Perfect your aesthetic by choosing your own Instagram Story background

You're in control, not Instagram.
A person holding up their phone in front of a cityscape at night to take a photo for an Instagram Story.
Complete customization is at your fingertips. Magnus Andersson / Unsplash

Anyone who’s added a photo to an Instagram Story knows the app slides its own gradient underneath, based on the colors in the image. Sometimes that default choice is perfect—exactly what you’re looking for. But when it’s not, changing the background can be pretty tricky if you haven’t spent a lot of time poking around the various editing tools.

There are, in fact, three ways to change the background of an Instagram Story, and they’re easy to handle once you know the right buttons to press.

How to change the background color of an Instagram Story

Once you’ve opened up a Story draft, take a photo of anything or add a photo from your camera roll, whichever is easier and fits your aesthetic plans. It doesn’t matter what you do, as this image is simply a placeholder that will soon disappear. Just, uh, don’t use a photo of anything you wouldn’t want people to see—mistakes happen.

The only time this first photo won’t disappear is when you share someone else’s Story post that you were tagged in. Do that, and Instagram will keep it on top and visible after you change the background.

[Related: 8 creative ways to add flair to your Instagram stories]

With an image in place, iOS users should tap the three dots in the top right corner of the screen, then Draw. On Android, tap the draw icon (a squiggly line). Then, on either operating system, choose the pen tip icon (all the way to the left). Next, choose a color from the options at the bottom of the screen (swipe left to see more) or tap the eyedropper icon to choose a color from the image in your draft. Finally, press and hold anywhere on the screen for about two seconds to fill it with your solid selected color. Tap Done in the top right to lock it in.

To add a photo on top, tap the sticker icon (a squared smiley face) and scroll to find the camera roll sticker. On iOS this is a circular preview of your most recent photo overlaid with what looks like two mountains in a frame, and on Android it’s two rectangles with a plus sign. Tap this to open your camera roll, then select any image you want to drop it onto your background.

There’s a shortcut for iOS users too: Open your camera roll, copy the picture you want (share icon > Copy Photo), and go back to your Story draft. Your copied photo will appear for a few seconds in the bottom left and you can add it to your Story from there. If you don’t see it, you’ll have to use the sticker icon steps we just discussed.

How to create a translucent background

If you want to put a translucent tint over a photo, follow all the steps above, but choose the highlighter icon instead of the pen tip. Press and hold a second time to make the color more opaque, or press and hold a third time to turn it solid. You can still add a photo on top if you wish.

How to use a custom Instagram Story background

If you can get an image on your camera roll, you can make it a Story background. With your custom background saved among your selfies and screenshots, add it to your Story as you would any other photo. If necessary, use two fingers to shrink, expand, and rotate it as you see fit. Then tap the sticker icon and find the camera roll sticker (a preview of your most recent photo with two mountains in a frame on top). Tap that and choose any image you want.

How to create an Instagram Story background with the Create tool

Instagram offers a number of backgrounds and templates inside its Create tool, though you are limited to what the app has in its library. To check it out, start a Story draft and make sure your camera is on, as if you were going to snap a shot for your Story. Next, tap the Aa icon.

This will bring up a multi-colored field with some circular icons along the bottom that you can swipe through. Most of them have a few preset backgrounds for you. Tap the colored circle in the bottom right corner to cycle through them. Once you tap the big button in the center to lock it in, that colored circle may move to the top of the screen for any further adjustments you may wish to make. If it disappears, you’ve chosen one of the less flexible options and will have to tap the back button, then Discard to choose another background.

When you’re ready, tap the sticker icon, find the camera roll sticker, choose your photo, and let your creativity flow from there.