too much of this tool as I feel if you use too much, it can give your image that 'HDR' (High Dynamic Range) look to your image, which is great if that's the look you want to go for, but for basic adjustments like this, we're only going to use it to give us a little boost.


I often feel like there is a time and place for a vignette. This would be best used for darker images or an image where you wanted to focus on the subject of your image. For an image like the one I'm using today, I wouldn't use it as there's no point, and it can look a bit unnatural.


I personally like to add a little bit of grain to an image as it gives it a more filmic look, but this is just down to personal preference - remember image editing, like art, is very subjective. As you can see, we can add quite a lot of extra grain, but I like to keep it somewhere between 1.0 and 2.5.


Fade, along with a vignette and grain, is more of a stylistic choice of edit, rather than a basic adjustment, so I use this tool sparingly when I'm adjusting or colour-correcting an image.

Split Tone

Again, split-tone is more of a stylistic choice of editing rather than adjusting, so I won't be using this in an example with you today. But here's what it does: you can isolate the highlight and shadows to obtain a certain hue or colour, in this example, I'm changing the colour of the highlights to a blue tone, and the shadows to a deep orange tint.

And I think that just about covers it, and look at the difference. When you know basic editing skills, you can make your images stand out without using a stylistic preset, and once you have these skills, you can apply them for when you are using presets so you can get the look you want for your images.

If you want to watch our video tutorial, here it is:

I hope you have enjoyed today's tutorial. Thank you for reading!

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