How to Use Instagram

The Ultimate Guide to Instagram
The Ultimate Guide to Instagram

Instagram is one of the hottest and most popular apps on the web today. It brings photo sharing, social media, and mobile usability all together, which is why so many people love it.

Instagram’s primary use is for sharing quick, real-time photos with friends while you’re on the go. Feel free to check out our introduction to Instagram piece if you’d like a comprehensive description of the app.

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How to Use Instagram

Person taking photo of sunset

Jordan McQueen / Instagram

Now that you what it is and how popular it’s become, how do you start using Instagram for yourself? It’s just slightly trickier compared to other popular social networks given that Instagram is a mobile-first social network, but we’ll walk you through it.

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Ensure Your Mobile Device Is Compatible With Instagram Apps

retro app Instagram

The very first thing you need to do is grab your iOS or Android mobile device. Instagram currently only works on these two mobile operating systems, with a version for Windows Phone also coming soon.

If you don’t have a device that is running iOS or Android (or Windows Phone), unfortunately, you can’t use Instagram at this time. Only limited access to Instagram is available on the regular web and you need a compatible mobile device to actually use it.

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Download and Install the Appropriate Instagram App to Your Device

Woman taking photo of pumpkin soup with smartphone
Alexandra Iakovleva / Getty Images

Next, download the official Instagram app from the iTunes App Store for iOS devices or from the Google Play store for Android devices.

To do this, simply open Google Play or the App Store on your mobile device and do a search for “Instagram.” The first search result should be the official Instagram app.

Download and install it on your device.

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Create Your Instagram Account

Snapchat : Illustration
Chesnot / Getty Images

Now you can get started with creating your free Instagram user account. Tap Register to do this.

Instagram will lead you through the steps to create your account. You’ll need to choose a username and a password first.

You can upload a profile photo and connect to your Facebook friends either now or later. Instagram also requires you to fill out your email, name and an optional phone number.

Tap Done in the upper right corner to confirm your account information. Instagram will then ask you if you would like to connect with Facebook friends if you didn’t do so previously, or friends from your contact list. You can press Next or Skip if you’d like to pass.

Finally, Instagram will display a few popular users and thumbnail of photos as a way to suggest some to follow. You can press Follow on any of them if you like and then press Done.

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Use the Bottom Icons to Navigate Instagram

Instagram for iOS

Your Instagram account is all set up. Now it’s time to learn how to navigate through the app using the menu icons at the bottom.

There are five menu icons that let you browse through various parts of Instagram: home, explore, take a photo, activity, and your user profile.

Home (house icon): This is your own personal feed displaying all the photos of only the users you follow, plus your own.

Explore (star icon): This tab displays thumbnails of photos that have the highest interaction and serves as a good tool to find new users to follow.

Take a photo (camera icon): Use this tab when you want to snap a photo directly through the app or from your camera roll to post on Instagram.

Activity (heart bubble icon): Shift between “Following” and “News” at the top to see how the people you follow are interacting on Instagram or to see the most recent activity on your own photos.

User profile (newspaper icon): This displays your user profile including your avatar, number of photos, number of followers, number of people you follow, location map photos and tagged photos. This is also the place where you can access and change any of your personal settings.

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Take Your First Instagram Photo

Instagram for iOS

You can now start taking your own photos and post them to Instagram. There are two ways to do this: through the app or by accessing an existing photo from your camera roll or other photo folders.

Taking photos through the app: Simply tap the “take photo” tab to access the Instagram camera and press the camera icon to snap a photo. You can flip between the back and front-facing cameras using the icon located in the upper right corner.

Using an existing photo: Access the camera tab and instead of snapping a photo, tap the picture right next to it. That pulls up your phone’s default folder where photos are stored, so you can choose a photo you already took previously.

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Edit Your Photo Before Posting It

Instagram for iOS

Once you’ve selected a photo, you can post it as is, or you can touch it up and add some filters.

