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Instagram Reels tutorial: A beginner's guide

Instagram Reels tutorial
(Image credit: Facebook)

This Instagram Reels tutorial will have you using the video feature like a pro. You've surely seen Reels by now: synchronised dance routines, lip-synching, quick costume changes with a click of the fingers... it has been a hit on the social media platform despite many people still not being sure how it works or why it exists.

Instagram has launched so many new features that it can be hard to keep up – especially if you're working hard to boost your Instagram engagement, or trying to navigate all the different social media platforms. Instagram already allowed users to share videos in standard posts, Stories, Live and IGTV. So what's different about Reels?

What exactly is Instagram Reels?

The micro-video format is Instagram's response to the surging popularity of TikTok, particularly among Generation Z. It offers similar tools, although it's more limited for now in terms of time (30 seconds compared to 60), and the available editing options.

Reels has a full-screen portrait format, like Stories, but can be up to 15 seconds longer. The videos also remain on your profile whereas Stories disappear after 24 hours unless you save them to your Highlights. But the biggest difference is in the in-app editing tools, which allow users to add effects and music and to splice multiple pieces of video (if you'd like something different, though, see our list of the best video editing apps).

Reels matters because the world's second-largest social media platform (Instagram, obviously) is pushing it heavily. Unlike Stories, Reels appears in both the general Explore tab and search results, as well as in its own tab on the user interface. This makes it far more likely to reach non-followers.

Creatives are using Reels to share tutorials, behind-the-scenes material, sneak peeks at works in progress and before and after videos. So how do you get started? Read on for our step-by-step guide. Having trouble working Reels? Jump to our troubleshooting Reels section.

01. Adjust the settings 

Instagram Reels tutorial: Adjust the settings

Instagram Reels has a simple interface for choosing settings before filming (Image credit: Joseph Foley/Instagram)

If you want to share a video that you've already recorded, simply click on the camera roll window in the bottom left (see step four below). To record video in the app itself, first you'll need to choose your settings using the buttons on the left of the interface. 

Choose a time limit of 15 or 30 seconds (the final video can be shorter but no longer). You can also choose a playback speed from 1X up to 5X, which helps squeeze more footage into the time available.

Clicking on the face icon will bring up effects options in circles alongside the Record button at the bottom of the screen. Swipe right to scroll through a range of effects, from sparkles and glitter to colours, glitches, voice changers and a range of Snapchat-like 3D masks and other novelty disguises.

With some of the effects, you'll find that tapping on the screen brings up further options in smaller circles. You can only choose one effect at a time.

Unlike TikTok, Instagram Reels only allows you to apply effects before recording. Subsequent editing is limited to trimming footage and adding text, filters and stickers.

 02. Add music or other audio

You can record your Reel with your own original audio but if you want to add audio from the app, click on the music icon. That opens the search options, where you can type in the name of an artist or a piece of music. You can also scroll down to browse by genre or by audio that's trending in your area.

After you click on a piece to select it, the audio will play and you can use the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen to choose a 15- or 30-second clip to use. If the song has lyrics, the scroll feature will highlight the lyric from the start of the selected clip, although the music tends to be slightly ahead of the lyrics.

Alternatively, you can add audio from other people's Reels. Find and open the Reel that you want to sample, then click on the name of the audio at the bottom left. You'll be taken to a screen showing all the Reels that feature that audio. Click Save Audio. You can then locate it in the Saved section within the audio search options when you record your Reel. 

 03. Record your video

Click on the stopwatch icon if you want to add a three-second timer to give you time to prepare, then press the Record button to start filming your Reel.

You can record as many pieces of footage as you want until you reach the 15- or 30-second limit. To stop filming, press the Record button again. Click < to go back and trim (or delete) the footage you just recorded. 

After recording your first piece of video, a new icon will appear on the left: the align tool. This brings up an overlay of your last piece of footage so you can line up the image to create a seamless transition when you start recording again. This helps in creating the rapid changes and stop motion-like videos that have become so popular in Reels. If you find you have too much shadow and need an affordable way to light up your Reels, see our guide to the best ring lights for Instagram Reels, TikTok and more.

You don't need to finish the Reel in a single session. If you click > through to the final sharing screen, you can save a work in progress in Drafts and continue it later.

04. Upload a prerecorded video

Like with Instagram Stories, you're not restricted to recording footage in the app itself. If you don't want to use Reels' editing tools but want to take advantage of the format's potential reach, you can upload videos that you've already made.

Simply click on the image of your camera roll in the bottom left and you'll be able to select any video on your device. Many users upload videos made on TikTok in order to share them on Instagram as well. 

If you produce your video outside of Reels, just make sure it's in portrait format (9:16). You won't be able to add music or effects to the footage in Reels; only text, stickers and filters.

05. Add text and stickers

After you've trimmed all the footage you want to use, click >. On the next screen, you can add text, stickers and filters. The mechanics and the fonts available are largely the same as in Instagram Stories.

The main difference is that you can choose the moment when you want text to appear and disappear. This flexibility can be used to create text narratives for tutorials, work-in-progress videos or video listicles.

Each text you add will create a small black rectangle at the bottom of the screen. To select a particular piece of text, click on the corresponding rectangle, turning it white. You'll then be able drag the entry and exit points on the bar below to choose when you want the text to appear and disappear.

Unlike with Instagram Stories, any tags you try to add in the text won't work. You'll need to add them later in the caption.

06. Write a caption and add tags

If you want to save your Reel to your device to use elsewhere, now's the time to click on the download icon top centre. Unlike TikTok, Instagram will remove any third-party audio from the downloaded video. On the upside, it doesn't add a watermark.

After that, click > to progress to the final screen. Here you can add a caption, which will appear overlaid at the bottom left of your Reel. It will also appear below your Reel in the format of a standard Instagram post if you toggle on 'Also share in feed'. 

As with any content on Instagram, adding mention tags and hashtags in the caption can help your Reel reach to more people.

07. Share your Reel

You can still click on the back arrow at this stage if you want to re-edit anything. Otherwise, click on the Cover to choose the point of the video you want to use as the cover when it appears on your profile, then click Share.

If you have a public account, your Reel may appear on Instagram's Explore page. People will be able to comment on it unless you disable commenting. Open your published Reel and click on the three dots at the bottom right to find the option to disable commenting or to delete your Reel.

If you used original audio, other users will now be able to use that in their own Reels. That's as far as the options for recycling content go at the moment, but Instagram is starting to roll out a Remix feature based on TikTok’s Duet. This will allow users to respond to a Reel by recording their own version of the content alongside it. It will be possible to enable or disable this option in Settings.

Troubleshooting for Instagram Reels

I don't have Reels

Reels is now available to all Instagram users. If you find you still don't have it or that some of the features are missing, check in the App Store or Google Play to see if an Instagram update is available. Failing that, try uninstalling the app then installing it again. 

The latest update with the Remix feature has not yet been made available to all users.

I can't add music

For copyright reasons, users with business accounts may find they don't have the option to add music in Reels or Stories. This is something Instagram seems to be adjusting. Users in many areas report that the option has now been added. Try updating the app to check if the option has been added in your area. Otherwise, many users get around the issue by pre-editing Reels using a different platform.

I want to include still images

You can only add video to a Reel. To include a still image, either edit your video on another platform then upload it to Reels or use a screen recorder to turn the still into video.

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Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He's in charge of getting our product reviews up onto the website and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to office supplies. He's worked as a writer and translator for 20 years and also works as a project manager at a design and branding agency based in London and Buenos Aires, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors.