The Anti-VSCO Photographer

February 25, 2014

Today, Visual Supply Co released its fifth digital film emulation pack. It’s titled the Archetype Films Collection and comes with such subtitles as Unrivaled and From the Golden Era of Analog. It comes with over 185 presets and retails for $119 (though it’s currently 25% for everyone, so it’s only $89.25 until March 11th.)

I won’t be buying it.

Look, I’m not going to say that all VSCO Film presets are the same, cause they’re obviously not. But, at this point, I have more than enough film emulation than I will ever need. I bought the last pack and, quite literally, never touched it.

These days, you can tell, immediately upon first glance, that Random Photographer has simply “slapped a VSCO preset” on their photo, probably at random, and called it a day. (That’s a real quote, people.) Why is this? Because your photo isn’t good enough without one? Because your post-processing skills aren’t good enough without one? Because you have to apply post-processing to every photo you take, and VSCO Film simply provides the quickest, easiest, and trendiest way to do so?

I’m going to come out and say it: I’m Anti-VSCO. I think that too many photographers rely too heavily on these presets, and I see less and less visual variety every day because of it.

The best photographs I have ever seen were not the best because they were made with film, or made to look like they were made with film. They were simply good photos. Your photo is no better because it was processed with VSCO. You are not a better photographer because you process with VSCO.

You probably didn’t need to buy that extra-awesome digital camera. You probably didn’t need to buy that new lens. You probably didn’t need the new Photoshop and the new Lightroom and, heck, why not?, the new Aperture. And you probably don’t need this new preset pack. Especially if you already own the previous four, which you probably do. Especially considering that the first film pack alone provides more than enough film emulation for your typical photographer.

It just doesn’t make sense anymore. I see photographers buy these new packs like they buy new iPhones—immediately, at whatever price, just because.

Earn your tools. From the oft-quotable Sid O’Neill:

Don’t be that idiot with the shiny new thing who thinks he’s bought himself into the ranks of the talented. Be the idiot with the ancient, scuffed thing who knows he has to work his way out of it.

Droppping $50, $90, $120 on the latest and greatest pack of presets won’t make you a better photographer any more than buying dropping an extra grand for an extra f-stop will. If you’re truly in pursuit of the “film look,” for heaven’s sake, shoot film! If you’re truly limited by your post-processing capabilities, improve them!

We, as a creative whole, need to get out of the mindset that we must have the latest and greatest tools to be good at our craft.

To clarify: I am aware that I am using Visual Supply Co as a serve-all scapegoat for a variety of topics. I once praised them as “the Apple of photography;” I was impressed by their foward-thinking photographic products, their marketing wizardry, their slick designs.

But to me they are simply serving one extreme of a spectrum that is in constant parabolic shift. They are trendsetters, and I don’t believe in latching too tightly on to trends. The faded “film look” is photography’s skinny jeans, just like sliders-to-11 HDR was photography’s baggy pants before that. It’s just fashion.

VSCO is not the only player in this game, and not the only name to blame (wow, lots of rhymes there.) It’s simply the biggest player, and therefore easiest to pick on. I am aware of this.

The takeaway is this: find your own personality in whatever your creative art is. That’s much more important (and much cheaper) than the latest and greatest preset.