#11 Instagram Aesthetic Trend for School Marketers – Vintage or Retro Looks

This is the eleventh installment of a series on Instagram aesthetic trends for 2020. Here are the links to the previous posts in this series:

The ever-popular vintage and retro internet aesthetic trends are making a big hit this year on Instagram. Various eras (think 70s, 80s or 90s) are being utilized as throwback photographs to years past.

The basic idea with the retro/vintage look is to make your pictures look like they’re “old school”. Instagrammers are really getting creative with this trend. One of the biggest trends when it comes to the retro look is the IT-cool trend which is trending right now.

Of course, the idea behind aesthetic trends is to help your school stand out on Instagram, especially to Millennials and GenXers who are into these types of current trendy looks. Instagram feed graphics that include filters increase the likelihood they will be viewed 21 percent more often, and commented on a whopping 45 percent more often.

I love the vintage or retro look trend, perhaps because I tend to be a bit nostalgic. Nostalgia is defined as a “bittersweet longing” for the past. The good memories of the past are sweet while at the same time the recognition the past is gone and can never return may be a bit bitter – hence the bittersweet connotation.

Let’s say you have a picture – or a series of pictures (see last week’s post on Carousel Posts) that you think would be perfect for a vintage or retro look. There are several ways to go about editing your Instagram photo(s) so they look like retro pictures. Here are some techniques for you to experiment with.

  1. Choose A Vintage Look

The first step in your vintage/retro look process is to determine what look you’re going for. Most designers choose an era (the 90s look is super-popular right now). Once you’ve selected your image, find the vintage look you’re going after.

  1. Instagram App Filters

Vintage retro looks are achieved using a filter. So the next step is to try different filters and effects to find the perfect one for your Instagram posts. You might want to start by playing around with the built-in filters in your Instagram app. Once you’ve uploaded your picture to your smartphone or tablet, you can edit it by applying filters. This is an easy process – just choose your filter and adjust the filter strength (left or right) and Save. There are forty filters built into the Instagram app (if you don’t see them all click “Manage”) so there likely may be one you like.

  1. Canva Filters + Adjustments

You can easily use Filters + Intensity in Canva to create the retro look you’re after. Once you’ve selected your template (I used Blank) and uploaded your image, drag your image onto the template. Click on your image and a menu bar will appear above the image. Select Filters and then choose your filter and then the Intensify slider to select your saturation. You can also use the Adjustment photo edit feature to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, blur, x-process and vignette. These adjustments, combined with a filter, give you a great deal of control over your image.

  1. Instasize App

The Instasize App (download from Apple Store or Play Store) has an excellent selection of filters. You do have to sign up for an account which costs $3.99 per month. However, Instasize offers a free 7-day trial to give you a chance to try the app.

Some of the top filters for a vintage or retro look include:

  • Tokyo – the bluish tint gives an 80s or 90s vintage look
  • D2 – this filter’s reddish hue gives an “insta-vintage” look
  • N3 – this is a dark filter that gives photos a retro Polariod look

Another effect that gives photos a distinctly vintage or retro look is to add “grain” using the Instasize app. From the Adjustments option choose “Grain”. You can then move the slider to the right or left to achieve a vintage look. Just be careful to use a light touch when selecting “grain” on your photo. It might not seem very noticeable at first, but too much of a grainy effect will ruin the quality of your image.

  1. VSCO App

Another photo editing app used to add filters is the VSCO app (Android and iOS). Once you’ve imported a photo, select the adjustments icon. From there, you can select a plethora of filters, grouped into categories such as:

  • Featured
  • Warm
  • Cool
  • Vibrant
  • Black & White
  • Portrait
  • Nature
  • Urban

Once you’ve chosen a filter, you can make adjustments by selecting the Adjustment icon again. This will give you a variety of options, such as:

