What is Instagram and how does it work? Plus tips and tricks

(Pocket-lint) – Instagram has been around for years, and it’s hugely popular, but not everyone is completely familiar with the free photo app and how it can quickly transform your mediocre selfies into stunning glamour shots. OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but most Instagram users will admit that Instagram’s filters, editing tools, and sharing options have changed their lives. But, before you dive in and fiddle with all the options, you’ll need to know how the app works.

With that in mind, we’ve laid out everything you need to know about Instagram, including tips and tricks.

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What is Instagram?

Instagram is a video and photo-sharing social network. It launched in 2010 as a mobile device app and was acquired by Facebook two years later. It primarily stood out because it confined photos to a square shape and features filters. It has developed since it originally launched though. Users are not only no longer restricted to square images but also video clips, which have been available since 2013. There’s also a Stories feature, Reels feature, and a Live feature now. 

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How does Instagram work?

For the purposes of this guide, we will explain how to use Instagram from a mobile device. But understanding the web interface is just as easy and intuitive.

How to sign up for Instagram

Instagram was originally meant for mobile devices.

You should, therefore, download the iPhone or Android app to register an Instagram account. Once you download the app, you can easily log in through Facebook. After signing up, you can change your profile picture and edit your information, which includes a brief 150-character summary and the ability to link a website.

All Instagram accounts are public by default but can be made private.

How to navigate

Every time you open and load Instagram, you will automatically be brought to your news feed, which is filled with photos and videos from people you chose to follow on Instagram. Along the bottom of the app is a menu bar, while the top right (on iOS) has your inbox, which is where direct messages can be found along with quicks-access links to your activity feed/notification center (heart icon) and the ability to share posts, stories, reels, and lives (+ icon).

As for the menu bar at the bottom, it has five tabs: Home, Search/Discovery, Reels, Shop, and Profile.

  • Home takes you to the news feed.
  • Search/Discovery is for finding people and discovering trending photos or other accounts you might be interested in.
  • Reels is where you’ll go to find TikTok-like videos from other users on Instagram.
  • Shop is quite literally where you can go to find products to buy directly in Instagram.
  • Profile is where you go to see your profile, edit your profile, and play with settings (found in the upper right-hand corner). Settings has options for following Facebook friends, privatising your account, seeing posts you’ve liked and more.

How to interact with others

There are three main ways of interacting with other users on Instagram: you can double-tap on their photos or videos to like them (or press the heart icon below their photos); you can press the chat-bubble icon below their photos to leave a comment; and you can direct message them. (To direct message someone, tap the arrow icon next to the chat bubble icon.) You can also tag people in photos, reply to comments with tags, and add and use hashtags across Instagram.

How to post and share

To begin sharing, go to the Camera/upload button (+icon) at the top right of the Home tab and choose Post, Story, Reels, and Live.

Post

Select Post to share a photo to your profile and Instagram feed. You will see the option to upload from your camera roll or take a shot directly with the Instagram app.

Once you proceed with a photo or video, you’ll see a filter tray pop up, in which you can apply an effect. Double-tap the effect to access a slider that’ll let you increase or decrease the intensity of the filter. Below the filter tray are two options: Filter and Edit. Flicking to Edit will allow you to fine-tune your image, from adjusting brightness and contrast to changing the structure, saturation, colour, and fade, among other options.

You’ll also be able to adjust a special effect called Lux by tapping the centralised icon above the image you’re editing.

After you’re done editing, tap the next button on the top-right of the Filters screen to begin sharing your post. You will be given the option to tag people and so on.

Upon hitting next on the top-right of the Filters screen, you will get to a screen that’ll let you share your photo or video to either all followers or a direct follower by toggling between the two options at the top of your screen. This screen is where you can add captions, tag people, and tag your location, as well as choose if you want to share your post to any other social media outlets.

Instagram integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr, meaning you’ll be able to share to those social networks by just toggling each of them on or off.

Stories

Instagram Stories is just like Snapchat’s Stories feature.

Here’s the deal: With Stories, you can broadcast multiple videos and photos taken throughout the day in near time. These can edited with doodles and stickers and filters and masks. Your stories will disappear after 24 hours. If you want to repopulate them just take more videos and photos and share them.

