When Instagram was launched in October 2010, it was an app for applying stylish “filters” to your photos and sharing them with friends. Six and a half years on, it has 700m active users and a host of advanced features.
It’s still simple to share a photo – or a video now – with a few taps. However, if you talk to some of the people who have tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers on the service, you’ll realise there’s a lot to learn about mastering it.
Editing: The most basic level of sharing on Instagram is to choose one of its filters: Clarendon, Hudson, Lo-Fi and so on. However, for photos you should also try the manual editing option, accessed by tapping the edit button at the bottom of the screen. You can tweak the brightness, contrast, warmth and other aspects of your photo, as well as sharpening it; apply a “tilt-shift” effect to blur out certain sections; play with an option called structure that can look striking. That said, think about how the results fit in with your overall feed.
Hashtag: Lots of people know how to use a hashtag to tag their picture, whether it’s #sunset, #cats_of_instagram or #tbt (Throwback Thursday for vintage pics). But most of us don’t really think hard about how we use them.
“If you are not using hashtags, that means only your followers will see your photo. Hashtags help to get exposure to the audience you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise,” says Shamis.
If you want your post to reach a wider audience, use five to 10 relevant hashtags, avoiding the most common or anything too niche. “Be specific, but not too specific,” says Puleston. “#Cake? Too generic. #BakingLife? Great choice. #CakeWithIcing? No one’s searching for that.”
Stories: If you use Instagram, you’ll have noticed the row of bubble-shaped friends’ profile photos at the top of your feed, including one for “your story”. This feature, copied from Snapchat, is about posting regular photos and videos that can be more raw and unedited, safe in the knowledge that they’ll only be seen for 24 hours. It’s a more throwaway use for Instagram, although that’s not to say there can’t be some strategy to how you use it.
Stories are meant to be more raw, so the key is not to get too hung up on their quality, in contrast to the agonising that can go into a regular Instagram post.
Stickers: One useful feature in stories is the ability to augment your snaps with digital stickers, reached with the sticker icon at the top of the screen, once you’ve taken a photo. From hats and specs to slogans and emojis, they’re a fun way to jazz up your images.
There’s also a way you can turn your own face into a sticker: simply open the stickers menu and tap the circle with a camera to create a mini-selfie for pasting into your shot. You can also add a banner with your current location, date and/or temperature. These features aren’t available for regular shots posted to Instagram, just for stories, reinforcing the more casual nature of this kind of sharing.
Live: Instagram’s stories feature isn’t just for uploading photos and videos: it can also be used to broadcast live video to your friends and followers. Launching a broadcast is as simple as tapping the button to create a new story, then swiping right to the live option and tapping the start live video button.
Some friends will get a notification to say you’re broadcasting and you can decide whether comments should be on or off while you’re live. One important point: your broadcast won’t be viewable once you finish, although you can save it to your phone for posterity.
Some go even further: Meghan and Dom Loneragan, who run the Citizens of the World travel profile, say they use drones to shoot some Instagram posts, as well as DSLR cameras.
Like every social network, Instagram has its share of trolls. Mastering the app doesn’t just mean being good at creating photos and videos: it also means getting on top of its privacy and moderation features.
At its most basic, you can choose whether to make your account private or public: if it’s private, anyone wanting to follow you will need your approval. Tapping the gear (settings) icon on your profile offers some more options, though. Under comments, you can choose to hide comments that include “words or phrases often reported as offensive”, as well as adding your own keywords to screen out.
You can even turn off comments altogether on individual posts, via the advanced settings option that appears on the final screen before you post. Also, you can (and should) turn on two-factor authentication from the settings menu, to add an extra layer of security against hackers.
Finally, a new feature enables you to archive individual posts: tap on the three-dots icon at the top right to hide them from other Instagram users, although they won’t be deleted from your account.
In February 2016, Instagram added a feature to make it easier to switch between two different accounts in its app, without having to sign in and out every time.
That has in turn spawned a growing trend for people to keep two Instagram accounts on the go: one that can be viewed by everyone and the other that’s purely for close friends.
A recent New York Post article defined this as “Finstagram” (private) and “Rinstagram” (public). The theory is that the former can be a less pressured way to share photos, avoiding the need to care whether the editing is top notch or about how many likes and comments they get.
For popular Instagrammers, that means they can let off steam, but for the rest of us, a Finstagram might be a good way to practise the tips from this article, before posting the best shots that result on our Rinstagrams.