The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Stories

Instagram is an amazing platform. You can use it to meet new people, see new places, find inspiration, and even grow your business if you are so inclined. In other words Instagram is an app that can open the world to you and, as such, a proper review of the entire app would take seven thousand of words at minimum. In this article, a mere three thousand four hundred words, I want to focus on one key feature of Instagram, the Story.

What’s an Instagram Story?

Simply put an Instagram Story is a time-limited slideshow of photos and videos that is separate from your main Instagram feed. Stories are comprised of segments that are limited to 15 seconds in length and have a shelf-life of 24 hours, after which they disappear. Story segments come with the ability to apply text, stickers, filters, polls, and more directly to the image or video, and have multiple modes such as boomerang, superzoom, and stop motion, to name a few.

Instagram Stories are the best way to let people into your world, without having to worry about it being perfect. 

How do I view stories from other people?

When you open Instagram there is a section at the top of the app, just below the Instagram logo, titled ‘Stories’. Each circular profile picture, with the Instagram gradient-colored circle around it, represents that user’s Story. To watch the stories just tap on a specific story and let the fun begin.

The latest Stories from the people I follow

The latest Stories from the people I follow

FYI, the Stories will play back to back unless you exit the story viewing mode. You can exit the Story viewing mode by tapping the ‘X’ in the upper right-hand corner or by swiping down. You can skip to the next Story segment by tapping on the right side of your screen and you can go back to a previous segment by tapping on the left side of your screen. Swiping from right to left will advance you to the next user's story, allowing you to skip the entire story you are currently watching…which is good for you and sad for the person you skipped.

If you find yourself skipping an entire story, ask yourself why and make sure to not make the same mistakes with your story.

Who can see my Story?…and other “exciting” settings

Story settings can be accessed by swiping right from the main screen and tapping the ‘gear’ icon in the top left corner of your Story camera screen. Once on the Story Settings page you can:

  • Hide your story from specific people
  • Determine who to allow replies from
  • Allow or disallow people to share your Story as a message
  • Save your Story segments, both video and photo, to your camera roll
  • Share your Story to Facebook
  • Automatically save your story to your Story Archive
  • Make your story a Highlight and post it to the top of your Timeline

When watching your own Story you can swipe up to see who has viewed each segment. You’ll get a total number of views and then a list of each account that has seen it. You can also access your story settings from here and make changes on the fly.

Deleting something from your story

If you are watching your story back to verify that everything looks fine and you happen to find a mistake you can delete a segment from your story. To do so:

  • Tap the ‘…’ in the bottom right corner of the segment you would like to delete
  • Tap delete to confirm
  • Dance in celebration

Want to add a segment of your story to your main feed? No problem.

If you are watching your story back and you come across a segment that is ‘straight fire’, as the kids say, and you want to add it to your main Instagram feed, you can do that as well.

  • Tap the ‘…’ in the bottom right corner of the segment you would like to share
  • Tap ‘Share as post…’
  • Edit it if you want and tap ‘share’. Boom, your main feed just got better.

Why do other people get to tell me to swipe up for sweet links but I can’t do the same??

I feel you on this one. It’s pretty lame that only verified accounts can share links in their Stories. There is no public timetable for when this functionality will be shared with the rest of us mere mortals. So until the powers that be decide to open the gates, we’re stuck putting links in our bio, or getting enough followers to become a verified account. Challenge accepted.

PS. If you want to make the link in your bio even more powerful you should check out Linktree, or you can do what I did and build a custom landing page on your website dedicated to this link.

Messaging and Remixing

While watching other’s stories you have the ability to reach out to them in a few ways. Each way has it’s purpose, but may I suggest that reaching out to people from their Stories is a fantastic way to begin a dialogue. You never know what a simple “Hey, I really loved your story today!” message can lead to.

While viewing another user’s Story you can Direct Message them by typing in the ‘send message’ box at the bottom. This is a DM and is private between you and them.

To remix a Story Segment tap on the camera icon in the lower lefthand corner. Remixing someone else’s Story Segment grabs a screenshot of it and floats it in the top right, like Picture in Picture. If you tap it the screenshot fills the top half of the screen. In both situations your camera remains active and you can take a photo or video, and edit it like a normal post. Once your remix is ready to send you can choose to have the remix play only once or to have it repeat. This is a fun feature that opens yet another avenue on Instagram to allow for fun and unique interactions.

Camera Modes

In this section we will dive into every camera mode available to use while making your Instagram Story. These modes are listed from left to right at the very bottom of the Story camera screen and are scrollable by swiping over them.



