Instagram is a free application that lets users capture photos and videos and share them on popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr. It was created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, in October 2010. Instagram quickly gained popularity, attracting more than 100 million active users by the time it was acquired by Facebook in April of 2012, for $1 billion in cash and stock. The user base has since swelled to 400 million, and still growing.
Instagram is available for download on the iTunes App Store and Google Play, as well as a seemingly forever-in-beta version for Windows Phone. Whether you’ve been highly addicted to Instagram for years now, or you’re just a beginner, these Instagram tips and tricks will help you master this popular app.
Getting started, tagging, and the like
How to get started
To register for an Instagram account, download the Instagram app from the aforementioned app stores. Once the app has finished downloading, tap the Instagram icon to open it. Tap Sign Up, and then you will need to enter your email address, and tap Next to log in with your Facebook account. Once you’ve created an account, you can view Instagram from your computer or phone, although the app is the preferred viewing method.
From there, you’ll need to do a few things to get started:
Add a profile picture: You can easily add a profile photo to the Instagram app from your mobile device. Go to your profile by tapping on your profile picture, tap the blank circle by your name, and either import a picture from your phone’s photo library, Facebook, or Twitter, or take a new one.
Tell the world more about yourself (or not): In the Edit Profile menu, you can determine how you want your name displayed (real or pseudonym), change your Instagram handle, link to an external website (just one is allowed), and a bio. You can also list private information like your phone number and gender, although these aren’t shown to the public. The nice thing is that Instagram does not require you to fill any of these fields.
Find people to follow: Now that you’ve created your Instagram account, you’re ready to find users to follow. By now, a lot of your friends are probably already using Instagram, so you can go to your profile tab and select Find Friends in the Options setting (the gear icon at the top-right). Here, you can search for friends that have connected their Facebook and Twitter accounts to Instagram. You can also search by name, username, or tag. You can also follow celebrities or people whose photos you admire. Following interesting people is a great way to get inspired, and it helps Instagram’s algorithms learn what you like and suggest photos and videos in the Discovery tab.
Post your first photo or video: To post your first photo or video, simply tap on the camera icon in the middle of the bottom menu of the app. You can then either snap a photo, record a video, or choose one from your gallery. Once you choose the photo you want, hit Next. From there, you’ll be able to apply filters and adjust the photo in other ways, like cropping, quickly change the exposure (Lux), add vignette, etc. With videos, you can edit the clip length (up to a minute) or compose a montage from multiple videos, and choose sound on or off. Hit Next again and you’ll be prompted to add a caption, tags (of other Instagram users), location, and any other social network (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, or Swarm) where you would like to post a link to the Instagram post. When you’re ready, hit Share and the photo or video
How to perfect your Instagram photos
Instagram offers a good selection of filters and editing tools to make your photos stand out and take them to the next level, or even rescue bad ones from the trash. For example, you can overlay a filter on a poorly shot photo and transform it into something creative (in photography, there’s really no bad photo if you say you meant to shoot it that way, so tell your friends to chill). You can also liven a flat photo by adjusting the perspective, changing the brightness and contrast, add warmth or saturation, manipulate the colors, put a tilt-shift look on it, and more. You can spend a long time tinkering, and you should experiment.
There are also plenty of photo-editing apps like VSCOcam, Snapseed, Aviary, and Adobe Photoshop Express (we linked to the iOS version of the apps, but you can also find them in the Google Play store), although you’ll have to use these apps outside of Instagram. Within those apps you can find the best filter that works for you, so you can really make your photos pop.
Thinking outside the square
For years, Instagram only let you upload square photos – you would either have to crop into a photo, or shoot in square mode. In August 2015, Instagram lifted this restriction, so you can now also upload in landscape and portrait formats. The reasoning is that sometimes, a photo needs more space than a square to tell the story. To pick the original aspect ratio, simply tap the icon in the bottom-left corner of the photo, and cycle between square or landscape/portrait.
How to tag people
If you’re uploading a new photo and want to tag someone, tap on the person or object in the image that you want to tag and enter their name or Instagram username. If for some reason you don’t see the person you’re looking for, Instagram makes it easy to search for people you know. If you want to tag people in a photo that you’ve already uploaded, go to the photo, tap menu on iOS or Android, and tap Tag People.
