How to Use Snapchat: A Crash Course on Filters, Memories, Snapcash & More

I thought I knew how to use Snapchat, the service that lets you send disappearing photos and videos to friends, but there are a lot of smaller Snapchat features within the larger context of sending pictures and videos to your friends and family. Snapchat is known as an app for millennials, but there’s no reason it can't be Snapchat for all generations of adults. Even if you know the basics of how to use Snapchat, I’m sure we’ll have even more for you to discover in this article. We'll start with how to use Snapchat, and venture into how to use Snapchat filters, send Snapcash, and update Snapchat, and so much more. We’re going through the entire app and showing you all the ways in which you can use Snapchat. Come down this rabbit hole with me, let’s see what madhatters we can meet. Here’s how to use Snapchat: a complete guide.

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So you want to know how to use Snapchat. Well you’ve come to the right tea party. The basic premise of Snapchat is its 24-hour turnover rate. When you add a picture or video to your Snapchat story (we’ll cover what that is later), it disappears after 24-hours. When you send a friend a snap (the term for picture or video sent via Snapchat), it disappears after they view it. This adds a fun, kick-back-and-relax element to the app. On many social media platforms you tend to want to look your best and present a certain image to the world—but with Snapchat you can act silly knowing the evidence of it won’t remain on your feed or timeline indefinitely. Snapchat is also used to report on live events, and many publications use Snapchat as a portal to its articles. In our how-to-use Snapchat guide, we’ll cover it all. Check out the table of contents below to skip to any section you want to learn more about.

This Guide Includes:

How to Set Up Snapchat: Getting Started

The Basics of Using Snapchat

What Are Snapchat Stories All About?

More Snapchat Features to Try Out

How to Set Up Snapchat: Getting Started

  • If you haven’t already, visit the App Store and download Snapchat.
  • Open the app and click Sign Up.
  • Enter your First and Last name. Tap Sign Up.
  • Enter Your Birthday. Tap Continue.

  • Pick a username. Choose wisely; you cannot change your username later in Snapchat. Tap Continue.
  • Set a Password. Tap Continue.

  • Enter your email. You can also choose to sign up with your phone number instead. If you select that, you will be prompted to enter your phone number. Tap Continue.
  • Next you’ll be asked to prove you aren’t a robot. Tap the squares that contain a ghost. Tap Continue.
  • Snapchat will ask for access to your Camera. Tap OK.
  • Snapchat will ask for access to your Microphone. Tap OK.
  • Choose whether or not you want Snapchat to send you notifications. When on, you will get notifications if a friend sends you a snap.
  • You’re ready to go!

Taking Your Snapchat Profile Picture

  • From the Camera View, tap the ghost icon at the top of your screen or swipe down from the top to view your Profile on Snapchat.
  • Tap the ghost icon to add a series of selfies.

  • It will say, Ready, Set, Go and take five snapshots. Then these shots will be strung together and used as your profile picture.
  • You can always retake your profile picture by tapping the ghost icon and selecting the circle at the bottom center of the screen.

how to use snapchat

  • Tap the back arrow to return to your Profile.

Your profile picture can also be used to add friends. The picture above demonstrates. From your profile, tap the question mark in the upper left corner to see Snapchat’s instructions on how to do this.

How to Adjust Settings in Snapchat

  • Tap the Gear icon in the upper right corner of your Profile.
  • Snapchat Setting menu items will appear in red if they need attention. For example, my email in the screenshot is red—Snapchat wants me to verify it.

  • From Settings, you can change a lot of things such as notifications settings, credit card info for sending Snapcash, Privacy settings, and more. We’ll go through a couple of the important ones.
  • First, in Settings, scroll down and tap Manage. If you want to enjoy the filters part of Snapchat (trust me, you’ll want to) then make sure to toggle on Filters.

  • In this same section, tap Friend Emojis. When you and a friend send lots of snaps back and forth, you’ll start to see these icons appear next to their name. This is the section that tells you what each of those emojis mean and allows you to change what emojis represent what. For example, you can tap Super BFF and swap out the two pink hearts for a kissy face or dancing emoji. Once changed, the new emoji will appear next to your Super BFF's username in the Chat and Stories screen in Snapchat. To change an emoji, simply click on it and select the new one.