  • Exposure – lightens or darkens
  • Contrast – reducing contrast will give you a vintage lo-fi look
  • Adjust – crop or adjust the sizing of your image
  • Sharpen – this adds edge contrast
  • Clarity – adds sharpness to midtones and at a low level
  • Saturation – increases or decreases the vibrancy of the colors. Desaturating your photo will help bring out the filter effects as well as other edits.
  • Tone – adjust the highlights and shadows in your photo
  • White balance – white balance adjusts the color temperature or tint of a light source, balancing the warmth or coolness of your whites to try to render your whites a true white
  • Skin tone – adjusts the skin tones in your photo
  • Vignette – this darkens the corners of your photo for a more dramatic effect
  • Grain – this effect will drastically give any photo a vintage feel as it copies effects from film cameras popular in previous decades
  • Fade – Increases the blend of colors in your photo.
  • Split tone – adds tone or colors to the highlights or shadows tint of your photo.
  • Borders – allow you to add premade colored borders to your photo. Adding a white border, depending on the width you choose, can make a photo look like a Polaroid or older photo that were printed with white borders.
  • HSL – adjusts the hue, saturation and luminance (HSL) of colors to your photo

These adjustments give you a great deal of control and ability to creatively edit your photos.

One advantage of using VSCO are the many 90s/lo-fi filter packs you can download. For example, the Kodak Portra 400NC is one filter pack designed to give your photos the look of the Kodak camera of the same name released in 1998.

  1. AfterLightPro App

The AfterLightPro app gives you highly-sensitive editing controls as well as filters (such as “dust” and “vignette” to give your photo a decidedly vintage look. The advantage of Afterlight is that you can use your finger to edit parts of the photo and not others, a very useful tool if you only want to make changes to a specific element in your photograph.

AfterLightPro (iOS and Android) offers a wide variety of filters and effects. Take some time and play around with the different features!

  1. Huji Cam App

The Huji Cam app (iOS and Apple) is one of the trendiest photo editing apps in use today. The point of the Huji Cam app is to apply a filter that makes your photo look like they were shot with a 90s disposable film camera without having to go out and buy one or wait for film to be developed.

The app applies random effects designed to give you the vintage feel of film shot with a disposable camera, including filters such as:

  • Random light leaks
  • Blurred edges
  • A touch of graininess
  • Hyper saturated colors
  • Tiny point and shoot viewfinder with no preview
  • Day, month and year (1998) time stamps in a corner of the photo

A vintage or retro photo aesthetic is a nostalgic and almost dream-like look, which is why it’s so popular. Regardless of what era of photography you want to recreate, there are apps, filters and effects available to help you achieve it.

Want some vintage and retro look Instagram inspirations? Try going to @vscocheats for filter “recipes” or using one of these hashtags:

  • #retrophotography
  • #retrophoto
  • #retro
  • #vintagephotography
  • #vintagephoto
  • #vintage
  • #VSCOfilter

Don’t let the vintage photo aesthetic look pass you by. Be sure to try editing to achieve a variety of chromatic, colored, grainy, black and white and many other looks to elevate your Instagram stories and to create an aesthetic instagram feed. The possibilities are endless so have some fun and tag me with your retro-look creations!

Have you tried using vintage or retro photo edits? What app do you recommend? Please share with the rest of the school marketing community below…

About the author 

Brendan Schneider

Hey, I’m Brendan, and this is my blog. After 28 years working in private, independent schools in mostly admissions, enrollment, marketing, communications, and fundraising roles, I decided to make SchneiderB Media my full-time job, where I help schools get more inquiries through my Fractional Digital Marketer program. I also started the MarCom Society, a membership created expressly to help, support, and train marketing and communications professionals at schools.

Social Media

Promote Your School on Social Media: A Comprehensive Guide to Success

Social Media

How Do I Start a Social Media Campaign for My School?

Social Media

What Should Schools Post on Social Media?

Subscribe to the School Marketing Insider

The School Marketing Insider is a weekly newsletter that delivers curated resources to stimulate curiosity, inspire collaboration, and accelerate innovation to drive school marketing professionals ahead of the curve.