instagram tips : how I edit my photos

Processed with VSCOcam with a7 preset


A little resolution I made at the start of 2014 was to try and reach 1000 followers on Instagram – at that time, I had about 70. By the end of January I was past my target, and by New Year’s Eve I was past 50k, & a whole lot wiser!

For months, I’ve had a giant mega post of in the works, about all of that stuff. I get a lot of emails asking me about it; how do I edit, what cameras I use, how did I get my followers. Instagram tips, I guess. I wanted a post that could answer all of these helpfully, but my answers were always too expansive to ever really pull together.

So instead, I thought I would share a series of posts. The first few will be aimed at beginners, so apologies if that isn’t you… but stick around anyway, because I’ll be sharing the juicy secrets sooner or later 😉

Instagram tip #1 – edit in VSCOcam

Editing is the thing I get the most questions about, so it seemed as good a place as any to start.

I always & only edit with VSCOcam, a free app for iPhone/Andriod, with optional paid for in-app extras. Nothing else I’ve tried comes close for me, & I tried pretty much everything before I figured it out.
Here’s a before & after of a photo edit from this week –

photo 1(6) Processed with VSCOcam with a9 preset

A brief run down of my VSCO process for this…

  1. Import 2 or 3 shots of the same scene. Choose my favourite to edit first (& if this works out, just delete the rest).
  2. VSCO asks you to choose a filter first, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I go to crop & straighten first, & make any adjustments to exposure and temperature that scream to be fixed. I like to get my photograph looking as clean & natural as possible at this point, so I can roughly predict the impact of each preset.
  3. I flick through the filters, try a few on. I stop when one grabs me, but generally try on the rest of that letter-range, dialling it up and down a bit to find my favourite version.
  4. Go back to tools and do any final adjustments. If a shot looks too ‘pristine’ I add a little grain at this point.
  5. Save to photo library & upload to IG.

photo 1(7) Processed with VSCOcam with a7 preset

A word on presets
The preset pack I use most often is the ‘Minimalist collection’, and my current go-tos are usually in the A-range. My advice to beginners though is not to get too hung up on using the same presets as your favourite ‘grammers – your light & tones will completely change what filter will work best for a shot, anyway. It’s never as simple as just applying the same treatment – much like how applying the exact same makeup as Olivia Palermo will not, sadly, make me indistinguishable from her.

Does that help? Anything I should have included? Let me know in th comments.
Next week, I’ll talk about mood & lighting.

Want more?
Look at this awesome in-depth tutorial by Kelly Purkey
Follow me on Instagram
Check out my photography board on Pinterest

  • Thanks for the great info. I started using VSCO lat summer when on vacation and it’s my go to now. I look forward to the rest of the series, I am working on increasing my followers this year. And taking lots of amazing photos too!

    • Thanks Francine! I’d love to check out your instagram – what’s your username over there? x

  • Diana

    Thanks for this insightful post about how you edit your pictures – and create beautiful pics for your post. I have followed you avidly on Instagram 🙂
    I regard myself a novice in photography, but love dabbling and taking pictures. I have made 2015 my mission to learn more about photography, so I will watch for this series closely.
    I will also give VSCOcam another go as I was a little out off originally by all the different functions. Did you upload the picture directly from your camera or camera phone to VSCOcam? Or took the picture using the app? It may be just me, but I actually prefer both the first pictures you took here before the edit, as pic 1. showed more natural skin tone and pic 2. the colours of the ingredients were more ‘natural’ and clearer to see than the slightly shadier picture after edit below. That’s just my opinion though. Sometimes I find I have to hold back from editing a photo for the sake of editing, because I like what is captured in the first place. Xx

    • Hi Diana!
      Yes, at first I was a bit overwhelmed by VSCO’s many functions – my advice is just to use what you need at first – most likely exposure, crop and rotate -and ignore the rest until a photo inspires you to try them!
      It’s totally legitimate to prefer the originals here! It’s just about individual style, & less can definitely be more!
      99% of my photos are shot with the iPhone’s basic camera & imported straight into vsco – just because it’s easier to open it in a hurry!
      Thanks for the great comment! xx

  • Mariam

    Thank you for posting this. It is so interesting to see all the thought that goes into your Instagram and blog posts. I do a lot of cooking so that is the only thing I take photos of. Perhaps I will have to start editing and posting more!

    • Thanks Mariam! Food photography is definitely an art all of it’s own – I’d love to see your work! x

  • Thank you for this brilliant brilliant post! A New Years resolution this year is to learn vsco. After reading this post I’ve had my first go on vsco and I love it (I’m in bed, have coffee, no children – dragged off to the playground by dad -playing with vsco = bliss! ((It’s been a tough week!)). I need to update my phone software to get better filters but the editing tools are great! It’s so great of you to share your knowledge here, your photography (and story-telling) is brilliant and so uniquely you. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series thank you!

