Snapchat has evolved from being an app with a handful of obvious naughty uses to a social media platform where you can both broadcast your life and watch content from a wide range of sources. The messaging app’s ability to let you control the privacy of the pictures and videos you send was integral to its popularity. Updates to the app allow users to make group chats, swap faces, send stickers, voice memos and GIF-like notes, as well as place voice and video calls. Power users can even up their game with Spectacles, Snapchat's sunglasses that feature a built-in camera for snapping 10-second fish-eye-style videos from the wearer's point of view to upload to the service.
Snapchat has become so popular so fast that there are more than 150 million active users watching 10 billion videos per day. Brands like BuzzFeed, ESPN, National Geographic and People magazine have made their way to Snapchat, giving fans an inside look at what's going on behind the scenes. Here's how to sign up, get started snapping out photos and videos and become a Snapchat expert.
How to get started with Snapchat
2. Sign up for an account.
Since you can’t just use an existing Facebook/Google/Your Favorite Social Network account to log your way into the service, you’ll need new credentials. Tap Sign Up. You’ll be asked for your email address, password and your birthday. Tap Sign Up.
3. Pick a username. Select a “unique identifier” for your account that cannot be changed once it’s set. Your friends can use this to find you on the service, and the username will appear underneath your real name in their Snapchat contact list.
4. Friend up.
Snapchat will ask you if it can tap into your phone’s contacts list. Unless you have a burning desire to add friends manually, we recommend you grant Snapchat this permission so you can commence friend-adding. iOS users will also be asked to enter in their mobile numbers for easier searching; fret not, Android fans, for you can add this information later — so long as the text-based verification goes smoothly for you.
Once Snapchat comes back with a list of your contacts that it has identified as users of the service, you can add them as friends by clicking the large person-with-a-plus button to the right of their names. If you want to remove contacts (or block them) later, just long-press on their names until the secondary menu pops up on your screen.'
How to send pictures or video in Snapchat
1. Tap to shoot, hold to record video.
Once you’re on Snapchat’s main screen, taking a picture is pretty easy for those who have ever used their phones’ cameras before. If not, here’s a quick guide: Tap an area of the picture you want your phone to focus on. Tap the big round circle to take a picture. Hold the big round circle to take a video.
2. Save your own shots.The icon to the right of the timer, a downward-facing arrow, allows you to dump the shot you just took into your phone’s traditional gallery. It’s useful if you want to save your shot for future purposes, as there’s no other way to do so once you’ve sent the picture out.
3. Set picture time limit.
Tap on the stopwatchlike icon in the lower left and you can set the specific time that you want your picture to be available for a friend to view. You can go all the way from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 1 second to a maximum duration of 10 seconds.
4. Add a caption.Tap in the middle of the picture, and you can add text on top of your photo or video. Tap on the T icon to change the caption from a line to text to a larger brick of text. After you've written a caption for your snaps, you can move, pinch and zoom that text to place it just where you want. Before you can pinch and zoom your caption, you'll need to have set the text to the larger font, by tapping on the T icon.
If you’re feeling a little nostalgia for "Draw Something," you can also tap on the icon in the upper-right corner of the screen to draw directly onto your image with varying colors of a virtual pen.
5. Send your snaps.
Click on the arrow icon in the lower right to get your shot ready to send. Up pops your friends list; select everyone that you want to receive your image, take one final breath of confidence and click on the now-displayed arrow in the lower right-hand corner.
How to record without holding the shutter
iPhone owners don't need to keep finger on the shutter button in order to record videos in Snapchat, as long as they know this secret trick. Open the Settings App, and select General. Then tap Accessibility, and select AssistiveTouch, which will make a white dot appear on your screen.
Then, toggle the switch next to AssistiveTouch to the On position and then tap Create New Gesture. Then, tap and hold on the center of the screen in a very tight circular pattern until the recording bar is full. Tap Save at the top right corner, name this gesture with a memorable tag such as SnapVideo and then tap Save. Now, in the Snapchat recording screen, tap on AssistiveTouch bubble. Select Custom and then select SnapVideo (or whatever you called it).
You'll see a new circular icon. When you're ready to record, drag and drop it onto the capture button, and you're recording without hands. Since you're drawing that pattern yourself, this process may require repeated effort, but it's worth for easier video recording. There doesn't seem to be a method for Android yet, but leave a comment below if you know of one.
