Seven simple ways to master your Instagram account

This is the story of a cat with lasers for eyes. Courtesy of Instagram
This is the story of a cat with lasers for eyes. Courtesy of Instagram

Instagram, at first glance, seems like a pretty simple social network: snap, post, repeat. But while the service started as a way to share artful pictures from your smartphone, it's evolved into a far more complex network for sharing photos and videos with friends — or an adoring public. Just within the past few weeks the company has released a bunch of new updates. To help you keep up with those changes here are some tips to help you master your own Instagram account.

Mastering your sharing options

It pays to learn the many — and multiplying — modes of Instagram.

By default, your account is public, meaning that anyone who knows your username can follow you and see your pictures. If you don't want everyone to see what you've posted, you have a couple of options. For one, you can make your account private, so only followers whom you approve see your pictures. That option is in the settings menu; just turn on "Private Account."

If you want to be even more selective, use Instagram Direct. It lets you share a photo with a smaller group of your followers (up to 15), and you can also set new Direct photos or videos to disappear (a la Snapchat, if you don't want them lingering forever.)

There is also another mode called Instagram Stories, which only last for a day and are shared with all your followers. These let you string together several shots, edit them with text and pictures, and construct a narrative about your day.

Finally, Instagram also this week added a new feature for all users called Live. It, as you may have guessed, lets you share live videos that can be up to an hour long. To access Live, swipe right from your feed to call up the camera, and then hit "start live video." Your followers will get a notification that you are rolling. The videos are deleted as soon as they're over.

Screengrab composite by Hayley Tsukayama
Screengrab composite by Hayley Tsukayama

Choosing when to share your location

Sometimes it's good to share where you are when you're taking a particular shot, say, when you want to show the world you're at an amazing waterfall in Morocco. Adding a location is easy — just choose one of the suggested locations listed on the screen where you're composing a post. Or, if those locations aren't right for some reason, tap "Add location" and type in your own. If you want to add, change or remove a location after something's been posted, hit the three-dot menu on a particular post and you should be able to do so.

But if you don't want to post your location, you can turn location sharing off all of the time through your phone's privacy settings, under location services.

You can also choose specifically to hide your Stories from particular users, or limit your audience to just the people you follow who also follow you back. That option is in its own "Story Settings" menu in the settings.

Screengrab composite by Hayley Tsukayama
Screengrab composite by Hayley Tsukayama

Managing multiple accounts

Some users may have a pressing need to keep some of their photos separate from others. If you have a professional account or alternate persona on Instagram, it's good to know that you can manage more than one Instagram account from the same app. That way, if you have a themed Instagram account — maybe you take pictures of cool buttons or something? — but also want to share adorable pictures of your dog with friends, you don't have to mix those accounts.

To add an account, head into the settings and scroll down until you see "Add Account." Then add your second account by signing in with your username and password, and you'll be able to flip fairly seamlessly between the two. You'll get push notifications from both accounts, if you've enabled notifications on both.

Customize your experience

Obsessed with a particular account and want to get a notification every time there's a new post? If you hit the three-dot menu when you're looking at that account, you should get a pop-up menu that includes an option to get a notification each time they post.

There are also some good customization options for your own account, as well. If you have filters you never use and hate scrolling through them as you're looking for a filter, you can hit the "manage" button located at the end of the filter options to disable the ones you don't use. You can always get them back if you change your mind.

And if you ever want to refer back to a photo that you liked but don't want to scroll endlessly through your feed to find it again, head into your settings and hit the "Posts I've liked" option. There should be a record there of every photo that ever earned a heart from you.

Managing other people

While you can't control other people's behavior, you can control whether you want to deal with it. Instagram has released a few features to block comments with words or phrases you don't want to see.

To do this, head into your settings menu and find the "Comments" menu. Turn on the option to "Hide Inappropriate Comments," which will filter out comments using commonly offensive words. Below that option, you should see a text box that lets you type in custom keywords, in case there's a particular word or phrase you want banned.

In the coming weeks, Instagram will also let you completely turn off comments on certain posts, so if you're really not interested in hearing from people you won't have to give them a soapbox on which to stand.

You can also block users, of course, if someone in particular is giving you a hard time. Just head to their profile, tap the three-dot menu and hit "Block User." You can use the same steps to unblock someone if you need to in the future.

Saving space (or making copies)

If you're really an of-the-moment Instagram user, then you may not want the app to save copies of all the photos you post and take up storage space on your phone. You can head into your settings and flip off the option that asks you to save photos to the camera automatically. Now you can take photos to your heart's content.

On the flip side, iPhone users who want to toy around with a photo by applying multiple filters to a single photo, for example, can turn on the camera roll feature, flip their phones into airplane mode and go through a faux posting. Without an internet connection, the post-filter picture will be saved to your phone for future use.

This is also a good tip if you want to use an Instagram filter on a picture but don't actually want to post it.

Android users: if you are automatically saving your photos to your phone, they should save to a folder in your gallery before you post, so you can skip the airplane mode shuffle.

Instagram will also let you save drafts of potential posts, so you don't have to worry about things being perfect on the first try. Just hit the back button, and you should get a prompt asking if you want to save your creation as a draft.

Taking better pictures

All right. So this goes a little beyond account management and into the content part of Instagram. But it still deals with the features of the app, which are surprisingly extensive when it comes to helping you post better pictures.

For one, consider shooting through your camera app instead of Instagram, so you can use the grid option on your phone's camera to line up shots and play around with composition. The three-by-three grid makes it very easy to apply the classic "rule of thirds" photography tip, which suggests lining up major features in a photo roughly a third of the way in from an edge.

Second, don't be afraid to use Instagram's built-in editing features. It's easy to ignore these tools, particularly if you take the "Insta" part of Instagram seriously, but it's worth a couple of seconds to adjust your shots. You can mess with the contrast, saturation and sharpness of an image without having to download a third-party app. Use the sun icon to adjust the light in the image to suit your needs. For other features, tap the wrench icon, and play around a bit.

And, a tip picked up from a Buzzfeed article of tips by photographer Brian Mangin: if you can't quite get the lighting or the color quite right in a shot, try it in black and white.

Author: Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post. @htsuka