You can also view other people’s Stories – just look for their latest updates at the top of your news feed on the Home tab. Instagram’s Help Center has several step-by-step guides that explain everything you need to know about finding and posting Stories. Pocket-lint also has an explainer feature here.

Reels

Instagram’s newest feature is called Reels. It brings a trendy, short-form musical video format to the Instagram mobile app. In other words, it’s made a TikTok clone.

With Instagram Reels you can record and edit video clips. You can then add music to your video creation or even use audio from another person’s video. TikTok offers both these capabilities and helped popularise their use in short-form musical content. Reels isn’t a new app, though – it’s an addition to the core Instagram app, which means that you don’t have to download anything to use it, other than the latest version of Instagram.

Once you’re on that newest version, you’ll see Reels integrated throughout the app, including holding the center spot on the main menu bar at the bottom of the app.

To learn more about Reels, see Pocket-lint’s guide.

Live

Going live takes just a couple of steps from the Instagram Stories camera, and when you’re done going live, your video will disappear as soon as the stream stops. Broadcasting on Instagram is pretty straightforward – just swipe right from the feed to open the camera, select Live and tap the Start Live Video button to start sharing. Live videos on Instagram can last for up to an hour, and your followers may get a notification to tune in.

You can also start a live video with another person.

To learn more about how to go live, see Instagram’s support hub.

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How to shop on Instagram

Instagram has finally transformed into a one-stop-shop, literally. Just go to the Shop tab (shopping bag icon) in the main menu bar at the bottom of the app. When you check out, you will be asked for your shipping info, contact info, payment info, and all those details. Your payment will be processed in and through Instagram.

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Where can you access Instagram?

Instagram is available as a mobile app for iOS and Android users. It’s also available on the web from www.instagram.com. 

Instagram filters explained

Before we move on to the next section, we thought we should go over some of the more popular Instagram filters (including the separate Lux effect) and what they do to your photos and videos. Below are some of the most popular and oldest filters on Instagram.

  • Normal – No filter applied.
  • Clarendon – Makes shadows deeper and highlights brighter.
  • Gingham – Gives images a vintage look, adding a yellowish tone.
  • Moon – Another vintage look adder but in black and white.
  • Lark – Desaturates reds and increases blues and greens.
  • Reyes – Adds a dusty, vintage look.
  • Juno – Tints cool tones green, amps up warm tones, makes whites glow.
  • Slumber – Desaturates the image, adds a haze, emphasis on blacks and blues.
  • Crema – Adds a creamy look that both warms and cools the image.
  • Ludwig – Slight desaturation that also enhances light.
  • Aden – Adds a blue/green natural look.
  • Perpetua – Adds a pastel look.
  • Amaro – Adds light to an image, with the focus on the center.
  • Mayfair – Adds a warm pink tone, subtle vignetting, brightens at the center.
  • Rise – Adds a glow to the image.
  • Hudson – Adds an “icy” illusion, heightened shadows, cool tint, dodged center.
  • Valencia – Fades the image, increases exposure, warms the colors.
  • X-Pro II – Increases colour with a golden tint, high contrast, slight vignette.
  • Sierra – Adds a faded, softer look.
  • Willow – Adds a monochromatic look, subtle purple tones, translucent white border.
  • Lo-Fi – Enriches color, adds strong shadows, warms the temperature.
  • Earlybird – Gives an older look with a sepia tint and warm temperature.
  • Brannan – Increases contrast and exposure and adds a metallic tint.
  • Inkwell – Goes straight to black and white.
  • Hefe – High contrast and saturation, similar to Lo-Fi.
  • Nashville – Warms temp, lowers contrast, increases exposure, adds pink.
  • Sutro – Burns edges, increases highlights/shadows, focus on purple and brown.
  • Toaster – Ages the image by “burning” the center and adds a dramatic vignette.
  • Walden – Increases exposure and adds a yellow tint.
  • 1977 – Increases exposure, adds a red tint and faded look.
  • Kelvin – Increases saturation and temperature to give it a radiant glow.
  • Stinson – Lightens image and washes out colour a little.
  • Vesper – Adds a yellowy tint for a vintage feel, while also smoothing out skin tones.
  • Maven – Adds a yellow tint, darkens the image and deepens shadows.
  • Ginza – Brightens images and adds a warm glow.
  • Skyline – Adds punch to colours and brightens.
  • Dogpatch – Deepens contrast and washes out light colours.
  • Brooklyn – Brightens images and washes out light colours.
  • Helena – Adds an orange and teal tone to images.
  • Ashby – Adds golden glow and subtle vintage look without deepening shadows.
  • Charmes – Adds a red tint to warm up colours while also increasing contrast.
  • Lux – Transforms photos that are underexposed or lack contrast.
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Instagram 101: Top tips and tricks