Discover Videos on Snapchat
Tap on the icon in the lower right corner to move to the stories screen. At the top of the screen, Snapchat has a row of images that preview streams of photos and videos from brands including ESPN, Comedy Central and CNN. You can swipe to the left to see more stories, and scroll down past your friends' stories to see which brands are broadcasting live.
Swipe left to jump to the next snap, press and hold to send a snap to a friend and pull down to leave the stream. Tapping on the Globe icon in the upper right corner of the Stories screen allows you to check out more brands, such as Refinery29, Vice and Food Network.
How to view Snapchat messages
Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide
If you’ve received a Snapchat, or just want to check out the log of Snapchat pictures or videos you’ve sent out to your friends (just the log; not the media itself), tap the little cube icon on the lower-left of Snapchat’s main screen. If you have any to-be-viewed messages, the number will appear over the cube itself.
Once you’re on the messages screen, you’ll see any new pictures or videos that your friends have sent you listed with a filled-in square or arrow icon and a “tap to view” message underneath them. Don’t do that unless you’re really ready to view the image or video, because that starts the countdown timer for how long you’ll be able to view it. When the timer runs out, the message will transition over to a “double tap to reply” prompt — do just that to continue your Snapchat “conversation.”
When you're watching a story, you can tap to skip ahead, swipe left to advance to the next user you follow and pull down to exit.
How to send a text message in Snapchat
If you want to send texts without photos, tap on the voice bubble icon in the upper left corner in the Snapchat message log screen. Find a friend you've sent a photo to already, type your note and click Send. These messages will self destruct after they've been viewed, and if one of you takes a screenshot of the chat transcript, Snapchat will let the other person know.
How to save chat messages
If you're using Snapchat for long (or important) conversations, you might want to save messages to reread them. Fortunately, you can keep lines of your chats by holding your finger down on each individual message. A message is saved once it's highlighted in grey and gets a SAVED! message to its left.
How to use Snapchat Groups
You can start a group chat to snap with a select number of friends at the same time, by opening the Chat screen, tapping the new messages button in the top left corner, selecting multiple friends and tapping Chat. Groups work just like regular messages, as you can send snaps, texts, video notes, audio notes and stickers. And of course, if a message isn't opened in the 24 hours after it's sent, it will disappear from the group.
To talk privately with one person from a Group, tap their name in the row above the keyboard. Swipe right when you're done to to return to the Group.
How to send a video note in Snapchat
You can record short, looping GIF-like videos by holding down on the camera icon for up to 10 seconds. Snapchat will record from your front camera, and the video will be sent when you release your finger from the screen. If you don't like the video, you can drag your finger to the X in the middle of the screen. Your recipient can tap on the video to hear the clip's audio.
How to send an audio note in Snapchat
To record a short audio message to send to a friend, hold down on the phone handset icon and speak. You can send the sound byte to your friend by removing your finger from the screen. If you don't like the message you recorded, drag your finger to the X icon in the middle of the screen.
How to make a video call in Snapchat
You can also have video chats with your friends, and all you need to do is tap the Camera icon in the message screen. Snapchat will then attempt to set up a video conference call between you and your friend. Your friend will take up the majority of the screen, and you'll be able to see yourself in a bubble on the bottom of your phone. If you need to switch to an audio-only call, tap the phone icon.
How to make an audio call in Snapchat
If you want to have a phone call with one of your Snapchat friends you've been exchanging messages with, tap the phone icon above the keyboard. If your friend has Snapchat notifications turned on, they will receive an alert that you're trying to call. This way you can call someone and stay inside of the app, and you don't need to give someone your phone number. To add video to the call, tap the camera icon.
How to send photos in Snapchat
To send a photo from your camera roll, tap the picture icon above the keyboard and select images. To annotate one of these images, tap Edit to access Snapchat's doodles, emoji stickers and text tools. You can share multiple photos by tapping on additional images before you click the arrow icon in the lower right corner to send. Photos can also be shared during audio or video calls.
How to send stickers in Snapchat
Tap on the smiley icon above the keyboard to bring up a list of stickers that include doughnuts, gold stars and a cat offering a rose. Select a sticker to send it.
How to edit Snapchat settings
Tap the ghost icon at the top of the screen, and then tap the gear icon in the window’s upper right corner. You can confirm your mobile number by tapping the associated field if you skipped this part when first setting up Snapchat. You can also open up your Snapchat for messages from anyone on the service — not just your friends — by changing that setting (but make sure you want to do that).
