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Instagram Stories: Tips for using Instagram's photo story feature

Instagram's Snapchat-like feature lets you create photo sequences that expire after a day.

Alina Bradford/CNET

One of Instagram's most useful features is called Stories. That's not just my opinion: Over 250 million people use Instagram Stories every day, the company revealed earlier this year.

Why? Instead of the usual posting of carefully chosen single photos, Stories lets you post a bunch of photos that play like a slideshow. And at the end of the day, those photos disappear.

Sound familiar? That's because it's very, very much like Snapchat's My Story feature. Facebook, which owns Instagram, now also has a similar Stories feature.

But here's everything you need to know about Instagram Stories.

Now Playing: Watch this: Getting started with Instagram Stories
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Making your Stories is a lot like Snapchat

Stories are temporary videos or photos that are strung together to form a slideshow gallery that, well, tells a story.

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You can save your photo, send it to friends or add it to your Story.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

Here's how to create a Story:

  1. Tap the plus button on the top-left side of your home screen or swipe left in your Feed. You can also quickly launch Stories by swiping right from the main screen.
  2. Tap the circle button at the bottom of the screen to take photos or tap and hold to record a video. You can also choose to start a live event or a Boomerang or put the app in hands-free mode. More on those options in a minute. To add photos or videos from your gallery, swipe up on the screen or tap the photo icon in the lower-left side of the screen. The app will automatically add a date sticker to your gallery photos, but you can remove it. I'll show you how below.
  3. Edit the photos or videos with text or add a drawing as you normally would. If you hit the pen icon, there are three types of pens. The third one makes your sketch look like a neon sign.
  4. Tap Done to save your Story.
  5. Tap the Add Your Story button to share to your Story. You can also tap on the Save icon to save your image or video on your phone. If you click the Arrow icon, you can shoot your image to one of your friends as well as your Story. Just tick the bubble by Your Story and the person you want to share with. The image will disappear as soon as your friend sees it.
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Choose who you want to send your image to.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

Want to add more than one photo or video to your story so that it plays like a slideshow? Just keep repeating the steps. Each photo you add using the steps within a 24-hour period will be placed in your story.

The photos and video you chose for your Story will now be a series that people can swipe through for 24 hours. A colorful circle will appear around your profile photo to let your followers know you have a Story for them to view and your profile picture will also pop up at the top of your followers' Feeds. All they need to do is tap on your face to see your Story.

If you have a habit of adding things to your social media accounts that you later regret, good news! Stories can be removed. Tap on the three dots at the bottom right of the photo or video you'd like to delete, hit Delete and then confirm.

Add gallery photos and Snaps to your Story

While you're at it, why not use your saved snaps from Snapchat or shots from your phone's photo gallery as Stories? After you take a snap in Snapchat, just tap the Download button. It will save to your camera roll. To add a photo from your photo gallery, open Instagram, start a story and swipe down. A gallery with all of your recent photos will pop up, including your saved Snapchat photos. Tap on your snap and post as usual.

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You can upload recent snaps to your Stories.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

Boomerangs, hands-free and live video, oh my!

Let's start with Boomerangs. These are fun, short videos that play forward and backward. Any Boomerang (Hyperlapse content works, too!) you've made in the last 24 hours can be uploaded to your Story, just like adding photos from your phone.

No need to go elsewhere to make Boomerangs, though. That's available in your Stories. To start a Boomerang, swipe right from your feed. This will take you to the Stories camera. Under the record button you will find Boomerang mode. Select it and tap record to shoot a short burst of photos.

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Boomerang mode.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

No need to press and hold to make a video anymore, either. The Hands-Free option in the format picker lets you record a video without, well, hands. Tap and hold the Hands-Free button and a timer will pop up that counts down to when the video will begin. You get three seconds, total.

You can make live videos in your Stories, too. It works a lot like the Facebook's live video feature. Just open your Stories camera and select the Live option. A Live tag will pop up on your Instagram Stories bubble to alert your followers. Instagram will also notify some of your followers that you're live.

Your live Stories can live on beyond the moment, too. Press the Share button after you stop broadcasting to keep the video in your Story for the next 24 hours. You can also watch other people's live videos after the fact by keeping an eye out for a play button icon under their photo in the Stories bar.

instagram-stories-live-video-replay

Keep your live videos on your Story.