  • Go back to the Manage section. Tap Permissions. This will tell you what permissions you are giving the app and why you would want to turn each one on. Tap Edit Permissions at the bottom to change them.

  • Go back to the main Settings page. Under Who Can… you’ll see your Privacy settings:
  • Choose Contact Me to change who can directly send you Snaps, Chats, calls, etc.
  • Choose View My Story to choose who can see your Story.

That’s all we’ll cover in Settings for now. Explore the rest and we’ll return to Settings when we set up Snapcash later on.

Guide to Snapchat Icons & Screens: What Does it Mean!

As mentioned in the Settings tip above, there are lots of emojis that are used in Snapchat to indicate friendship and recent actions. But there are also lots of Snapchat 101 icons you should know. Let’s check them out.

Camera Screen Icons

The camera screen on Snapchat is the one you see upon opening the app. From this screen you’ll see the following icons:

  • Lightning Bolt: Tap to turn flash on and off. Lightning bolt with an x means it’s off.
  • Moon: Only appears in low light settings. When moon is filled in white, Night Mode is turned on. Tap to turn on and off.
  • Camera icon with arrows (upper right corner): Click this to change from Front-Facing Camera to Rear-Facing Camera.
  • Message Bubble: located in the lower left corner, this icon indicates your Snapchat inbox—known as the Chat screen. Swipe right to view that screen.
  • Three Circles: located in the lower right corner, this icon indicates your Stories screen. Swipe left to view this screen.
  • Ghost: Takes you to your profile where you can change your profile picture, add friends, and see who has added you. This is also where you access Settings. You can access your profile by tapping the ghost icon or swiping down from the top of the screen. 

After you’ve taken a snap, there are more icons you will see. We’ll cover how to take Snapchats below, but here are the icons you’ll see after you’ve taken a snap and what they mean:

  • X: Tap this to delete the photo or video you took.
  • Stopwatch with a Number: Tap this to determine how long a snap photo lasts. You can set a photo to appear for 1 to 10 seconds.
  • Downward Arrow: Tap this to download a photo to your Camera Roll or Memories (if turned on).
  • Square with +: Tap this to add the photo or video to your Story.
  • Square with Folded Corner: Tap this to add a sticker or emoji to your snap.
  • T: Tap this to add text to your snap; tap again to format the text. 
  • Pencil: Tap this to draw or markup your photo or video.
  • Arrow in blue circle: Tap this to choose who to send your snap to.

Chat Screen Icons

When you swipe right from the Camera view on Snapchat, you open your Inbox—known as the Chat screen. This is where you’ll check snaps you’ve received. When you and a friend send snaps back and forth often, you’ll begin to see emojis next to their names. You can see what some of these emojis mean in Settings (click Manage, tap Friend Emojis). There are lots of other icons you may see in Chat as well. Check out the images below for easy explanations. Full credit to Snapchat Emojis for the images:

  • These icons appear when you send Snapchats:

  • These icons appear when you receive Snapchats:

  • These icons appear when someone takes a screenshot of your Snapchat or replays your Snapchat. You can only replay a Snapchat once a day and right after viewing it. 

  • Here are some of the emojis you might see next to your friend’s names and what they mean. To see more and change what emoji represents, open Settings in Snapchat. Click Manage, and tap Friend Emojis.

Stories Screen Icons

When you swipe left from the Camera view on Snapchat, you open the Stories screen. This is where you’ll view your friends’ stories. We’ll cover that more in the Snapchat Stories section. The emojis that appear next to your friends in the Chat section will also appear here and mean the same thing. There are only a couple of icons you need to know on this page:

  • Camera: located in the upper left corner, this icon takes you back to Camera view.
  • Globe of dots: located in the upper right corner, this icon takes you to the Discover page of Snapchat where you can view publications’ snap stories, articles, and live events. We’ll discuss this more in the Snapchat Stories section.

How to Update Snapchat

We’re covering as many different features as possible in this article, but Snapchat is constantly releasing new ones. To update Snapchat:

  • Open the App Store on your iPhone.
  • Tap Updates at the bottom of the screen.
  • Tap Update next to the Snapchat icon.

  • You can click on What’s New to see what features are being added or which bugs are being fixed.