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how Instagram works, we’ll get into some tips and tricks:

Account switching

It’s possible to switch between multiple accounts on Instagram. This is especially handy for those of you who run a personal account, along with a business account. Instead of having to log out and log in to each account every time you want to browse or post new content, which you used to have to do, you can now switch between five accounts with a few simple taps.

To add another Instagram account, go to your Profile > Hamburger menu > Settings > Account > scroll down to Add Account. Enter the username and password of the account trying to add and that’s it. To then switch between accounts, tap your username at the top of your profile and choose the account you want to switch to.

Toggle between Favorites and Following

h a main feed of photos and videos shared by people you follow. The feed also includes suggested posts and ads. Many users have been critical of the feed – mainly, Instagram’s algorithmic sorting. In an attempt to address their concerns, Instagram is offering users two ways of sorting their feed. These are called Favourites and Following.

  • Following: See the latest posts from all the accounts that you follow, in the order they were posted.
  • Favourites: You can star up to 50 accounts, so their posts will show up higher in your main feed. You can also view those posts in a separate “Favorites” feed, which starts with the most recent posts.

To toggle between the Favourites feed and Following feed on Instagram, open the latest version of the Instagram mobile app and follow these steps:

  1. Tap on Instagram in the top left corner of your home page.
  2. Select Favourites to see posts from accounts you’ve starred
  3. Or select Following to see the latest posts from all the accounts you follow.

Edit captions

Gone are the days of typos and feeling embarrassed when you accidentally post a photo with “your” in the caption when you really meant to write “you’re”. Instagram launched an update that enabled editing captions.

Go to the post, then tap the three-dot icon in the top right corner, and select Edit. You’ll then be able to edit the caption. As far as we can tell, people won’t see how (or even how many times) you’ve edited the caption.

Save drafts of photos

This new feature is a much-welcomed change because we’ve all been in that situation where you spend 10 minutes editing the heck out of a photo, only to ditch the work altogether when something immediate comes up that needs your attention. If you were desperate or had the time, you could use a workaround, such as screenshotting. Well, all that’s a thing of the past because Instagram now prompts you to either save or discard your draft before you even leave the editing screen.

You can learn more about how the new feature works here.

Reply to comments

You can reply to a comment without having to enter the person’s handle or tagging the person. Instead, select the comment, then swipe left, and click the grey arrow. The person’s handle will then appear in the comment box.

Delete your comments

While replying to a comment, you might’ve also seen the trash icon. It allows you to delete a comment. Go to the photo, click the comment icon, and swipe left on the comment to see and tap the trash can.

Control comments

If you use Instagram’s keyword moderation tool, you and your followers will no longer be able to see comments (on your own posts) that contain language you’ve deemed (or Instagram has deemed) offensive or inappropriate.

To moderate comments on your Instagram posts, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Instagram mobile app.
  2. Tap the Hamburger menu (three lines icon) on your profile.
  3. Tap Privacy.
  4. From there you can limit who can leave comments on your posts.
  5. You can also limit unwanted interactions from this screen.

You can learn more about the feature from here.

Pinch to zoom

Make a pinching gesture with your pointer finger and thumb anywhere on a photo or video that you’d like to see in closer detail, and then open your fingers (un-pinch, basically) while gliding across your device’s touchscreen. That section of the media will simultaneously zoom-in as you open your fingers. It’s pretty easy to figure out.

You can learn more about the feature from here.

Remove a tagged photo

If want to remove a photo under your tagged folder (furthest right option just below your profile description), you can either hide the photo from your profile or remove the tagged photo altogether. Go to your Instagram profile, then tap the tagged folder, and select a photo you’d like to remove. From there, tap on your tag and select Remove Me from Photo. Simples. Or you can hide the photo from your profile, if you prefer.