Instagram

You can also add a friend to your live Story as a co-host. Both of you can also try on different filters during the feed. Here's how to add a friend to a Story.

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Try out some filters with your friend.

Instagram

If your friend is watching your live Story and wants to join in, they can do that, too. All they have to do is tap the Request button at the bottom of the screen. The request will pop up on your screen and when you approve, the screen will split and your friend will be able to join. If you don't like the person -- or you just want the spotlight for yourself -- simply deny the request.

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Your friends can request to join live Stories.

Instagram

You can also watch someone's archived replay, just look for a Play button under that person's profile picture in the Stories bar above your feed (see the right-most image above).

The Rewind option lets you post videos that play backward. This is fun for trick videos or just a neat way to confuse your friends.

More about date stickers

As I mentioned, older photos from your gallery will automatically get a date sticker. You can move the sticker around by dragging it and you can change its color by tapping on it. If you want to remove it altogether, just tap, hold and drag it to the bottom of the screen to the trashcan icon.

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A date stamp lets followers know when the photo was taken.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

And yes, there are ways to spice up your shots

One of the best things about Snapchat is the ability to add fun and flair to your photos. Instagram's Stories have a bevy of customization features, too.

For starters, there are filters. Well, not like the puppy face you know from Snapchat. Or the rainbow barf. But there is a way to add them. After shooting a photo or video, swipe across it to add a filter.

You can also add filters to your live videos by tapping on the face icon in the bottom right corner and choosing your filter from the menu. You can add filters before or during your broadcast.

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You can use face filters for live videos.

Instagram

Once you've picked your filter, add some stickers. You'll find a stickers button next to the text and drawing tools. Tap the smiley face icon and you'll be able to jazz up your Story with customizable stickers. Once you add a sticker, you can add another, move it around and resize it.

Instagram is constantly adding new ones, so make sure to scroll through every now and then to find new gems. Some current options are:

  • Weather
  • The current time
  • Holidays
  • Days of the week
  • Location tags
  • Funny hats and sunglasses
  • Emojis

You can also turn your friend's face or your own into a sticker. Take a photo or video, then tap the smiley face icon. Then, tap on the sticker option with a camera icon. The camera will open so you can take a selfie. Tap the white circle under your face to take the shot.

Hold your finger down on the selfie to change the border to a fade, circle or square. Then you can manipulate the sticker just like any other sticker.

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Playing around with selfie stickers.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

Another sticker option is the hashtag sticker. Just tap on the sticker that says Hashtag and customize it with your own hashtag. Other people will be able to tap on the sticker and find other photos with the same hashtag. You can also add a hashtag to regular text on your Story and it will be clickable, too.

If you want a sticker to stay put in a certain spot on a video or Boomerang you can pin it. Place the sticker then tap and hold it. An option to pin will pop up. Tap on Pin to confirm. You can pin as many stickers as you want in a video.

Got some favorite stickers you use over and over? You can access your faves by tapping on the smiley icon and then swiping right. Your recently used stickers will pop up.

Once you have your stickers added, go crazy with some snappy text. To add text simply tap on the text icon in the upper right side of the screen and tap on your color of choice. If the colors just aren't right, don't despair. Swipe left on the color palette to reveal more options.

Add Snapchat-like filters

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Add silly filters to your photos.

Instagram

Stories' newest feature is the ability to add augmented reality filters to your pictures, just like Snapchat. Go to Stories and tap on the smiley face icon in the lower right. This will bring up a selection of filters, including a variety of crowns, koala ears that wiggle, a bunny face and math equations that float around your head. All you need to do is tap on the filters to try them on. When you find one you like, snap a photo.

Face filters appear on the faces closest to the camera and work in normal camera mode, Hands-Free, Boomerang and Rewind camera modes.

Forget photos and make art

Don't want to share a photo and just need a canvas for drawings or text? Take a photo of whatever, then go to the drawing tool. Choose your color, then place your finger on the photo. Hold it there. The color will slowly fill up the screen until the whole photo is covered. Now you have a blank canvas.

