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What is Instagram?

Andrew Stucken / 11 December 2013 ( 04 June 2018 )

Find out more about this popular photo sharing social network and learn how to use Instagram with this useful guide.

A photo of hot air balloons edited with Instagram

Instagram is a popular, free app that lets you share photos and video clips from your iPhone or Android smartphone. Owned by Facebook, Instagram offers a simple way to connect to people worldwide where updates are made using images or videos, not text.

With one tap of a button, you can share photos from your phone on the Instagram website, along with your linked social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Foursquare.

The name Instagram is a portmanteau word made up from “Instant” and “telegram”. Think of taking a polaroid snap, adding professional effects and then - by linking it to other networks - posting it on a noticeboard for your friends to see. All in a matter of moments. That’s Instagram.

How does Instagram work?

Like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is based around having friends or followers. When you post a photo or video on Instagram, it will appear on your profile and in the newsfeed of your followers. Likewise, you’ll see posts from the people that you follow in your own newsfeed.

Interacting with others is simple – you can tap someone’s photo to like it or add a comment at the bottom.

Click on someone’s profile to see their username, profile photo, how many photos they’ve uploaded, how many followers they have and how many people they’re following.

How do I create an Instagram account?

Download the free Instagram app onto your smartphone from the Apple Store or Google Play store. Then register for an account by creating a username and password. You can do this with your existing Facebook account or use your email. Once registered, you can add a profile photo and a short biography.

How do I use Instagram?

Instagram is used almost entirely as an app on smartphones. Once the app is installed, create an account and you can begin uploading photos.

When you launch Instagram it effectively becomes the camera app on your phone. If you want to take a picture using Instagram, you need to press the blue camera button in the centre of the navigation panel. 

Alternatively, you could work with a picture from your camera’s library by pressing the double-square button on the lower left of the screen.

A big part of Instagram’s appeal is toning photos with its selection of filters. You could intensify the colour of a snap of the grandchildren, or add instant retro with a sepia or black and white filter, or scratchy effects and a border. Each filter is a combination of settings that may adjust a photo’s brightness, contrast, saturation, warmth, sharpness and so on. For example, the Lark filter brightens your photo and intensifies all of its colours apart from red, while the Reyes filter adds a dusty, vintage look. You can also crop and straighten your photos with Instagram before sharing them.

You can upload photos “pure” as well (with the hashtag #nofilter, of course...).

Critics, especially some professional photographers, dislike it for the lack of effort and creativity required. 

But Facebook paid $1 billion for it, showing how highly it is valued.

9 tips to take better photos with your iPhone

Who can see my Instagram photos?

All Instagram photos are public by default, which means anyone can view them. However, you can make your account private so your posts are only visible to your followers.

Finding people to follow is easy. When you first set up your account, you can add friends from your Facebook network or your phone’s address book. You can also tap Search – the magnifying glass icon – to see recommended photos, videos and people or use the search bar to look for users or posts that you may be interested in.

Tap the Follow button next to someone’s name to follow themIf their account is set to private, they’ll need to approve your request first.

What is the difference between Instagram, Pinterest and Flickr?

Pinterest is a photo sharing social network where - unlike Instagram - you can share photos other than your own. Instagram is meanwhile exclusively smartphone-orientated.

Flickr is another photo sharing social network - built for uploading photos from your computer. The younger Instagram is reacting to the explosion in smartphone photography - more in tune with rapidly-evolving technology and how we use it.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.