How to mention other Instagrammers
To mention a friend in your caption, type @ in front of their username (e.g., “great article, @karnjar84!”). Your friend will then receive a notification in their activity feed letting them know that you mentioned them. If you want to reply to someone in a comment thread, just mention them, and they will get a notification in their activity feed as well.
How to like, comment, and send photos and videos
To like a photo or video on Instagram, simply double tap the photo or video, or you can tap the “heart” icon below the photo. If you for some reason liked a post, that you later decide you don’t like, just tap the icon again to unlike it.
Next to the heart icon is a bubble icon, which you tap to make a comment; a comment box pops up, and there isn’t a limit to how much you can write (although, for the sake of the Instagram community, keep it brief). Next to the bubble icon is an arrow; tap this and you can send a photo or video that you particularly like, to any Instagrammer or multiple Instagram users. The content you send to others become a private message between you and the other user or users (more on this later).
How to make your photos and videos private
When you first create your Instagram account, anyone can see your profile on Instagram. If you want to make your posts private, go to your profile, tap on Settings, and turn on the Private Account settings. If you want to make it so anyone can see your photos and videos, skip this step.
How to add to your photo map
In addition to viewing a user’s photos and videos as a feed or grid, you can also view them on a map, provided the photos had been tagged with a location. If you don’t like this feature (some people may not want others to know where they are or where they have been), you should never add geotags or remove them from the map via the Edit button at the top-right of the map.
How to link Instagram to your Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr accounts
Because Instagram is one of the most popular social apps, you may want to connect all of your social accounts to get the most out of it. You can choose to link your Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr accounts; there are also less-popular networks (in the U.S., at least) that you can link to, including Ameba and VKontakte. To get your social accounts linked, go to the Profile Tab > Linked Accounts > Share Settings, then select which accounts you want to connect. Every time you upload a photo to Instagram, you’ll have the option to select which photos you want to share to each of the social networks. You can also choose to share your photos on Instagram only.
How to embed your photos on the web
Did you take a photo that is absolutely amazing and you want to share it on your blog? Go to Instagram on the web and find the picture you want to share, click on the symbol shown as three dots, and choose the Embed option. You can copy and paste the code anywhere on the web to show off the photo you took. If your content is set as private on Instagram, you won’t be able to share the photo.
Removing tags, sharing GIFs, and more
How to remove photos you’re tagged in
If one of your friends tags you in a photo, it will show up in the Photos of You section on your profile page. When you come across a tagged photo of yourself that you don’t like, you can choose to hide it. To remove a single photo, tap on the embarrassing photo and you will see your Instagram handle. Tap on your handle and you’ll instantly see a menu, then select Hide from My Profile or Remove Me from Photo (in More Options).
How to send direct messages
At the top-right of the Instagram homepage is an icon that looks like a drawer. Tapping on this will take you to the Direct menu where you will find your private messages with other Instagram users. While Instagram is better known for photo sharing, it has a messaging function which lets you send notes, photos, or videos that aren’t meant for public viewing. To compose a new message, hit the cross icon at the top-right of the Direct menu, choose Send Photo or Video or Send Message; the former lets you pick content from your library, while the latter lets you chit-chat with another Instagrammer.
How to use popular hashtags
Adding hashtags (#) is a great way to get new followers and share your photos with more people. Choosing the right tags will help you connect with other people who have the same interests on Instagram, but it’s important to make sure that you use tags that describe your photo. For example, if you take a picture of a Volkswagen Bus, you can use the hashtags #vwbus and #volkswagen. If you use the “wrong” hashtags, you might not get any followers because it isn’t trending, i.e., people aren’t actively searching for that tag. A nice feature is that when you type the hashtag, Instagram will display similar tags as well as how many posts there are.
How to use Instagram on the web
To access your Instagram account on the web, you can go to Instagram.com and log in in with your Instagram username or password. In the past, Instagram has made the mobile app the preferred method, and the website as a view-only platform. You still can’t post via the web, but you can now search and follow, and edit your profile.