In essence, Type mode allows you to write out some text over a colored background and share it to your story but there is more in this mode that can allow for some creative results. You can change the style of the text to Modern, Neon, Typewriter, or Strong by tapping the button at the top of the screen. Each style has it's own unique font but they also have their own unique background colors and gradients as well. These can be changed by tapping the colored circle in the bottom left corner. 

Both Typewriter and Strong give you the option of highlighting your text with a pre-determined color based upon the colored background you are using. Typewriter is the only mode that allows you to choose between right, center, and left justification. Though all text can be moved, rotated, and re-sized easily.

In addition to all of this, you can also tap the camera icon in the bottom right corner to add a photograph or a video to the background. In this instance the colored background gains some opacity so that the gradient and the text lay on top of the image or video you capture. I think this option adds a tremendous amount of potential for fun and creative images and videos.



Music mode is new and in my opinion very interesting. As of now the available catalog is not as full as Apple Music or Spotify but if you're into what's on the charts right now you should be fine. When you go to swipe over to Music mode you are presented with a list of popular songs, with the option to search by mood or genre as well. Once you select a song you are taken to the video or image capture screen where you can choose which section of the song you want to play by swiping left or right on the rather obvious music UI. 

When you decide on what section of the song you want to use for your story segment you can either snap a picture or shoot your video. When reviewing the image or video a sticker with the song information will be added. Like all other stickers you can tap on this sticker to change the way it looks. 

Adding music to you story this way does not allow you to change the length of the music clip. If you want to change the length of the music you'll have to add the new music sticker to an already captured image or video.


Going Live on Instagram is a great way to show your followers behind the scenes video, to chat and interact with your followers, or to give other people the opportunity to see something super cool that is happening right now. A notification that you are live will go out to your followers when you begin a Instagram Live video.


Normal mode is, unsurprisingly, straight-forward. Tap the white shutter button to take a photo. Hold it down to take a video.


Boomerang mode takes a very rapid burst shot, turns the images into a GIF, and plays the video forwards and then backwards, hence the name Boomerang. This is a fun concept and can be used to get some really neat results


Focus mode does a fairly solid job of adding an artificial shallow depth of field to your image. This means that the person you are taking a picture of is in focus and the background of the image is out of focus. This effect is easily achieved on a DSLR camera but with the advent of Portrait mode on newer iPhones and now Focus mode inside of Instagram you can mimic this look without having to lug around a full-sized DSLR. It should also be noted that this mode relies on face detection to work, so you can't use it to take pictures of anything but a person.


Superzoom is a video mode that utilizes a pre-determined stuttered zoom accompanied by different music and in some cases added on-screen graphics. This mode started out with only the ‘Dramatic’ option and seemed like a severely limited mode. Since this mode was introduced, however, more Superzoom varieties have been added giving this mode many more potential use cases.

The varieties available as of this writing are: Beats, TV Show, Bounce, and Dramatic.

Beats plays some dance music and adds some flashing dance lights to the video. TV Show plays some cheesy 90’s style music with an equally cheesy vignette and stars added to the video. Bounce plays a cartoon-like slingshot noise and bounces the video in and out to match the music. Dramatic, the original Superzoom option, plays some suspenseful music while zooming in on the subject.


Rewind records video normally and then plays it back in reverse but this mode does not record any audio. While simple, the Rewind mode offers a up a tool to make some very creative videos. One of my favorites is to pour a drink into a glass and watch the rewind video show the liquid flowing out of the cup and back into the container it was poured from. Super simple idea but it looks cool and can be fun to make.


To record a video in Normal mode you must hold down the shutter button. Hands-Free mode allows you to record video by tapping the shutter button to begin recording and tapping it a second time to stop.

Specs for images and photos

  • All images and videos are shot in portrait.
  • Images are 1080 x 1920
  • Video aspect ratio is 9 x 16

Not everything you add to you Instagram Story needs to be shot using the Instagram app. You can add images and video to your Story that were shot elsewhere. You have two options to add this media to your Story: 1. Swipe up on the Story camera screen and scroll to find the media you want. 2. Tap the image icon located on the left bottom of the Story camera screen and scroll to find the media you want.

It used to be that Instagram required this outside media to have been shot in the previous 24 hours to match the Story time limit. This rule has been changed, however, and now you can access your entire photo and video library on your phone.

If you do add a photo or video from your camera roll you still have access to the full editing options of a photo or video shot within Instagram. If the photo or video you bring into Instagram is older than 24 hours there will be a date stamp included with it but you have 3 color options for that date stamp: white, black, or red.

Spice Up Your Photos and Videos

Image Filters

Image filters are what Instagram quickly became known for when it took off in popularity years ago. Filters are presets that alter the color, exposure, contrast, tint, and other values of your media. You can apply filters to photos and videos. To apply a filter swipe left or right on a photo or video to cycle through the different filter options.