The Android version of Snapchat also gives you the opportunity to lower the quality of the videos the app takes, as well as Snapchat’s default camera orientation. You’ll find both of these settings buried within the “Video Settings” section.
How to add a profile photo
Tap on the Ghost icon at the top of the main screen, and then tap on the Snapchat icon in the upper middle part of the screen. Press the shutter button at the bottom of the screen. Snapchat will take a series of photos of you using the front-facing camera on your device. Tap the action button at the upper right corner of the screen to share this online so that your friends on Twitter, Facebook and other services can add you on Snapchat. If you want to take a new profile photo, click the retry button in the upper left corner.
How to add filters
After you've shot your snap, swipe to the left or right to add a visual filter that adjusts the photo quality — changing it to sepia or saturated — or one with a text overlay that shows the temperature in your area, the speed you're moving at or the neighborhood you're snapping from. You can add two filters by holding your finger down on the edge of the screen after you found the first filter you want to use, and then swiping again with your free hand.
With the On Demand Geofilters feature, you can create your own location-specific filter and layer it on top of your snaps. Make sure your design meets Snapchat's guidelines, upload it through the web portal, specify what location it's meant for, wait for approval and voila! You can show off your Snapchat-approved artwork, and people who visit your location can also use it.
How to add an animated filter
When you're snapping a selfie — tap the icon in the upper right corner to switch to front-facing mode if you haven't already — tap on the part of the screen where your face is. After a wire-frame design appears on your face, a series of Snapchat filter options will appear.
Swipe between the options to change from a thirsty dog'd hipster, a moustachioed viking , an ice god and more. Follow the prompts — like ‘Raise Your Eyebrows.’ — that appear, and tap the capture button to take a Snap, or press and hold on the capture button to record a video.
How to swap faces
If you want to create a portrait that will both shock and confuse others, Snapchat's Face-Swap feature puts another person's face on your head. Tap the icon in the upper right corner to switch to front-facing mode, and then press and hold on the part of the screen where your face is. After the wire-frame design appears on your face, slide the series of lenses to the left until you see the yellow and purple face swap options.
If the person you want to swap faces with is there with you, select the yellow icon. If you want to swap faces with someone whose photo you've previously taken, select the purple icon and tap a face from the pop-up menu. Once Snapchat previews this bizarre switch, tap the capture button to take a photo, or press and hold on the capture button to record a video.
How to post to your public Story
If you want to share a photo or video you've shot with all of your followers, tap on the Square and Plus button on the lower left corner after shooting a snap. Tapping on the arrow in the bottom right corner will make your snap visible to all of your Snapchat friends for 24 hours. You can also select your area's Local Story to share your moment with your community. You can view the Story streams that your friends have published by tapping on the icon in the bottom right corner of the main screen.
How to snap better at night
When you're taking photos in dark areas, a moon icon will appear in the upper left corner, next to the flash icon. Tap on this icon for brighter photos and videos, so it will be easier for your audience to see what's going on.
How to add emojis and stickers to your snaps
Click on the sticker icon at the top of your photo or video when you're editing it to bring up the emoji sticker sheet. You can add as many emoji as you and, as well as pinch and zoom them to your heart's content.
How to delete stickers from your snaps
So now that you've place some stickers, you might have realized one doesn't work and you want to remove it. Rather than start over from square one, tap and hold on the sticker and drag it up to the trash can icon. Once the trash can gets slightly larger, release your finger to delete the sticker.
How to use Snapchat Spectacles
Once you've mastered the basics of Snapchat, you're ready for Spectacles, the sunglasses from Snap that feature a camera in the frames. You'll need to charge the wearable first before you pair them with your smartphone over Bluetooth (make sure it's enabled on your phone). Next, open Snapchat, slide down the home screen to the SnapCode screen, tap the SnapCode and tap the button above the left hinge of the Spectacles. For more, read our stories on how to find Spectacles and our tutorial on how to use Spectacles.
Tools For Parents of Snapchat Users
Image: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock
If you're still confused by Snapchat, this new app that your kids suddenly can't get enough of, we've got tips and tricks just for you. Tap the gear in the top right corner to open the settings menu, where you can set the privacy setting for Stories to Friends Only so strangers can't stalk them. You can even restrict access to the app by using the Parental Controls menu found in settings. We've got more handy advice in our Snapchat Guide for Parents. Also, check out our instructions for how to report bullying and abuse on Snapchat so you know what to do if other kids are using the app to target target your child.