Even if you don’t use Instagram yet, you’ve likely heard about how popular the photo-sharing app is and how much people enjoy sharing their photos and videos, connecting with others in their neighborhood or around the world, and following what their friends are doing (and posting) on a day-to-day basis. But if you’re looking to get in on the fun and don’t know where to start, we’re here to show you how to use Instagram and give you a shortcut to finding out everything you need to know to be an Instagram pro from the start.
More than a platform for users to post photos of expensive lattes — often complete with edits and filters applied with a heavy hand — Instagram is becoming an increasingly popular and powerful social network. The Facebook-owned photo sharing app is still significantly smaller than Facebook, the most ubiquitous social network in the world. But Instagram is growing much more quickly than Facebook, as new users like you join everyday to connect not only with their friends, but with a global community of users who share photos and videos from their everyday lives on the platform.
When you first download Instagram, it’s apparent that the app has a lot of features, and it’s not always obvious to a new user how to navigate Instagram or how to get started. So we’ve made you a beginner’s guide to Instagram, one that will point you in the right direction and show you everything you need to know, from how to set up your account and how to find people to follow to how to post a photo or a video or how to use Photo Maps, Instagram Direct, or even how to use Instagram on the web.
How to sign up for Instagram
To sign up for Instagram, you need to download the mobile app on an iOS or Android phone or tablet, or on Windows Phone 8 or above. (Download Instagram from the iOS App Store, from the Google Play Store, or from the Windows Phone Store.) While you can view Instagram online, you’ll need to create your account using the Instagram app.
Once you’ve downloaded the app, tap the Instagram icon to open it. Tap “Register with Email” to sign up with your email address, or choose “Register with Facebook” to sign up using your Facebook account. If you register with an email address, the app will prompt you to create a username and password and fill out your profile information. (Once you’ve finished that, tap “Done.”) If you choose to register with Facebook, the app will prompt you to sign in with your Facebook account if you’re currently logged out.
If you want to edit your profile information, like your name, username, or email address, you can go to your profile by tapping the person icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Tap “Edit Your Profile” and type your new name, username, website, or bio and tap “Done” on the iPhone, “Save” on Android, or the checkmark on Windows Phone.
How to navigate Instagram
Your profile shows your bio and the photos and videos you’ve posted to Instagram. From your profile, you can also edit your profile information and adjust your Account Settings. You can navigate to your profile by tapping the person icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, and make changes by tapping the “Edit Your Profile” button or access more information and choices by tapping the gear icon to access Options. You can write a bio of up to 150 characters on your profile, or add or change a profile photo to import from your phone’s library, Facebook, or Twitter. Also from your profile, you can access your Photo Map, which enables you to showcase where you’ve taken the photos you’ve shared.
The camera enables you to take photos with the Instagram camera or share photos from your phone’s photo library. You can access the camera by tapping the center icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, and from there can take a photo or video or choose a photo from your photo library.
You can use the Search & Explore function to find people to follow, search for specific users, and explore hashtags. Access Search & Explore by tapping the magnifying glass icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, and toggling between the “Photos” and “People” views to explore posts and users, or type in the “Search” box and choose between “Users” and “Hashtags.”
The Home tab shows the feed of photos posted by you and by the other Instagram users whom you follow. You can like and comment on the photos and videos in your Feed. Access your feed by tapping the Home button in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen.
The Activity tab displays likes and comments on your posts, and shows you the photos and videos that your friends are liking and commenting on. You can access the Activity tab by tapping the speech bubble icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, and toggling between the “Following” and “You” views.
How to find other Instagram users to follow
Instagram can help you find and follow your Facebook friends and phone contacts who are already on Instagram. To see Instagram’s suggestions on an Android phone, go to your profile and tap the button with three vertical dots in the top right. Tap “Find Friends” and then choose to find friends from Facebook, from Instagram suggested users, or from your phone’s contact list. Tap “follow” next to users whose posts you’d like to see in your feed.