The Basics of Using Snapchat

Now that you’re all set up and know what all the icons mean, let’s start sending snaps with Snapchat! First, let’s dive into the basics of how to send Snapchat photos and videos. Then we’ll have some fun with the various Snapchat filters, stickers, and more.

How to Take & Send Snapchat Photos & Videos

  • If not already there, navigate to the Camera view in Snapchat.
  • To take a picture, tap the large circle near the bottom of the screen.
  • *Note that there are two circles, a small and a large one. The small one takes you to Memories, which we’ll cover later.

  • To take a video, tap and hold the large circle near the bottom of the screen.
  • If you’re confused about what the icons mean, make sure to read up on Camera Screen Icons above.

  • Once you’ve taken a picture or video that you want to send, tap the blue circle with a white arrow in the lower right corner.
  • Tap each friend you want to directly send the picture or video to. Tap My Story to add it to your story of pictures and videos for that day. By default, any of your friends can watch your story; remember that the day’s images disappear after twenty-four hours.
  • If you have Memories turned on, you will also see the option to save it to My Memories. We’ll go over what that is later.
  • Once you’ve selected some people to send your snap to, tap the blue bar with a white arrow at the bottom of the screen to send it.

How to Mark Up Images & Add Text

When you take a snap, whether picture or video, there are lots of fun things you can do to it before you send it. We went over what these different icons mean in the Camera Screen Icons tip above. Now let’s put what we learned into practice.

  • First, let’s add a sticker to this image using the icon that looks like a square with a folded corner.
  • From here, you can swipe through lots of different stickers. I’m going to choose a coffee sticker.

  • I can use my finger to move the sticker anywhere on the screen I want. I can also tap the same icon again to add a second sticker.
  • Now I want to add some text to the my image. To do this, tap the T icon.
  • Begin typing whatever words you’d like. Once you’ve typed what you want, tap the T again to see the other formatting options you have.
  • Pro tip: want more space or characters when typing? Open up Notes, tap enter to create lots of white space, copy the blank space, and paste it into the text box on Snapchat. Now you have a large box to enter all the text you want.

  • Now I want to draw on the image. To do this, tap the pencil icon.
  • The box around the pencil icon tells me what color I’m currently using. Tap the spectrum of colors to change what color you’re using.
  • Use your finger to draw on the image. If you make a mistake, tap the undo arrow.

  • Tap the pencil icon again when you’re done drawing.
  • Now let’s decide how long we want the image to appear for when the snap is opened. To do this, tap the stopwatch icon with a number in it.

  • If you want to save the image to your iPhone or Memories, tap the downward arrow.

  • To quickly add it to your Story, tap the square with a +. Only use that icon if you only want to send the snap to your Story.

  • Finish your snap and tap the white arrow to send it to your friends, story, and memories.

How to Use Snapchat Filters

There are two different kind of filters in Snapchat. Filters that you apply after a snap is taken are the first part of this tip. These filters go over your photo or video. The second kind of filters are the really fun filters. These only work when the camera is set to front-facing (selfie) mode; they are applied before a photo or video is taken. Let’s look at each.

After-the-fact Filters:

  • First, take a picture or video.
  • Swipe left and right to see the different filter options you have. Some of them change the color of your photo or video while others overlay information. There are also geofilters, which means depending on where you’re located, you’ll see different options such as a Golden Gate Bridge if you’re in San Francisco. Of course, geofilters only work if Snapchat is allowed to know your location.

  • Pro tip: You can apply multiple filters simultaneously by applying one filter then holding your finger on the screen while you swipe through and find the second filter. Lift your  finger then, again, hold your finger to the screen and swipe to add a third filter.

Super Fun Face Filters:

  • From the Camera screen, tap the Camera icon to switch to front-facing (selfie) mode.
  • Hold your finger to the screen until a grid appears on your face. Lift your finger.
  • At the bottom, you’ll see multiple circles with faces. Swipe through while holding the camera in front of your face to see the effects.

  • Some of these face filters have actions. Lift your eyebrows or open your mouth to see what happens. There are also voice-changing filters now. To try them out, take a video of yourself and listen back.

  • Once you choose the filter you like, simply take a picture or video as you normally would, then send it to your friends and post it to your story.

