3 years ago

Selfie 101 + Instagram Tips + Afterlight vs. VSCO

***Disclaimer*** I’m soliciting mobile photo tips today!   Some of the apps I recommend operate differently depending on the camera phone you own. I use an iPhone.  Most importantly, I’m giving advice, but not to make anyone feel guilty for less-than-professionally peachy pristinely perrrrfect Instagram pics. If you want some helpful tips, read on, but knowing that perfection is an illusion and we are capturing flickers of beauty amidst the imperfect.



Selfies are so hundreds of years ago.

Wait, what?

Yes, my young padawan.
If you’re a noob (hi there!), I’m Carolyn. I like art, I do art, I appreciate art.  Of course I have strong artsy opinions, but I’ll be keeping them to myself for another partay. You’re welcome.

First, I’ll loosely wax art history buffoon –powered by some Wiki-backup– by reminding us:

  • Previous to the camera, we were hiring yon bonnie artiste to draw or (gasp!) paint our portrait, of course.  And that didn’t come cheap, so it was mainly roooyals getting portraits painted, and hey, it don’t run in our blood.  That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
  • The only people doing selfies were the ones who could actually scribble it out, so up until the camera, we only have artist selfies.
  • Cameras weren’t made for mass market until the mid-ish 1930’s and those were your “physically-load-a-roll-of-film, hope-light-doesn’t-leak-and-ruin-the-entire-roll, develop-it-yourself-in-a-darkroom-for-hours-and-hours, or, send-to-a-factory-to-do-it-for-you-while-you-wait-F-O-R-E-V-E-R” things.
  • We didn’t get digital cameras until the 80’s, kids.   THE EIGHTIES.  Our parents were busy changing our diapers. They didn’t have time for that nonsense. Our grandparents were still geeking out over color television, so…
  • Then we got the mobile-camera-phone mashup at the beginning of Y2K, and our parents were either prepping for some freak apocalypse or were fretting over us as we headed off to college, so again, no time for selfies.
  • We didn’t get Facebook until I was a freshman in college.
  • Instagram graced the mobile web only a few years ago.

Now, the grand picture!  No pun intended –really, I didn’t even notice.

What we are seeing here in the glaring screens of our phones and computers, is a sign of our opulence as a culture.

Feel about that as you will, (Vanilla Carolyn won’t delve today) we are just now living an age in which the self portrait, or “SELFIE,” is an easy, quick, and after you —oryourparents– purchase your camera phone, free thing to do and share with the world.

Hundreds of years ago, the s e l f – p o r t r a i t took a long, ardurous journey of drafting, and sketching, and washing, and color mixing, and drying, and reapplying, and finalizing, and sealing, and more drying, and drying, and dryinggg, and framing… etc.

Today, it’s theselfie. Click. share. done. x500.

But essentially, the selfie is old news, get over eet.  (Courbet, though, ^ he really nailed it back then, didn’t he?)

Okay Carolyn- noonereallycares.  Sorry, typed it out already. *shrugs*

Now that we have established a highbrow, intellectual selfie conversation, let us wade to shallower, more Instagrammy waters.

Instagram is a super easy way to microblog the break-neck speed my children are growing and getting into things.  It’s a way to look back at my selfie with a margarita and go, “oh, see? I did find some time to live la vida loca,” even though I further remember that the rest of the story goes along the lines of me realizing I couldn’t finish pictured marg because getting old marginally stinks and hangovers actually become the bite worse than it’s bark.  Pretty pic, though.  There may or may not be a few “desperate woman” selfies in my feed too.

Here are some free tips as a thank you for sticking around and reading my tripe.  It might help to read some of the basic photography tips I dropped at the beginning of this year, right heeyah.


Be your own curator.

In other words, don’t share every photograph you snap. Instead, choose the best you’ve taken that day and share those.  Why not post ALL THE PHOTOS?  I mean, you totally can, if you want to- there’s no law saying you can’t jam up your Instagram feed with 10 of the same but slii i ightly different photos.  I’ve done it. I’ll probably do it again in the near future. But if you’ve made a little effort into taking and editing a solid photograph, you’ll have the essence of the moment captured in one photo– instead of the 10 grainy/blurry fellows.  Also, there’s no law dictating that one must live-gram their photos in order for events to be legit.  (I really fretted over using the short version of legitimate there. Just letting you know.)


Stop using the Instagram App to take your photos.

Why? Because when I use Instagram to take photos,

  • I’m immediately prompted to continue looking at my phone to edit said photo in the app: pick out a filter, and add a caption, and oh that really wasn’t the greatest pic- let’s do it over again!
  • By using the camera in the Instagram app, I’m spending more time on my phone than I am actually enjoying the moment.  If I use a second party app to snap some photos and pocket my phone, I can come back after an enjoyable day and choose my favorite photos and edit them at my leisure. It makes taking pictures while enjoying life doable, while also ruling-out hastily taken and edited photographs.