In the iOS app, go to your profile and tap the gear in the top right. Tap “Find People to Follow” to choose to find friends from Facebook, from Instagram suggested users, or from your phone’s contact list. Tap “follow” next to users whose posts you’d like to see in your feed. In the Windows Phone app, go to your profile and tap the icon with three horizontal dots in the bottom right. Tap settings, then select “Find and Invite Friends.” From there, tap “Follow your friends” to find friends from Facebook or from your contact list. Tap “Suggested Users” to find others whose posts you might like, and tap “follow” next to users whose posts you’d like to see in your feed.
You can also find people whom you might like to follow through the Explore tab, which you can access by tapping the magnifying glass icon. Tap “Photos” to see photos and videos that people whom you follow have liked or that a large number of Instagram users have liked. Tap “People” to see accounts that you might like, based on whom you follow, whom you’re connected to, and what photos and videos you like on Instagram.
Another way to find other users is to search for people or hashtags on Instagram. Using the search bar at the top of Search & Explore, choose whether you’re looking for users or hashtags. You can search for people by their name or their Instagram username.
How to explore photos and videos on Instagram
You can use the Activity tab in a couple of different ways, one of which is to see the recent activity of people whom you follow. Tap the speech bubble icon to access Activity, and then tap “Following” to see activity from the people you follow. Tap “You” to see the most recent activity for you, including users who have followed you, @mentions for you, and likes and comments for your photos and videos. (Instagram notes that the “Following” tab won’t work for users who follow more than 1,000 people.)
Search & Explore shows photos, videos, and users whom you might like. Instagram selects posts and people to show you in Search & Explore by which ones have been liked by the people whom you follow, or which have been liked by large numbers of other Instagram users. You’ll receive a notification if one of your posts appears in Search & Explore. Only photos and videos that are shared publicly will appear in Search & Explore, and posts that were shared privately or shared through Instagram Direct will not appear in Search & Explore.
You can like a photo or a video by double tapping it or tapping on the heart icon below the post. You can also comment on photos and videos, and in the iOS version of Instagram’s app, you can press and a hold a username to reply to someone else’s comment. On iOS you can also use emojis in your comments, but emoji aren’t available on Android, and with the exception of the heart and airplane icons, won’t be visible when other people use them.
How to take or post a photo with Instagram
When you share posts on Instagram, you have two options: taking a photo with Instagram’s camera, or uploading one from your phone’s photo library. You can tap the camera icon at the bottom of the screen to take a photo, or to select one from your phone. From the camera, you can switch the photo grid on and off, switch between the front-facing and back-facing camera, or choose whether or not to use the flash. You can tap the shutter button to take a photo, or hit the video icon to record video.
Once you’ve chosen a photo, you can add effects from the editing tools at the top of the screen or select a filter from the choices at the bottom of the screen. Then you can write a caption for the photo, tag people in the photo, add it to your Photo Map, or share it to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Flickr. When you write the caption to your photo, you can use #hashtags and @mentions. Mentions let you bring a post to the attention of another user — who will get a notification when you mention him or her in a post — and hashtags will help other Instagram users to find your posts, or help you to tag or categorize your posts for yourself.
To tag people in a photo, tap “Tag People” and tap on someone in the photo. Start entering their name or username, and select the correct users from the dropdown menu that appears. If the person that you want to tag doesn’t appear in that menu, tap “Search for a person” to find him or her. If your photos are public, then anyone can see the photo, and the person tagged in the photo will get a notification. If your photos are private, then only people who are following you will be able to see the photo. The person whom you tag in the photo will get a notification if they’re following you. (You can see and manage the photos that other people tag you in from your profile.)
When you post your photo, it will appear both on your profile and in your feed. If you’ve set your profile to private, only the people whom you’ve approved to follow you will be able to see it.
How to record or post a video with Instagram
To take a video with Instagram, tap the camera icon and tap the video icon to switch from photo mode to video mode. Press and hold the video icon to start recording, and lift your finger off the button to stop recording. Tap “Next” to add a filter and then share your video, exactly as you would with a photo that you’ve taken with Instagram or selected from your phone’s photo library. (But it’s worth noting that video recording is currently only available in the iOS and Android versions of Instagram, and isn’t yet an option for Windows Phone users.)