    • Oh, thanks lovely Philippa! You’re too too kind 🙂
      Your morning sounds blissful! Can’t wait to see your adventures with VSCOcam over on ig – so glad I could be helpful! x

  • Tiffany

    Even with those awesome tips I don’t think I could take shots like yours!

    • Ah, such a sweet thing to say. Of course that is because you will take beautiful pictures like YOU instead! 😉 x

  • noor

    I love all your photos. They are amazingly captured. I’m also improving my skill in taking photos. Do you mind telling me of how you take photo especially the food on the table from the high angle? For instance the one you took for rosewater and pistachio cake? 🙂 Thanks dear

    • Hi Noor! Looking forward to seeing your photos!
      The high angle shots are just me standing on a chair and holding my phone out flat above the table! 😀 Make sure you tap the screen to focus, & take a few to be sure. Easy peasy!

  • Marianne

    Thanks for introducing VSCOcam to me! I love taking pictures, but needed a little inspiration. Looking forward to learn more. AND I love you`re picture gallery on Instagram too. I´m from Norway, and I visited Yorkshire last year, and fell in Love:)
    Have a wonderfull day! Best wishes from Marianne in Oslo

    • Hi Marianne! I love Norway – or the idea of it, anyway; it’s on my list to visit! How cold is it there at the moment?
      Glad the post was useful & youre enjoying VSCOcam! Thanks for the lovely words x

      • Marianne

        Yes I can see you have a little Scandinavian crush going on:) Just like I have with the moors and houses where you live.
        You should visit! Hopefully we can live up to your idea of it. Right now it is cold and windy, from – 5 to + 5 celsius in Oslo. Up north it much colder and a lot of snow.

        • Haha! A Scandinavian crush – love that, I’m stealing it! 🙂 I could handle -5! I remember a friend in Finland talking about a -30 day… that might not be so easy! x

          • Marianne

            🙂 Steal away. I truly enjoy your pictures and style. Less really is more. And thank God that -30 is not something I have to endure! Have a nice day!

  • Hi Sara! I made a little goal to try and get to 1000 a little while back too! Don’t think I’ll be getting to 50k any time soon but loved reading that you the same in mind! Brilliant to hear how you edit your photos- I have often wondered. I have started using VSCO most of the time but I have no idea what I’m doing though (no photography skills or knowledge) and often regret the filter I used once I’ve posted it up – which is silly, I know! I’ve recently used no filter and tried out some of the IG filters again but they all seem so wrong once you’ve VSCO’d! Looking forward to reading the rest of your posts in this series! Nicki @onthechangingmat x

    • Ah, don’t do yourself down Nicki! (As an aside, I was SO SURE I followed you already but when I checked your feed I have missed a ton! I seem to hit unfollow on people without knowing how – I’m back now!) I totally know what you mean about filter regret – I have a little trick I use to avoid this, it’s in an upcoming post! 🙂 & YES to there being no going back to IG filters – the VSCO choices are just so much more subtle I think. No filter is totally a great way to go, and remember in VSCO you can dial down the strength of the filter you apply so it’s just a hint of it!
      Looking forward to following you again 🙂 S x

      • Thank you for your reply! Can’t wait to hear how you avoid filter regret! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who does that, and sometimes I try other filters afterwards just to torture myself! I think I need to take a bit more time over it rather than rushing to get something posted. Thank you so much for following me – I couldn’t believe it when I saw my notifications! xx

  • Hi! Thanks for this post. I’m going to check out VSCOcam as I hear wonderful things about this app. This post confirmed it. Cheers from Bangkok!

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  • jo

    I am a huge fan of VSCO as well. Discovered it about a year and half ago an created a visual diary dedicated to my Sons:)
    I follow you on Instagram, but I have just discovered your blog a minute ago, and I will be visiting this cute site much more often:)

  • Bob

    Hi Sara, it’s me who tweeted you about your site a few minutes ago. 🙂 I stumbled upon your Instagram page by checking the random photos on the Search tab, then that’s where I found your website url.
    I really like your photography style, I like minimalism but you’re adding some stuff to accessorize the subject and then the end result is becoming elegant.
    Lastly, do you also have a VSCO Grid page? I thing VSCO should highlight your photographs on the Weekly Selects too. 🙂

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  • MsXpat

    very helpful I can’t think of a theme yet, I just love snapping stuff and I love Instagram :0)

  • Right I’m going to have another go at VSCO – I’ve tried before and god knows what I was doing wrong but found it SOOOO tricky to work out (couldn’t import photos, resave them, anything?!?!)
    I’m going to have a bash – it’s an app not rocket science right?