Once you have your canvas, you can fill it with polka dots and stripes. Tap on the Drawing Tool, tap on the pointed marker at the top of the screen, choose your color and tap on the three-dots button on the bottom left side of the screen. Toggle the line that appears toward the top of the screen. This will make your marker huge. Now to make polka dots, just tap your finger on the photo wherever you want them to appear. Hold your finger on the screen to make an even bigger dot.

To make stripes, go through the same steps, but choose the angled marker instead of the pointed marker. Then just tap the screen. Perfect little stripes will appear on your photo.

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Add a little color to your Stories.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

You can also use the eraser tool, on the far right, to remove color. Take a photo, fill it with color and then erase just a little to reveal bits of the photo underneath, for example.

Some Instagrammers are using the polka dots trick to make thought bubbles on their photos. You can do this by creating a large polka dot above the person in the photo and then creating several smaller dots that trail down below the thought bubble. You can fill in the thought bubble using emojis or text.

thought bubbles

Thought bubbles make you the star of your own comic book.

Screenshot by Alina Bradford/CNET

Tag somebody!

When adding text to a Story, all you have to do is include the @ symbol followed by the username to tag someone. If you follow that person, the icon will pop up. Just tap on it and that person will be tagged in your Story. The tag is a live link to the person's profile and you can tag up to 10 people.

When you tag people, they're alerted in Instagram Direct, so it's a great way to let friends know about your Stories. If you mention people that don't follow you, though, a notification will appear in their message requests.

Share Stories with Direct, too

You can share other people's Stories, as well. Just tap the Direct icon (it looks like a flying paper airplane) on the bottom right of the Stories' screen. Then, tap on the friend you want to share with, write a message and tap Send.

You can also send the Story to a group of people. Just tap on New Group in the upper right of the share screen. Name the group, tap the check-mark icon and tap Send.

When you get a Story sent to you, it will come to your Direct inbox. Be quick, though. When the story disappears after 24 hours, you won't be able to look at it.

If you don't want people to share your Stories, just turn off the sharing ability. Go to Settings menu > Story Settings and toggle Allow Sharing off.

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The Direct icon shares Stories with your friends.

Instagram

Flipping through Stories is pretty easy

Navigating through Stories is super simple. While browsing the Stories of your friends, swipe right to go to the previous one, left to go to the next one and tap to skip a photo or video.

If you want to linger on one photo, you can pause a story by tapping and holding your finger on the photo. To start the story again, just lift your finger. This also works for video. If you hold your finger too long on a video it will stay paused, even when you lift your finger. To start the video again slide your finger back and forth in short strokes across the screen.

You can see Stories on Instagram.com, too

Once upon a time, you could only see Stories using the mobile app. Now you can browse them online, as well. They appear at the top of the feed.

Navigating through the Stories is a little different online than through the app. Click on a Story to watch it. Then, if you want to skip a story or check out one you've already passed, just click on the right and left arrows on the screen.

So far, you can't add Stories using Instagram.com. The company says it will be adding the capability within the coming months, though. Yay!

How your Story feed is ordered

Day in and day out, you may see the same people at the front of your Stories feed. How the feed is ordered depends on a few factors. One thing, as mentioned above, is muting. If you mute a person, their Stories get moved to the last of the feed. They will stay there until they are unmuted. This brings others to the forefront.

Another factor is Instagram itself. Instagram has a system that tries to predict what you would like to see, then present it first. Out of the people you follow -- and that Instagram thinks you want to see -- the Stories are ordered by time. Whoever has posted most recently will be first in the feed.

If Instagram is wrong about its predictions, you may find that you're missing out on certain Stories. From what I have found, there's no way to customize your Stories feed. Not yet, anyway.

Comment on Stories with words or photos

At the bottom of your friend's Story you'll see a place to write a message. You can also send visual reactions by taping on the camera icon, and then taking a photo, Boomerang, video or Rewind. You can decorate your image or video reply with stickers, filters and drawings. Make it jazzy!

Plus, your reply will automatically include a sticker of the Story image you're replying to. The sticker can be moved and decorated, too. When you're done, hit Send. Your reply will end up in your friend's inbox.

Replying only works for people who have comments enabled, though.

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Respond to friends using photos.