How to Find & Add Friends on Snapchat

Now that you know all the ways in which you can take snaps and change them up, let’s find and add your friends so you can send them all the snaps you’re creating.

  • From the Camera screen, tap the ghost icon at the top or swipe down from the top of the screen.
  • Tap Add Friends.
  • If you used Facebook to create your account or have connected your phone number or email to your Snapchat account, then the app will be able to use your contacts from Facebook and your iPhone to find people you may want to add.  
  • On the Add Friends screen, you’ll see the options: Add by Username, Add from Address Book, Add by Snapcode, Add Nearby, and Share Username. Below that you’ll (sometimes) see Quick Add options.

If you know the username of the friend you want to add:

  • Tap Add by Username.
  • Search for their username.
  • If they have a profile picture, it will be easy to know whether or not that is them. Tap Add.

To add friends from your phone’s contacts:

  • Tap Add from Address Book.
  • You’ll be prompted to enter your phone number.  Tap Verify.
  • Tap either Send via SMS or Call me instead.
  • Enter the verification code. Tap Continue.
  • It will bring up all the people found in your address book that have a Snapchat account. Tap Add.
  • It will also give you the option to invite friends from your Contacts that don’t have a Snapchat account.

To add friends using your profile picture (Snapcode):

  • You’ll need to have a picture of their Snapcode on your phone. The Snapcode is just a picture of their profile picture, but it’s the ghost and yellow square around the picture that give it a unique code of sorts. (*The second image below also shows that you can hold your Snapchat camera over the picture of their Snapcode; the app will be able to recognize their Snapcode in that way as well. )
  • Once you have the photo, tap Add by Snapcode from the Add Friends page.

  • It will bring up your Camera Roll. Select the photo of your friend’s Snapcode.
  • Snapchat will scan it.
  • When it recognizes their Snapcode, their profile picture, name, and username will pop up. Tap Add Friend. 
  • If you scan your own Snapcode, Snapchat will reply with a side-glance emoji that says Lol.

To find Snapchat users near you:

  • From the Add Friend’s page, click Add Nearby.
  • It will ask permission to use your location to find nearby Snapchatters. If you’re okay with that, tap OK.
  • Ask the person you want to add to open Add Nearby on their Snapchat account.
  • When it finds them, it will display their profile and username. Tap Add.

To share your Username:

  • From the Add Friend’s page, tap Share Username.
  • Choose where you want to share it. Some options are Message, Mail, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • Tap Post.

How to Accept a Snapchat Friend Request

  • From the Camera screen, tap the ghost icon.
  • If you have friend requests waiting, Added Me will be in yellow and there will be a number next to it indicating the number of pending friend requests.
  • Tap on Added Me.
  • You’ll see the friend requests. Tap Add to accept.

How to View, Replay, and Reply to a Friend’s Snapchat


  • Swipe right from the Camera screen to see your inbox of snaps known as the Chat screen.
  • A filled square lets you know a snap is waiting to be viewed.
  • Tap the square to view the snap.
  • Note: if the square is purple, make sure your sound is turned on.
  • To skip a snap, tap on the screen.


You can replay a snap once a day and only immediately after viewing the snap.

  • Once you’ve viewed the snap, you’ll see Press and Hold to Replay just below the sender’s name.
  • Press and hold. The square will refill with color, indicating it is once again ready to be played.
  • Tap the square to play the replay.


Once you’ve seen a friend’s snap, you may have a witty remark or want to reply with a snap of your own. To do this:

  • From the Chat screen, locate the friend you want to reply to. Swipe right on their name. This will open the chat conversation.
  • If you want to reply with words, tap Send a chat and begin typing. Then press Send.
  • If you want to reply with a picture or video, tap the circle in the center.
  • You can also tap the framed image icon to send a picture from your Camera Roll or the smiley face icon to send a Sticker.
  • The phone and video camera icons are for calling and video calling, which you can do when connected to Wi-Fi.

What Are Snapchat Stories All About?

Snapchat stories are your chosen photos and videos of the day strung together into one short movie. When you add a picture or video to your story, it will be available to view for twenty-four hours. After that point, it will disappear. You can view your friend’s stories to see what they’ve been up to; you can also see who has viewed your story. When you finish watching one person’s story, it will automatically begin to play the next person’s story afterwards. To exit stories, swipe down from the top of the screen.