Use some good mobile Photo editing Apps.

Alright smarty pants, what do you use to take your photographs?  A few apps:

Regular old iPhone Camera.  Ha. I say that as if it’s crappy.  Sometimes, the absolute quickest way to camera access is to click the Home button on my phone, swipe upward, and there you have your camera, ready to shoot a pic of your son as he giggles hilariously on the swings.

 Afterlight.  The only time I ever use Afterlight App to take photographs is if no one’s around to take a photo and I want to be in the frame– Selfie time. Afterlight app is a pretty good photo editing application which also has a shutter release timer giving you up to 10 whole seconds to get your act together for a non-blurry, non-front screen selfie.

property of C. Svellinger
Taken using Afterlight’s self timer shutter release feature, edited in VSCO Cam.


 VSCO Cam.  My personal favorite. VSCO (Visual Supply Company) saves all of the photos I take in its own in-app library so that I don’t have to take the extra step of accessing my photo library from my iPhone- I just scroll through my shots and edit directly.  When you have three small children, the seconds and clicks you have to make to open different apps and folders really add up and VSCO helps me to do it right meow –opulence, folks. #firstworldprobs.


Learn about the Secret Weapon

Both of the above apps have a secret weapon:  Focus lock + Exposure Lock

Usually, in your regular iPhone Camera app, you tap-to-focus the object on your screen and click away.

But oh ho ho, fancy Afterlight and VSCO Cam have something better.  Instead of using one finger to tap your subject, use two fingers.  You’ll have two separate boxes/circles pop up on your screen.  Move them around and you’ll discover the photograph you’re about to take can change dramatically depending on where you place those little buggers.  Double tap on one of these circles (in Afterlight, the focus lock is a box) and these features will LOCK on the patch of light, or object you’ve chosen.  This is great, because you know those really cool photos of blurry lights? How do they make their photos blurry on purpose? Focus lock.  That’s what’s up.

Here’s a side by side screenshot showing how the seeeecret weapons look from both apps:

Al vs VSCO


Afterlight or VSCO Cam?

Oh, the rivalry apps.

I prefer VSCO Cam.  I say this, however, after previously thinking I liked Afterlight best, and that VSCO seemed archaic and maybe kind of confusing.

I used Afterlight for a few months, but after being continually frustrated with the less than stellar outcome of many of my photos (the filters -oh the many, many filters- never quite had the punch I was seeing in so many other images shared by other Instagrammers I admired), I bit the VSCO bullet and genuinely tried to learn the app, and discovered you don’t have to use a filter every time, if you learn how to manually adjust settings. You can also do this in Afterlight, but here’s a side by side comparison of a pic taken and edited in Afterlight vs. VSCO Cam. …maybe I land slightly on the perfectionist scale, but I notice a difference.  Honestly, though, the differences I see can be a positive depending on what kind of photograph you are trying to achieve.  That’s why, while most of the time I end up editing in VSCO, I do use both.  If you don’t notice a difference, either are great apps! Win-win!

Property of C. Svellinger


Don’t be afraid to combine Apps.

I combine apps, taking my favorite features from each to create THE MASTERPIECE. Behold! ha.

Property of C. Svellinger

Guess what?  There’s no magical app law that says you can’t use both or many apps on the same photo, no matter what the hashtag says.  I took my VSCO image, which I think looks sharper, crisper, and cleaner by far, and added the light leak filter from Afterlight. And if I wanted to add a border to make the image square and Instagram-ready, I’d use Afterlight.  Bingo. Bango.  Steal like an artist.

With these tiny tools, your capabilities for better photographs are greatly expanded.



Consider cropping.

I’ve written before that it’s important to physically get in front of your subject, cutting out unnecessary clutter around the story you’re trying to tell.  But sometimes, especially if you’ve got hyperactive pets, or 3 hyperactive toddlers, as soon as you’re in their face, they’re gone and you’ve lost your shot.
So, take what you can, and later when everyone’s in bed for the night and you’ve got a chance, play around with cropping some of your images.  Clipping just the bottom fourth could change the entire feel of your image.  See?

property of C. Svellinger

Bonus tip:

Allow yourself the patience to learn, remembering that perfection is an illusion.

Because we live with the world at our fingertips, we have a tendency toward the pitfall thinking that we should be able to figure things out right away and that it should all look perfect immediately.  No matter how accessible the medium is nor how easy it is to snap a pic in our lifetime, photography is still an art.

I believe that most of your photo editing is done when you take your picture. If you take the time to get a good photograph, you won’t have to edit much later. I believe this can be said for any type of photography.

I hope you learned something!  Come follow and share with me on Instagram!


[Likely linking up with Jen on Friday because it’s too much to think about a separate 7 QT post and because I just wanna. Link to show up soon.]


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