The Beginner’s Guide to Instagram

Instagram’s calling card is the photo filter, a digital layer that, when added to a standard photo, gives it the appearance of professional editing. Some filters enhance the colors in a photo, while other dull the light to a soft glow for an aged, vintage appearance. But while Instagram’s filters revolutionized mobile photo editing, they’re only a portion of the appeal.

The mobile app boasts over 50 million users. Facebook acquired Instagram in April for $1 billion. Although we’ve only just begun to witness Facebook’s plans for the photo sharing app, the social giant recently launched its own filter-friendly photo app, dubbed Facebook Camera. Here are the Instagram basics, whether you’re new to the network or need some additional tips.

 1.       Register / Setup

Instagram has always been an almost exclusively mobile platform. Therefore, you must download the iPhone or Android app to your device in order to register an Instagram account. Once registered, change your profile picture and edit your profile information, which includes a brief 150-character bio and a website. You may also edit profile information here.

2.       Notifications

Since Instagram doesn’t have a web-hosted feed of photos, you’ll be doing most of your browsing on mobile. For that reason, you may choose to enrich your mobile experience by setting up push notifications. If you choose not to enable external notifications, Instagram will still keep you apprised of your account activity in-app. New user and comment notifications appear in the News section of the app (see above-left), which you can access via the navigation panel — the icon looks like a speech bubble with a heart in it.

3.       Connect to Social

Again, because Instagram is a relatively isolated social app that lives inherently on mobile, it’s important to connect social accounts to get the most out of the experience. You may choose to link Instagram to your Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr and Flickr.

Each time you upload a photo to Instagram, you’ll have the option to share to each of the social networks you’ve enabled, or to none. If you choose to share to no social networks, the photo will post only to Instagram, viewable only by those users who follow you on the app.

4.       Add a Photo

Click the blue camera button in the center of your Instagram navigation panel. By default, Instagram activates your device’s camera, so you may either choose to snap a picture then and there, or choose a picture already saved to your phone. If you choose the latter, click the double-square button on the lower-left of the screen.

If you choose a photo from your camera roll, keep in mind that Instagram sizes photos to perfect squares. Therefore, if you select a photo that was originally taken horizontally (landscape), you’ll have to crop some portions of the image — either that, or live with the default black border.

5.       Filters / Borders

Once you’ve either taken or selected a photo, a set of tree icons appears beneath the image. These are the 17 famous Instagram filters which add different pre-determined layers to your photos, and give the effect that you’ve altered or professionally edited them. Many filters add “vintage” effects, which have certainly pleased many a hipster. Scroll through the filters and experiment with the best one for that particular image. You’ll soon find that certain filters work well with specific types of photos, whether outdoor panoramas, personal portraits, odd perspectives, intense colors, etc. Each filter also has its own associated border. For instance, the Earlybird filter adds rounded edges to your photo, and Kelvin adds a rough, sandpapery frame. You may, however, choose to forego borders altogether by tapping the square “frame” on the upper-left of the edit screen.

6.       Tilt-Shift

Another celebrated editing option on Instagram, tilt-shift allows you to selectively focus certain planes of the photo, almost as if you were using a special DSLR lens. Tilt-shift gives the appearance of an altered depth of field, which can make smartphone snaps look stunning when used wisely. You’ll find that tilt-shift elevates many photos to a professional (and sometimes artistic) standard. But other times, tilt-shift can seem out of place. Use your best judgment and artistic know-how to determine the effect you’re looking for.

7.       Other Options

Before saving your photo, test a few other edit options. Tap the sun icon on the lower-left of the edit screen to apply the Lux effect — essentially, an auto-enhance button that enriches the colors in your image. Additionally, the curved arrow to the right of the frame option rotates your image, and the next camera icon flips your camera front-facing so you can take a picture of yourself.

8.        Share

Once your photo is ready to go, click the green checkmark. This brings you to the social sharing screen. If you wish, add a caption explaining what you’ve photographed, an anecdote, or really anything your social networks would enjoy. Feel free to add category hashtags and @mention people, especially if you plan to share via Twitter. The caption will be the text of the tweet, and the app will file hashtags and @mentions accordingly. If you’ve enabled location services, you even have the option to tag where you took the photo. Then, depending on what networks you’ve linked to Instagram, toggle the accounts to share across those platforms.

9.        Follow Users

Now you’re ready to find users to follow. Chances are many of your social media friends are already using Instagram, and on top of that, a bunch of celebrities are, too. Head to your profile tab and select “Find Friends.” You may search for friends who have connected their Facebook and Twitter accounts to Instagram, or you may input your phone’s contact list to generate further connections. Or search by name, username or tag (e.g. “#skydiving”). Finally, Instagram does a great job curating suggested users and trending photos. Head to the Popular page (see right), denoted by the star on your navigation panel, and peruse photos that strike your fancy.

10.        Getting Around the Web Barrier

As you’ve probably surmised by now, Instagram’s web presence is quite prohibitive. It relies on social integration for navigation, sharing and discovery, however clunky the process may be.

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