To share a video that you’ve previously recorded with your phone, tap the camera icon and then tap the video icon to switch from photo mode to video mode. Tap the box in the bottom right to view your phone’s video album. Choose the video that you want to upload, and if you’re on an iPhone, press “Next.” Then, choose which 15 seconds of the video you want to share by placing your finger on the strip at the bottom, and sliding to select where the clip begins playing. Then, drag the blue slider above the video strip to choose where the clip ends. Tap “Add” on the iPhone or the arrow on Android.
From there, you can select a filter at the bottom of the screen, and then tap “Next” to continue to the share screen. While you can’t tag people in a video, you can mention them with the @symbol in the caption. (To mention someone, type @ followed by their username.) When you mention someone, he or she will receive a notification. As with the photos you share, your video will appear on your profile and in your feed. If your visibility is set to private, only users whom you’ve approved to follow you will be able to see the videos you share.
How to use Photo Maps
From your profile, you can access your Photo Map. With an Instagram Photo Map, you can showcase where you’ve taken the photos you’ve shared. With Photo Maps, you can also explore where others have taken photos on a map. When you navigate to your Photo Map for the first time, you’ll be prompted to review any photos that you’ve previously uploaded with geolocation turned on. During the review process, you’ll see photos grouped together by location and can deselect any that you don’t want to appear on your Photo Map. Tap “Done” to create your map.
After you’ve set up your map, you can add more photos to your Photo Map. When you upload a photo, you can turn on the “Add to your Photo Map” setting. When that setting is turned on, Instagram will attach an approximate latitude and longitude to the photo. The photo will then appear on your Photo Map at that location.
After turning on the option to add a photo to your Photo Map, you can add a specific location by tapping the option to “Name This Location.” You’ll be able to choose from a list of nearby locations so that when others see your photo, they’ll be able to see exactly where you took it. If you don’t see your specific location in the list, you can create a custom name for the location and link it to the latitude and longitude of the photo. The custom locations that you add aren’t available for others to use, and instead are just saved for your use. If you added a location to a photo when you posted it, that location will be visible with the photo when you or someone else views it on the web. You can view your Photo Map or someone else’s by tapping the location icon from the profile.
How to use Instagram Direct
Instagram Direct is a feature that enables you to send a photo or a video to a select group of people, so that they won’t appear on your profile, in your feed, or within search results. You can send a photo or a video with Instagram Direct either from the regular share page that you use to upload a photo or video, or by tapping the inbox icon from the home tab.
To send someone a photo or video with Instagram Direct, take a new photo or video or upload one from your phone’s media library. You can choose to add effects, filters, or a caption. From the share page, tap “Direct,” and then tap the names of the people with whom you want to share the post (you can select up to 15). When you tap “Send,” the people whom you’ve sent the post to will receive a notification.
To view the messages that you’ve received through Instagram Direct, tap the icon in the right side of the home feed. You can manage the posts that you’ve sent and received from there. Posts that are sent through Instagram Direct can’t be shared to other sites like Facebook or Twitter. It’s also not possible to tag people or to use hashtags in these posts. Everyone whom you’ve sent a photo or a video to through Instagram Direct can see its likes and comments, even if they don’t follow each other.
How to use Instagram on the web
Once you’ve set up your account through the mobile app, you can access it online. All major web browsers work with Instagram, though Instagram recommends using the most up-to-date versions of Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Opera.
You can access your account online by going to Instagram.com and logging in with your new username and password. Or, you can go to Instagram.com/(your username) to view your profile online. You’ll be able to see photos posted by you and the people you follow in your Feed, which you can access by clicking the home button in the top-left corner of the page. Double-click a post to like it.
To edit your profile using Instagram on the web, click your username in the top right corner and select “Edit Profile” to change your public bio, including your name, username, biography, and website. (You’ll need to open the Instagram app on your phone to change your profile photo.) Some profile information isn’t visible to anyone except you, including your email address, phone number, and sex.
If your posts are set to public, anyone will be able to see your posts by visiting Instagram.com/(your username) on the web. Anyone can interact with public posts by liking or commenting on them. If your posts are set to private, your posts will only be visible to people who are logged in to Instagram and whom you’ve approved to follow you. Only those followers will be able to like or comment on private photos or videos. Profiles are indexed on the web, but search engines are not allowed to index your photos.