So you just downloaded Snapchat. Now what?

The photo app that everyone wants to copy and yet no one can manage to fully destroy is still a little obscure for those who didn’t get onboard during its initial rush of popularity.

I’ve actually been asked by multiple people who know my profession to “explain Snapchat” to them. That’s not something that can be done in a short conversation, so here we are.

Here’s a complete guide to Snapchat, including what it does, how to use it, and a bunch of other details you didn’t think you needed to know.

Also, full disclosure: I’ve only ever used Snapchat on an iPhone. I’m given to understand that the essential experience between Android and iOS versions of the app are the same, but let me know if I’ve got anything in particular wrong.


Let’s start by getting you familiar with the Snapchat lingo. Here are the most basic terms you need to know when you’re using (or talking about) Snapchat:

  • Snap: These are the pictures/videos you send to friends, followers, and your Story. They last until the viewer closes, after which they can be replayed, but will disappear completely after a max of two days.
  • Story: A collection of publicly-viewable Snaps you’ve taken and saved in the last day. When you view a person’s Story, you see the Snaps in a chronological reel.
  • Chat: Snapchat’s messages. Like Snaps, they disappear once viewed, and unlike Snaps, they can’t be replayed.
  • Filter: An image or graphic that is placed over a Snap when selected. Filters can be holiday-themed, location-specific (these are called Geofilters), or just something fun to look at.
  • Lens: These are augmented reality images that can be placed in frame while you’re taking the Snap. Several Lenses alter the face specifically.
  • Memories: A gallery of your saved Snaps, which only you can see. Snaps saved Memories can be shared to Chat and Stories after they’re taken, and are one of the only ways to subvert a Snap’s short lifespan.
  • Snapcode: The yellow-and-white square icon that is your unique calling card on the app. When someone wants to follow you on Snapchat (and doesn’t know your username), they snap a pic of your Snapcode, then scan it within the app menu.

Opening the app

Now that you know what you’re going to be looking at, it’s time to take a look. The app loads in camera mode, ready to go when you need to capture a Snap. The actual camera functions the same as any other photo app, but for now let’s look at the other things on display.

For starters, at the top left of the screen is a ghost icon — that’s Snapchat’s mascot, Ghostface Chillah. Tapping on him will take you to the app menu.

In the menu, you can see who’s added you, access the contact menu so you can add people yourself, and see all of your essential Snapchat info, such as your Snapcode. The gear icon on the top right gives you access to all the basic stuff like password, login credentials, and some of the app’s secondary functions, which we’ll get to later.

Now we’ll go over the functions, screen by screen.

Main Screen

The primary screen, which is open when you pull up the app, is the camera screen. This is where you take Snaps, embellish them, and send them into the wild.

Posting a Snap

Snaps are the lifeblood of Snapchat. 90% of the app’s functions revolve around helping the user send the perfect Snap.

When you’re taking a Snap, you use your phone’s camera the way you ordinarily would to frame the image. The buttons at the top right let you (from left to right) engage Low Light mode (for taking pics when the lighting isn’t so good), toggle Flash, and flip between front- and back-facing cameras.

When you want to add a Lens, you hold your finger down on the screen over the area you want to enhance. Most Lenses are focused on the face, so when you tap on your face, it maps the surface and shows you a series of different Lenses you can apply.

Some Lenses are timely, while others stick around forever. Here’s me with a Major Lazer Lens that will probably be gone from the app by the time the article is published (it’s part of a promotion):

When you’ve taken the picture, that’s when you can really start to make adjustments.

Filters, Stickers, Emoji, and More

After you’re finished taking the picture, or filming the short video, a host of new buttons pop up on the sides of the screen. Let’s go over what they do.

From the top: The T in the top right is how you add text to an image. You can write just about anything, and choose the color of the text.

You can tap the T to adjust the size of the text.

The pencil-looking button will let you draw on the image in the color of your choice, which you do with the tip of your finger or a stylus. Here, I’ve completed the fall pumpkin filter by giving myself a lovely stem.


Next, the little button that looks like a piece of paper with the corner turned up is the sticker button. There are so many…

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