How to get featured by Instagram
You can easily gain thousands of new followers each day by getting featured. Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t really share how they choose users, but if you get added to their suggested users list, you’ll get tons of exposure. If you do get added to the suggested users list, you’ll get to stay there for at least one week. To have a good chance of getting on the list, make sure that your photos have a consistent and identifiable niche or style that will get you noticed by other Instagram users.
How to share GIFs on Instagram
GifShare is an app that allows you to share GIFs to your favorite social networks. You can search for GIFs or upload from your camera roll. GifShare accepts GIF, MP4, MOV, MPG, and M4V file formats. You can download GifShare from the App Store, or use any of these Android alternatives. Another iOS option is Giphy Cam
How to manage multiple Instagram accounts
Thankfully, the dark ages of being limited to a single Instagram account are no more. Instagram added the much-needed ability to manage multiple accounts in February 2016, much to the delight of those who’ve been hankering for an easier way to give their beloved puggle an account of its own. People can now manage up to five accounts at a time.
To add an additional account, simply go to your profile settings page and tap the gear icon or the three dots in the upper-right corner of the screen. Scroll down and select the “Add Account” option and create a unique username and password for the new account. To switch between Instagram accounts on the fly, go to your profile page, select your username and choose the account you wish to switch to from the pull-down menu. Your profile picture will then reflect the active account, and remind you which handle your currently signed in to. This prevents you from inadvertently positing on behalf of said Puggle (or vice versa).
How to apply a border to your photo
With Instagram, you can have fun adding borders to your filtered photos. Upload the photo you want to add a border, tap Next, tap the filter and tap it again again, and then tap on border icon, which is a square icon located on the right side of the filter intensity slider. If you decide not to add a border to your photo, tap X to cancel and save your change. Adding a border gives your photo that retro Polaroid feel, but you can’t apply it to a non-filtered photo.
Create collages, time-lapse videos, and looping videos
When you post a photo, you will notice two icons at the bottom-right corner of an image: one that’s an infinite loop, and another of what looks like a cube with different shaped compartments within it. The former takes you to Instagram’s Boomerang app, while the other takes you to Instagram’s Layout app. To use these two photo apps, you will need to download them, as they function as independent apps. Yet, their usefulness can add some spice to your Instagram photos.
Boomerang takes a burst of photos (up to 20 frames), which are then combined into a creative video that plays forward and backward – sort of like an animated GIF. The video is saved in the camera roll, and you can select either the Instagram or Facebook button to post. With Layout, you can create a collage of multiple photos into one. You can easily reposition the photos and resize the boxes. This is useful if you want to group a set of images that’s tied to a particular event or activity, for example. According to Instagram, some 20 percent of users had been utilizing third-party collage apps prior to Layout’s release.
There is also a third app, called Hyperlapse (iOS only), that lets you create time-lapse-like videos. After you shoot a video (up to 45 minutes long), you can then adjust the playback speed – from a slow 1x to super-fast 12x. As with the other apps, the video is saved in the camera roll and can be shared to Instagram or Facebook.
These apps don’t require Instagram, and you can use the photos and videos for other applications. And while they aren’t as popular as the native Instagram app, they can add some creative flair to your account, which is key for increasing users.
How to find new Instagram accounts
Rather than continuously tagging the same recycled memes again and again, it’s sometimes refreshing to find more original accounts to follow. Thankfully, the Activity button — aka the heart at the bottom of your Instagram homepage — allows you to see not only who “Likes” one of your posts and when a friend has tagged you, but also what the people you follow “Like.” Simply select the Following option at the top of the screen and let the Insta-creeping begin.
Know your followers’ every Instagram move
If you have a lot of followers, it’s easy to miss their posts as they get pushed down and buried in your feed when new posts arrive (although that’s changing: Instagram is planning to move to a feed that’s based on what’s popular, instead of chronological). If you have favorite followers, turning on Notifications will alert you whenever said followers post new content. To activate this, go to the follower’s profile page, tap the three-dot icon at the top-right, and select Turn on Post Notifications. Now you’ll never miss a butt shot from Kim Kardashian (who has the third most-popular Instagram account).
This article was originally published on June 26, 2015, by Karen Tumbokon and updated on April 20, 2016, by Dallon Adams to include new Instagram tips and features.