Filters (balloon thumbnails): Shift through these to instantly transform the look of your photo.

Rotate (arrow icon): Tap this icon to rotate your photo if Instagram doesn’t automatically recognize which direction it should be displayed.

Border (frame icon): Tap this “on” or “off” to display each filter’s corresponding border with your photo.

Focus (droplet icon): You can use this to focus in on any object. It supports a round focus and linear focus, creating a blur around everything else in the photo. Pinch your fingers on the focused area to make it bigger or smaller, and drag it around the screen to have it sit wherever the object of focus is located.

Brightness (sun icon): Turn the brightness “on” or “off” to add extra light, shadows and contrast to your photo.

Tap Next when you’re finished editing your photo.

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Type a Caption, Tag Friends, Add a Location and Share

Instagram for iOS

It’s time to fill out the details of your photo. You don’t have to do this, but it’s a good idea to at least provide a description of the photo for your followers.

Add a caption: This is where you can type anything you like to describe your photo.

Add people: If your photo includes one of your followers in it, you can tag them by selecting the “Add people” option and searching for their name. A tag will be added to the photo and your friend will be notified.

Add to Photo Map: Instagram can geo-tag your photos to your very own personal world map, displayed as thumbnails. Tap “Add to Photo Map” so Instagram can access your device’s GPS navigation and tag its location. You can also name the location by tapping “Name This Location” and searching for the name of a nearby place, which will then be tagged to your photo when displayed in anyone’s feed.

Share: Finally, you can automatically post your Instagram photos to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Flickr if you decide to allow Instagram to access any one of those accounts. You can turn automatic posting off at any time by tapping any social networking icon so it is grey (off) instead of blue (on).

Tap “Share” when you’re all done. Your photo will be posted to Instagram.

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Interact with Other Users on Instagram

Instagram for iOS

Interacting is one of the best parts of Instagram. You can do that by “liking” or commenting on users’ photos.

Like (heart icon): Tap this to add a heart or “like” to anyone’s photo. You can also double tap the actual photo to automatically like it.

Comment (bubble icon): Tap this to type in a comment on a photo. You can add hashtags or tag another user by typing their @username into the comment.

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Use the Explore Tab and Search Bar to Find Photos and Users

Instagram for iOS


If you’d like to find a specific user or search through a particular tag, you can use the search bar on the Explore tab to do so.

Tap the search bar and enter the keyword, hashtag or username of your choice. A list of recommendations will be displayed to you.

This is especially useful for finding specific friends or for browsing through particular photos tailored to your interests.

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Configure Your Privacy and Security Settings

Instagram for iOS

Like all social networking sites and apps, security is always important. Here are a few beginner tips for adding extra security to your Instagram account.

Make your profile “Private” instead of “Public”: By default, all Instagram photos are set to public, so anyone can view your photos. You can change this so only followers that you approve first can see your photos by heading to your user profile tab, tapping Edit Your Profile and then turning the Photos are Private button on at the bottom.

Delete a photo: On any of your own photos, you can select the icon that displays three dots in a row to delete it after posting it. This does not guarantee that none of your followers already saw it in their Instagram feeds.

Archive a photo: Ever post a picture that you later wished wasn't publically viewable on Instagram? You have the option to archive photos, which keeps them in your account, but prevents others from seeing them. To hide an Instagram photo, just choose the archive option from the photo menu.

Report a photo: If another user’s photo seems inappropriate for Instagram, you can tap the three dots underneath anyone else’s photo and select Report Inappropriate to have it considered for deletion.

Block a user: If you’d like to block a particular user from following you or from seeing your profile, you can tap the icon in the top right corner of their Instagram profile and select Block User. You can also choose Report for Spam if you think the user is a spammer. You can easily unblock someone on Instagram, too.

Edit your settings: Lastly, you can edit your preferences by heading to your user profile and tapping the settings icon in the upper right corner. You can also edit other personal information, like your avatar or email address or password, from the Edit Your Profile section.