Instagram 101: The Basics & a Little Beyond


The camera and filters for Instagram have become iconic.

So, I’ve been using the free photography social network app Instagram sporadically for some time now, but only recently have I fallen in love with just how great Instagram can be. Many of you may be familiar with the app for its square-photo trend setting ways, but today we’re going to take a look at just how much it does and how to get the most out of it.

There are 5 tabs that run across the bottom of the Instagram screen when you load it. The middle, and most important tab to many, is the Camera tab. Let’s start there. You can refer to the picture above to follow along.

When click the camera tab, the camera opens immediately and let’s you snap a shot. But, what do all of those other buttons do once it’s open?

Across the top there are 5 buttons.

  • The first lets you add a frame to your photo. It’s just a simple white frame, but pretty classic.
  • The next is the flash. You can choose no flash (which is the default), flash all the time, or automatic (so it senses when you need a flash).
  • The next button should be pretty familiar. It just turns the camera around to the front-facing camera and lets you take a photo of yourself.
  • The next button is pretty cool. It’s the tilt-shift button, a more recent addition to the camera. There are two choices here: linial (double-lines) or radial (circle). You choose and then use a pinch gesture to make the area the size you want and move it to where you want. If you have absolutely no idea what tilt-shift photography is or why it is used click here for an interesting article. For more on using tilt shift with Instagram, click here.
  • The last button just closes the camera.

On the bottom of this screen is the button to take your picture (middle), the button to pull in an existing picture from your library (far left), and the button to add a filter before you shoot, if you choose (far right). Once you take a photo or pull one in, the button on the far left changes to a sun and if you press it, it adds some contrast to the photo.


If you pull in a photo that isn’t the exact square that Instagram uses, you will be given the square to arrange your photo in and then it gets cropped. You can even rotate the photo and blow it up a little until you are happy with it.

Filters can be added after you take a photo or pull it in from your library, too. There are 17 filters currently, but they are often updated to keep them fresh and give people something new to work with.

Once happy with your photo, you just click the green checkmark to accept it (or, the red x, if you are not, and you can start over).

That takes you to the Share Photo screen (above at left) which gives you many options. You can write a cutline for the photo and add any tags here (more on that in a bit), add it to your photo map (more on that in a bit), and pick other social networks to share it on, including Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, or you can email it.

Click the Share button, and you are done.

Now, let’s take a look at the other tabs in Instagram.


The first tab on the far left is the Home tab. This is where you go to look at photos taken by your followers.

On Instagram, you can follow anyone and anyone can follow you (unless you set your photos to private). There is no approving someone’s request or requesting their friendship. Anyone on Instagram can see your photos (unless you set them to private) and read your profile. You can also like or comment on anyone’s photos and vice versa.

I have found the best way to find great people to follow is through the explore button (which is next). When I see a photo by someone I like, I click on their name and check out their photo gallery. If I like what I see, I follow them.

The home button is pretty simple. Just pictures by your followers from most current on backward. Their name and the time the photo was loaded is above the photo. The cutline, comments, and like and comment buttons are below it.

There is also a button below photos with 3 dots. It lets you Tweet a photo you like or flag a photo as inappropriate.

The refresh button (in almost every tab) is at the very top of the screen to the right.


The next tab is the Explore tab. This is where you go to find other users and search for subjects that interest you by hashtags (and, where I spend most of my time). There is also a selection of featured photos for you to check out.

Users are identified by both their real name, if they give it, and a user name. So, if you wanted to leave a comment and be sure that I saw it, you would put @cassiopia26 before it. In most places, like comment sections, you will be identified by your user name.


To search, just click in the search area and start typing. By default, it starts searching for users first, but you can change to hashtags just by clicking the button.

If you have no idea what hashtags are or how they are used (like on Twitter), click here for an interesting article that explains that and a little about good hashtags for Instagram.

A bit on hashtags though. Hashtags really create a community. They allow you to find not only subjects that interest you, but also the photos on those subjects taken by people who are also interested in them. On Twitter they create conversations on topics. On Instagram they create a haven for people who enjoy certain subjects in photography.

