There's one app you should be using to make your Instagram pictures look so much better -- here's how it works

The Secret to Better Smartphone Camera Photos

If you really want your Instagram pictures to stand out, you can't rely on the photo-editing options within its own app.

Even Instagram's preset filters feel passé. A regular 'grammer can spot Valencia a mile away, and Instagram itself seems to be realizing that "the cool teens don't use Instagram filters anymore." The company has rolled out new filters -- and even new products, like its new one-second video option Boomerang -- to entice users.

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There's one app you should be using to make your Instagram pictures look so much better -- here's how it works
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Instead, teens are obsessed with a little app called VSCO Cam. The Oakland, California, based VSCO lets users use its gorgeous filters and editing options to turn their otherwise boring pictures into masterpieces. Plus, like Instagram, you can create a profile on VSCO Cam and follow other users -- VSCO Cam is essentially a more artistic and curated version of Instagram.


But navigating VSCO Cam's set of editing tools can prove challenging for first-time users.

The app's interface has almost no text. The idea is to give the app a global feel, so people can easily use it regardless of their language, but some of the pictograms are confusing. Scroll down to learn how to use VSCO Cam.

Taylor Lorenz contributed to an earlier version of this story.

If you want to transform your boring iPhone photos into stunning works of art the key is mastering VSCOCam.

The first thing you'll see when you download the app is an introduction slide. Click the box in the bottom-left corner to navigate to the app's main menu.


The main menu lets you view your profile, explore other users' photos, access your library, or buy more filters. Take an in-app photo by clicking the camera icon (the small square with a circle inside it).


The in-app camera offers lots of additional controls such as manual focus, shutter speed, white balance, and exposure compensation. To access these controls click the dotted circle on the top left.


When multiple camera controls are selected, they will be highlighted in white. It may seem confusing, but you just have to start hitting buttons and experimenting. Here, we've selected a photo grid for alignment (grid icon), low-light boost (white dot), white-balance lock (lock with the "WB" in it), and an advanced brightness option (square with "ADV"). When you're happy with the composition, snap a pic!


All photos taken from within the app are automatically stored in your library. If you're in the library, click the square on the bottom left to head back to the main menu, or click the camera icon to snap a new photo.


You can also upload a photo to your library by clicking the + sign. Tap once on a photo to select it, then tap the icon on the bottom-left corner to edit the photo.


The paintbrush icon lets you choose filters. The wrench icon lets you access additional editing tools. The box with two bars lets you selectively remove edits.


There are tons of filter options. Click the one you want to apply, then click the slider to adjust the strength.


VSCO's editing tools can alter tons of things like tint, sharpness, clarity, brightness, skin tone, and more.


When you're happy with the photo, you can export it to your iPhone library or social media, or share it to your grid.


Your grid is a personal feed of photos, similar to Instagram's feed. You can add a comment and share your location.


Click back into the main menu, then click Explore to explore other people's grids. You can search by name and follow other users to see what pictures they're uploading. Think of it as a more deliberately artistic Instagram feed.


You can also search by keyword or hashtag.


There are some really gorgeous photos, like this one.

And this one.

If you're looking to add more customization, click Shop in the main menu to purchase custom filters.


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