How to Add a Snapchat to Your Story

We’ve covered this above in the tip on how to send Snapchats to your friends. But let’s quickly go over the two different ways in which you can do this just to recap.

  • Take a picture or video.
  • You can add it to your story by tapping the blue circle with a white arrow, selecting My Story, and then tapping the blue send bar at the bottom of the screen.
  • Or you can quickly add a snap to your story by tapping the icon that looks like a square with a plus sign in the corner. It’s good to know, however, that you won’t have the chance to send the snap directly to friends if you choose this option.

To see who has viewed your Snapchat story that day:

  • From the Stories screen, locate My Story at the top. Tap the three vertical dots.
  • You will see a list of each snap you’ve added to your story and an eye icon with a number. The number represents the number of people who have viewed that snap.
  • Tap the eye icon to see who has viewed it. At the top of the list, you will also see an icon with arrows overlapped facing either way—that represents how many people have taken screenshots of your snap.

How to Watch & Reply to Snapchat Stories

  • From the Camera screen, swipe left to open the Stories screen.
  • Find the friend’s story you want to watch.
  • Tap their name. It will load their story. Tap again to play the story.
  • To skip a snap, tap the screen.
  • While the story is playing, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to pause the story and send a chat. This allows you to comment on a particular picture or video and they will receive the chat with a small call-out box, that way they know what snap you’re talking about.
  • Then swipe down to close the chat and the story will resume.

How to Watch Stories from Publications & Live Events

From the Stories screen, swipe left. Welcome to the Discover screen. Major publications share articles on current events and other articles they want to feature.

When major live events are happening, such as the Summer Olympics, you’ll also be able to see snaps from all kinds of people involved in the event. This is usually labeled under Live on the Stories screen and also appears on the Discover page. Right now, the Live Rio feed shows the Obamas congratulating and supporting team USA as well as featuring athletes from team USA and (mostly famous) people who live in Brazil.

To view a Story from a publication:

  • From the Discover page, tap on the story you want to read.
  • Swipe up to reveal the article, video, or snap.
  • Tap the screen or swipe to move to the next available article or snap.
  • Swipe down to return to the top and close.

To view a Live event:

  • From the Discover or Stories page, tap on the story.
  • It will play through the snaps.
  • To skip a snap, tap the screen.
  • Swipe down to close.

More Snapchat Features to Try Out

What Are Snapchat Memories?

Memories is an optional feature in Snapchat that allows you to have a designated space for snaps you want to save. You can only save your own snaps to the Memories page and other users cannot look at your Memories unless you show them to friends on your iPhone or send them to friends at later dates. By saving your favorite snaps to Memories, you’ll always have access to them without cluttering up your Camera Roll, and you can edit and send snaps in your Memories at anytime. When you add a snap from Memories to your Story at a later date, it will be framed in white and have a timestamp showing how long ago it was taken. You can also lock Memories so that if anyone happens to get on your iPhone or Snapchat profile, they won’t be able to view the memory without a passcode.

To open Memories,

  • Swipe up from Camera screen.
  • Once you’ve activated Memories, snaps you save with automatically save to Memories. You can change this in Settings.
  • Swipe down to close Memories. 

How to Send Money (Snapcash) via Snapchat

You can send money via Snapchat as well. To do this, you’ll need to enter your credit card information in the Settings section. Once you’ve done that, sending Snapcash is as simple as starting a chat with your friend.

How to set up Snapcash

  • Swipe down from Camera screen or tap the ghost.
  • Tap the gear in the upper right corner to open Settings.
  • Tap Snapcash.
  • Tap Add Card.
  • Enter your card’s information.
  • You can also choose to toggle on Security Code, which will require the sender to enter the credit card’s CVV before being able to send money.
  • Once you’ve added your credit card, you’re ready to go.

How to send Snapcash

  • From the Chat screen, either begin a conversation or open an existing one.
  • Type in a dollar sign and the amount of money you want to send. For example, $5.
  • Tap Send.

Top image credit: Denys Prykhodov /

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Conner Carey holds a bachelor's in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and resides in Fairfield, Iowa. When she's not writing, you can find her singing jazz or lifting weights. Her personal blog is currently under construction, but you can follow her on Instagram @connerleecarey.