For instance, you may know that I love apps. Well, I’m very interested in iPhone photography by default and so often search many of the tags in the picture right above.

Hashtags are also used to get your photos seen by users around the world. When you put a hashtag like #cat on your photo, anyone in the world who looks for cat right then or soon after that will see your photos in the line-up of photos.


Hashtags, or tags for short, may seem a little complicated, but you’ll have them down in no time.

All you have to do once you find a tag on a topic you want to look at is click on it.

That takes you to the screen at left. At the top, you have the option to look at the photos as many small photos or as larger photos that you scroll through one at a time. It’s up to you. The top of the screen also tells you how many photos are in that tag currently.

To find the most popular tags Instagram, click here. It is a quick way to know some good things to look for and some good things to tag your photo with. Just promise me you won’t put #summer on a photo of a baby or puppy, because I see hashtag abuse run rampant on Instagram. People, in an attempt to get their photos seen by more people, put 30 tags on each photo and tags that are totally inappropriate for that photo, as well.

Well, that’s enough about tagging.


The first tab to the right of the camera tab is the Following/News tab. It’s like the Notifications tab on Facebook, but more fun.

This is the tab you go to to find out how many people have liked your photos and which ones, find out if you have any new followers, and find out what people you follow are liking.

By default, the News tab is selected and it tells you the first of those 2 things. To see what people you follow are liking, just switch to the Following button on the top.

If you are on Instagram, a little orange bubble will pop up that tells you when someone likes or comments on a photo or when you have a new follower.


The last tab is the Profile tab. This is where you can see all the photos you’ve taken and shared, your stats on photos, followers, and how many people you’re following, your profile blurb, Photo Map, settings, and the edit your profile section. Your user name is at the very top.

A profile blurb is limited to 150 characters, so make them count. You can also add your website or blog, if you have one, to the bottom of your blurb.

You can look at your pictures as small ones or big ones, the same way as you did under the Explore tab. And, you can see where you took the photos you’ve taken that were geo-tagged on a Photo Map.

Under edit your profile, you fill out information on your public profile (as much as you want), including your blurb, and optionally, your private profile, but that is NOT required. Then, click submit.

At the top of your profile page next to your user name, you can click on the little gear to be taken to your settings.


The settings options allow you to find friends on Instagram and invite those who are not to join Instagram. This is also where you can go to look at photos that you have liked by other people (seems like an odd place for this to me, but …). And, this is where you log out.

Under the share settings, you will find the log-ins to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, and Flickr. Signing in to these services doesn’t mean that every photo will automatically be shared on those services. It just means that you will have the option to choose them when you share a photo. You have to click the service on the Share screen when sharing a photo to actually send the picture there.

The push notification settings let you turn push notifications on and off for when people like your photos, comment on them, and follow you. You can choose to turn them on for everyone or just from people you follow, too.

You can clear your search history so that Instagram doesn’t make any suggestions whey you start to type something in (although, I absolutely love that they do).

And, this is where you can set your photos to be private by clicking that button. This also makes it so that people who want to follow you must be approved by you.

At the bottom of the settings, you choose what you want saved to your iPhone’s library when you shoot a photo with Instagram, the filtered or original photo or both

What I really like about Instagram, although there is very little not to like, is the details. This app runs smoother than probably any other I use. It does what you want, when you want it to with very few intrusions. You know the frustration of clicking on something on Facebook and then clicking back only to be taken to the top of the News feed again? Well, when you click on something or someone on Instagram and then go back, you are right exactly where you were before you clicked on it. It’s the little details like that that make Instagram my new app away from home.

And, of course, feel free to follow me on Instagram by searching for cassiopia26.

Phew! I’m exhausted. That was quite the primer. I didn’t know how much Instagram really did until I wrote it all out. Well, that’s it for me today. I leave you with an infographic that I’ve run previously on Instagram Junkies. I’m sure that number at the top is old by now. Until later, …

One thought on “Instagram 101: The Basics & a Little Beyond

  1. Is it normal for my popular list and Following list to be so short. I don’t have a lot of followers but it takes 2 seconds to go through the following tab and isn’t continuous like the similar tab on Twitter and was wondering if that was normal.

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