What is Instagram? How to get the best from the photo-sharing app

Do you like discovering and sharing photos? Then check out Instagram, a social network that's all about images.

Facebook-owned Instagram is an app based around photo sharing, and it's massively popular. Just how popular? It now has over 800 million users.

Like Facebook, you follow people in order to see their photographs in your feed.They can follow you to see your photos.

[Read more: How to make your Instagram account private]

You can search for photos of subjects you like - for instance 'happy cats' or 'Eiffel Tower'. By adding hashtags eg: #happycats or #eiffeltower to your photos, people can discover them and may choose to follow you. You can also follow celebrities, brands and sports clubs.

Instagram works best as an app you use on a mobile device. It’s available for free on the App Store for iOS, Google Play for Android and the Windows Phone Store. You’ll need to sign up to begin or you can log in with Facebook.

If you’re finding your feet with Instagram or are curious about how it works, here are some tips to help you get started.

Taking a photo using Instagram

You can take a photo from within the app or use an image already stored on your phone or tablet.

To get started, tap the '+' icon along the bottom, where you will be given three choices:

  • Gallery to select an existing photo or video already on your device
  • Photo to take a photo using the camera on your device
  • Video to shoot a video using the camera on your device

Select Photo and you will see a circular arrow icon to the left of the screen which lets you switch to the front camera for selfies.

To the right, a lightning bolt icon lets you switch the flash on.


When you’re ready to take the photo or video, tap the large circle.

[Read more: 14 tips for amazing Instagram photographs]

Editing a photo using Instagram

Instagram has a range of editing features to improve your photographs or add some special effects.

Step 1: Adding a filter

The best-known feature of Instagram is its filters, which you will see listed beneath your photo, or by tapping Filters.

Instagram filters

Scroll through the previews along the bottom to see the different effects. 

Tap the filter again and use the slider to change the intensity.

When you’re happy, tap Done. If you’ve changed your mind, tap Cancel and the filter will be removed.

Step 2: Adjusting the exposure

The icon at the top that looks like a sun is called Lux. It lets you lets you brighten photos that are underexposed.

Instagram Lux

Adjust the intensity of Lux by using the slider.

Tap Done or Cancel to accept or reject the changes.


Step 3: Editing tools for your photos

Instagram’s editing tools are a little more hands-on than filters and allow you to tweak features such as brightness. The full list can be seen by tapping Edit.

Instagram Editing tools

There are 13 in total. Adjust lets you change the angle of your image if you want to straighten a photo or rotate it for a funky slant. Color lets you add a tint to your images. Tilt Shift is a tool for adding blur.

It’s worth having a play to see what works.

Uploading photos to Instagram

Once your photo or video is ready, you are ready to upload it to Instagram. Before publishing, you can write a caption, add tags and add a location – although for privacy reasons you may not want to use this feature.


Like any social network, there are always dangers to be aware of when sharing your location. Check out our feature on Instagram safety.

Any friends or family you have as a follower on Instagram will see your photograph in their feed, and by default anyone who goes onto your profile will be able to see it too.

You can choose to share your Instagram pictures with other social networks such as Facebook. To do this you’ll have to provide your login details for those social networks

Instagram Video

Shoot video by tapping Video.

Press and hold the central button to take the video.

Videos can only be 3 to 15 seconds long, so if you’re using an existing video on your phone or tablet expect to do a bit of editing.

Unfortunately videos get a limited number of editing tools compared to photos. You can add filters, but can’t adjust the lighting. There's no Lux feature either.

[Read more: Instagram video – explained]

Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories

Instagram recently introduced Instagram Stories, which lets you share photos and videos as a slideshow. Like Snapchat Stories, these disappear after 24 hours and don’t appear on your profile.

You might have noticed circles containing Stories from people you follow at the top of your Instagram feed. Just tap them to view.

To make a Story tap the 'Your Story +’ icon at the top right. Swipe down to add a photo or video from the last 24 hours, or tap the photo button to take a photo or video. You can also write and draw on the picture.

Focus mode

Instagram recently unveiled Focus mode. This recreates the 'bokeh' effect for portrait photos, in which the background is blurred and the subject is brought into sharper focus. (Certain smartphones have this feature by default, but if yours doesn't, then Instagram's version is a nice alternative.)



To use it, click the camera icon when you open the Instagram app. The Focus feature is along the bottom, between the Boomerang and Superzoom options. Tap it and start snapping.

[Read more: How to delete and deactivate your Instagram account]

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