Face Filters

Ok, this one is kind of cool.

Ok, this one is kind of cool.

While Instagram has been eating Snapchat’s lunch lately, one thing that Snapchat still kills Instagram on is the Face Filters and AR features. Instagram really doesn’t have much to offer in this area other than a few goofy Face Filters. I’m hopeful that they will catch up to Snapchat in this area but as of this writing they are still very far behind.

If you do want to try out what Instagram does have to offer it’s pretty simple. Make sure that you are using your front-facing camera and tap the smiley face in the bottom right portion of your Story camera screen. A scrollable list of Face Filters will appear and you can tap on any you would like to try.


After you take a photo or a video you have the option to draw on your photo or video. Tap on the pen icon in the top right portion of your screen. Once you are in drawing mode you have a number of options.

You can move the slider on the left hand side to control the size of your brush. You can select your color by tapping on the colors at the bottom. If you tap and hold on any of the offered colors you gain access to a color array to customize your color choice. You also have options at the top of the screen for pen types. Drawing mode is pretty robust and gives you the options to add some artistic flair to your Story.



Stickers are yet another way to customize your Story. By tapping on the Stickers button, the sticky note with a smiley face on it, you can access Instagram’s sticker catalog.

The main sticker screen has the best stickers available right at the top, along with some older ones and classic emoji as you scroll down. If you swipe to the right you will find your recently used stickers. If you swipe to the left you’ll find a collection of dumb hats and glasses. There are a bunch of stickers available but there are some really interesting one's I'd like to highlight here.


Polls are a great way to ask your audience a question and get trackable results. Used correctly, Polls can be a great use of the social equity you have built. As a bonus, using Polls in your Story is super simple.

Tap the sticker button, then tap the poll icon. Type in your question, then add your responses, place it on your image or video and you’re all set. You can access the results of your poll by viewing your story and swiping up on the segment that contains the poll. You will see your results as well as who voted for which option. The only downside at this point with Polls is that you are only allowed to offer two responses to your question. I’d really like it if Instagram opened this up to allow for more than two responses.


Just like in your normal posts, using hashtags in stories makes them searchable and therefore available for a much broader audience than just your followers. To add a hashtag to your story just tap on the stickers button and then on the hashtag icon. Once you’ve clicked on the hashtag icon you can enter the hashtag of your choice. As you type the hashtag you will see a list of suggested hashtags at the bottom of your screen.

If you are going to be adding text to your post, you can also add a hashtag that way. Simply type the ‘#’ character followed by your hashtag of choice and it will be added to your Story. Adding a hashtag this way will also bring up the list of suggested hashtags at the bottom of your screen.

If you are using your Story to help build your audience and reach new people then you need to be using the hashtag functionality on your Stories. It’s the single best way to get your story in front of new people.

Time and Temperature

Sometimes it’s nice to add context to your stories without having to explain it in text or audio. Just plop the time or temperature onto your photo or video and you’ve instantly communicated the situation to your followers. Adding the time and temperature to your Story is as simple as tapping the sticker button and then choosing the sticker(s) you want to add.


Adding the GIF sticker allows you to search GIPHY to add the perfect finishing touch to your story. The GIF can be resized, rotated, and moved just like any other sticker. May I suggest that you add an animated dancing Michael Jackson whenever possible?


We covered music in detail earlier in this article but adding music with the music sticker allows you one advantage that the Story mode does not, you can control the length of the music you select. The shortest the audio can be is 5 seconds and the longest is 15 seconds. Just tap on the pill shaped button with the time in it to change the length.


The questions sticker lets you ask your followers a question, I know, shocking right? The cool part about this sticker though is that when people respond to the question you can choose to share their answers. When you do share someone's answer their username is not shown , so there is a bit of built in anonymity here that could make for some fun responses. I just tried this for the first time while I was researching for this article and I'm excited to see what sort of responses roll in.

Pinning elements to your Story video

One of the coolest features of an Instagram Story is pinning elements to certain portions of the video. When done properly it feels like magic. If you want to pin a sticker, or a different element, to your video simply tap and long press on it until you see “place your sticker anywhere” at the top of your screen. After this, you can fine tune the placement of the pinned element by using the slider at the bottom of your screen. Once you are satisfied with the placement, tap the ‘pin’ button at the bottom and let Instagram work its voodoo magic.

Closing Thoughts

Instagram is truly an amazing platform and the Story is just one way to interact with the hundreds of millions of active users on it. I hope that this breakdown of the Story feature gave you some useful information and perhaps even inspired you to try out some new ways of using the Story to share with your friends. If I've missed anything or you have specific questions please get in touch, I'd love to hear from you.