VSCO workflow and philosophy

A relatively quick follow-up to yesterdays post. Some random thoughts and considerations on a look. Maybe a bit of photo psychology. Even some things to consider regarding work-flow. All spurred by the VSCO give-away, Dale's selection of the film 02 pack, and just taking a look at the new Fuji profiles for film 01.

I'll be the first to admit that I detest post processing my photographs. Hate it with a passion. I'd much rather outsource it. That probably comes from my work process with film. Even when I did my own processing I new exactly what to expect with my black and white processing. I didn't mind darkroom work because it was mindless to me with all of the choices and work already done before I entered the darkroom. I wasn't a big fan of changing films or endless screwing around testing things. I especially didn't like it when it wasn't my choice - like when manufacturers changed film stocks.

Yes sometimes I dedicated some time to playing with new materials and every once in a while I actually saw something I liked a lot and decided to incorporate it into my standard materials. I did this maybe once a year - on some years. I cared way way way more about the subject of the photograph than I did the effect or chasing some new material that would slightly change the rendering. I spent my time editing which I enjoyed far more - editing is not post processing. I have no idea how the word editing has somehow come to mean screwing with the way an image looks.

I liked that I made choices of the medium, specific materials, format, color, etc up front. Somehow not choosing that up front became the norm. Yes you can choose to do it the same way as you always did, most of the time you don't - especially if you don't have a spec for a job. Unless you are forced to choose up front a mentality somehow creeps in that you are way way better off choosing later. Maybe. Maybe not. Consider for a moment that choosing on the back end is a huge distraction. A burden. Are you going to consider each and every single image you shot individually after the fact? How are you going to decide for each one. Are you going to try every single thing you know - how about when you learn new things. Might be appropriate but I would contend that you are far far better off making a decision up front and just sticking to it that fits your intent before you start making images.

That brings me back to VSCO presets. Are they the magic answer to matching results of the same scene shot with film and digital? Absolutely not. Am I a big fan of presets in general no. Am I a big fan of VSCO presets… Yes. Here's why.

  • There are 700 million presets out there. Some free, some not. Are some good - maybe but most are a giant random collection of something that might be appropriate for one image somewhere in the universe. Most are way out there whacked out and effect-y. Most don't represent any kind of cohesive or considered effort. Actually most don't amount to much effort at all. You want a "preset" for the "Dave Hill Look"? Hell Dave Hill doesn't even like the "Dave Hill look" any more.
  • Most presets not only look effect-y but any diversity they have are in the 350 completely random "looks" that represent way over the top non-photographic effects that are all over the map. Any diversity in look is mostly due to the fact that one person got sick of trying them at preset #402 vs preset #807. The people that got sick of it or enamored at the moment at #4 all look exactly the same. A lot of them actually tend to hide the subject and bring attention to the effect… Is that what you want? If it is there is a smorgasbord out there waiting - go try them all… That will do wonders for your photography. As soon as you trip across the one for you everything will be wonderful in your photographic world. Yea right.
  • VSCO offers a ton of diversity but that diversity is through nuance and subtlety for the most part. Yea you can get all effect-y / trendy with them just use the Fade+++++ toolkit item. Don't forget to stand very far away from your subject. Face them square against some sort of plain but huge geometric background. For extra credit make sure it's a brightly colored garage door in the middle of white, put your subject in the exact middle of the frame and include some sort of signage at the top of the frame. If you really want to knock it out of the park with trendy then just put a very small portion of your subject at the bottom middle of the frame with either a blank stare at you or looking up… You get the point. My real point is that unless you shoot like this your images will be center stage - not the presets. VSCO is highly misunderstood by people that haven't really tried them. It's not instagrammy - it doesn't only emulate underexposed bad film. For the most part it's extremely subtle with a huge variety of subtle color treatments. The perfect prescription to outsourcing post processing for the most part. Obviously if you are the kind of photographer who's work depends on 62 ruby-lith masks in the darkroom of old and some bleaching ant this and that and some other things the post processing burden may actually be a blessing. If you are not it's probably a curse.

So… that get's us to my comments on the film 02 pack. I have it. I have nothing against it. It occurred to me that I bought 01 first and have treated it a lot like I treated film when that's what I shot exclusively. I fiddled with it. Took note of what it expects me to deliver when I shoot. Did that. Tweaked it a hair here and there for what I wanted at the moment and just shot.

When I got 02 to I just filed it in the "I'll play around with that sometime" sort of like I did when the Kodak rep would hand me a pro-pack of something I wasn't shooting to try out. Yea maybe sooner or later. I haven't bothered with playing around with 02. Will I? Sure - in fact I played with it more after Dale brought it to the forefront of my mind than I ever have. Do I like it - yes. There are definitely some things I really really like but I am not thinking to myself - hey I can try all these variations with all my old images and all my new ones. I have a couple of looks in the back of my mind that I think I will use consistently on a particular project that I haven't shot yet. In fact those looks will inform how I shoot the project not the other way around.

Just some food for thought for those of you out there lost in the sea of options after the fact. To hell with options - constraints are not always a bad thing… Try playing around with looks as an occasional thing. Let the look drive a project - doesn't have to be a big one. Shoot it with that look a pre-determined invariant fact. Be done.

Just for the heck of it I chucked together a collection of the same images processed a couple of ways with 01 and 02. Yes I have posted a couple of those before but they were sort of random - these are a demonstration of the most over the top versions of each and every film preset. Specifically the plus plus version. Not my go to looks - probably won't ever be but I thought I should point out that this is extreme as it gets unless you add a bunch more retro-fady-ness that are options in the toolkit.

The image at the top is 01 Kodak Portra 160++ with the new Fuji X100 profile. This next one is 01 Portra 800++ with Fuji profile.

Here's 02 Kodak Portra 400NC++

And 02 Kodak Portra 400VC++

Back to 01 Portra 400++ with Fuji profile

And to finish it off Fuji Superia 400++

These are as extreme as it gets - that's the plus plus. To me they are all completely different but not in a way that is distracting to the subject of the image. Don't like the simulated grain? Turn it off as your goto preset. Could I do these myself? Sure - do I want to? No. Are they worth $100 to me so that I can pretty much have the same look with no work on my part as I change cameras, software gets updated, etc, etc, Absolutely. That's one of the reasons I am kinda sorta upset that the Aperture 3 versions are so different looking than the ACR/Lightroom versions. The difference is the big deal to me as it defeats the purpose of buying them for me. Namely a predetermined look that is outsourced, subtle, easily fine-tunable and pretty much matched or close enough no matter what software, camera, etc I am shooting with at the moment. In my opinion they are also way way out there compared to the Adobe versions.

Food for thought.


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