Instagram

Banish annoying people

If you cringe every time you see a certain someone's Story in the lineup, you can mute it. Simply tap and hold on that person's Story icon when it appears in your Story lineup. A window will pop up that will give you the option to mute this person's stories.

Muting doesn't hide the Story totally. It just moves it to the last of the lineup and it won't automatically open while you're playing Stories. You'll need to manually unmute people to get their stories back in the normal mix. Just tap and hold on that person's Story icon and tap the unmute option.

Hide your Stories from frenemies

You can also choose who gets to see your Stories and who doesn't. Want to prevent your mom from seeing that epic Friday night out, for example? Go to your profile and tap the sun symbol (on iOS) or the three dots (Android) in the top right of the screen. Choose Story Settings from the menu and then tap on Hide My Story From. Select your mother from the list and tap Done. Mom will still be able to see your posts and profile, but won't see your Story.

You can prevent certain people from sending you messages from your Story, too. Go to your profile and tap the sun symbol (on iOS) or the three dots (Android) in the top right of the screen. In Story Settings, select an option from the list. You can choose Everyone, which will let everyone comment, People You Follow to let just those you follow comment and Off to prevent anyone from commenting.

Or just prevent trolls from commenting

If you want the haters to see your Stories and other posts, but you don't want them to comment, you can do that, too.

Tap on your icon at the bottom right of the Home screen. Then tap on the Menu > Comments option > Allow Comments From. From there choose the group of people you would like to hear from. You can also block folks by going to Comments > Block Comments From. Then, search for the person's name using the search bar and tap the Block button by the profile.

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Bye, trolls!

Instagram

Save your Stories forever

If you've become attached to your Story and don't want it to disappear forever, you can download it to your phone. Open your Story and tap on the three dots on the bottom right of the photo or video. Then tap Save Photo.

You can easily save your Stories to your camera roll, automatically, too. Go to your profile screen, tap the menu, then tap Story Settings under the Account heading. Under the Camera heading, slide the Always Save Photos and Videos option on. You can also tap on the gear icon while you are on the Story screen and slide the Always Save Photos and Videos option. Now every time you create a Story, the videos and images will be automatically saved to your camera roll on your phone. On iOS, you can even save your entire story to your camera roll as a single video.

Or post them as regular photos

If you decide you want everyone to see your photos or videos more permanently, you can add them to your profile grid.

Simply open your Story, tap the three dots at the bottom right of the photo or video and tap Share as Post. You can then add filters, captions and locations to jazz it up a little. Once you're done, tap Share.

The photo or video will appear in your profile grid. Just beware, whoever can see your profile grid will be able to see the photo or video. It will no longer have special protections that you can add to Stories.

You can also archive your stories or add them to a highlight reel. Here's how.

See who's checking out your Story

Curious to see who's looking at your story? Open your story and swipe up on the screen. At the bottom of the screen will be a view counter and the names of the people who viewed it. Shy about your numbers? Don't be. Only you can see this information.

If there's someone viewing your Story and you decide you don't want that person to see it, just tap the three dots beside the person's name and select Hide Story From [username].

See who's looking at your Instagram Stories.

Screenshot by Sharon Profis/CNET

See More links

Verified accounts now have "See More" links at the bottoms of their Stories. To open the link, swipe up and view it with Instagram's built-in browser. As of right now, the feature is just being tested with verified accounts. There's no word yet if this feature will become available for everyone else.

Help someone in need

If you see someone posting a live video where they are talking about suicide or self harm, Instagram has an anonymous reporting feature. Tap the menu button beside the Write a Message option at the bottom of the screen and then tap Report > It's inappropriate > Self injury. 

A message will pop up in front of the person filming the video with help options such as talking with a helpline volunteer.

Of course, if you feel like the person is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police department right away.

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Reporting a live video places a pop-up over the stream.

Instagram

Find out what's new, as soon as it happens

Instagram itself uses Stories, too. As soon as it adds a new feature, the company uploads information about it as a Story. You'll see the post just like you would your friend's Stories, except the post will say "New" at the top. These Stories disappear to the back of the feed after you watch them, so if you need to watch it twice, swipe left on your Story feed.

That's it -- for now

Instagram is constantly adding new features to Stories, so check back here for the latest additions.

Editors' note: This story was first published on Aug. 2, 2016, and is updated when new features are released.