Manage filters

If you ever want to hide some filters to make it easier for you to decide between a specific few rather than the whole lot, you can slide to the end of the filter tray, and then tap manage filters to hide or show certain ones.

Adjust cellular data settings

Instagram videos are designed to play automatically on your feed, which can be taxing on your data when not near a hotspot, but you can change your cellular data settings so videos load slower and thus less data is consumed. Just go to your profile, tap the Hamburger menu (three lines ) > Settings > Account > Data Usage. And then toggle on Use less cellular data or toggle on to Allow upload of higher quality photos on cellular, if you prefer.

Save originals

Instagram uploads photos to its network at 612 x 612 pixels in size. If you want to access a higher resolution version (like for uploading to your website), you can save the original photos to your device.

Just go to your profile, tap the Hamburger menu (three lines ) > Settings > Save Original Photos. From there, toggle on the option.

Embed your photos on the web

To get the embed code to share an Instagram photo on the web, you first have to find the post via Instagram on the web, then click the three dots icon in the bottom corner, and choose Embed. You can then copy the code.

Hide Instagram adverts

Instagram adverts are defined by the “Sponsored” label in the top corner, but you don’t have to scroll by annoying ones in your news feed. Click on the three-dot icon at the bottom of the advert to either hide it or provide feedback.

Post to your Story

It’s been a couple of years since Instagram launched this feature, and it has truly taken off, adding several tools and options over time so that you can get creative with your storytelling. We’ve assembled the top Stories tips and tricks we could find to help you master Instagram Stories. But here’s quick summary so that you can get started using Stories now:

To share a photo or video to your story, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the Your Story circle at the top left of the Home tab.
    1. Or tap the camera/upload button (+ icon) at the top of the Home tab.
    2. Then select Story.
  2. You can then start recording or uploading media.
  3. You will also see options to make a Boomberg or Layout or go Hands-Free.

Send a voice message

You can send voice messages using Instagram Direct. To see messages you’ve sent or received with Instagram Direct, tap the Message icon in the top right of feed or Home tav. From there, you can manage all your messages.

  1. Open a conversation.
  2. Tap and hold the mic and begin recording your message.
  3. Release your finger when you’re done recording. This will send your recording.
  4. To cancel your message, continue holding the mic and move your finger to the trash.

Video chat

Video chat in part of Instagram Direct, Instagram’s direct messaging tool. With Video chat, you can call one person or a group in real-time. It works with friends who are already on Instagram for iOS or Android and doesn’t require a phone number. Here’s how it works.

  1. Tap the message Message icon in the top right of Feed or Home tab.
  2. Tap a username or group name to open the conversation.
  3. You can also start a new conversation by tapping the + icon in the top right and selecting people.
  4. Tap the video icon in the top right. The person or group you call will receive a notification.

Archive your old photos

Remember when you first started using Instagram?

You probably loved to play around with several filters, maybe add a border, then sprinkle in a vignette effect, and top the whole thing off with a dozen hashtags before pushing out your photo for all to see. Now, five years later, you think that creation is anything but pretty. If you’re anything like us, you regret those old ‘grams. But it’s not like you want to permanently delete them. So, what are you going to do?

Well, Instagram has finally introduced a simple solution for us all: Archive. It essentially lets you hide old photos. However, archived posts will retain their likes and comments from your followers. And, if you change your mind, you can later make it show up in its original spot.

  1. To archive a post you’ve shared, tap the “…” icon at the top of the post and choose “Archive.”
  2. Tap the Archive icon in the top right corner of your profile to view all your archived photos.

Use Instagram.com

In the past couple of years, Instagram has beefed up its online counterpart at www.instagram.com. You can log in to your account, view your profile, adjust many settings also found in the Instagram mobile apps, view your notifications, discover people and other accounts that might be interesting to you, and search for things by names and hashtags.

Make your account private

By default, your Instagram account is public and you can choose to make your account private at any time.

  1. Go to your profile.
  2. Tap the Hamburger menu (three lines).
  3. Go to Settings.
  4. Tap Privacy.
  5. Tap next to Private Account to make your account private.

Want to know more?

Pocket-lint has an Instagram hub with all the latest news about the app.

Writing by Maggie Tillman.

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