Instagram has some useful built-in location features, but there are some quirks to how to use them and how they reliable are. Here's a rundown.
Instagram has some useful location search functions built in. They’re useful not only for the curiosity of knowing where a photo was taken, but also for finding other photos taken at that location. Since most of the accounts I follow are related in some way to travel (or travel photography), the location features are ones that I use quite a lot.
There are several ways to use them. They’re not perfect–they have some inherent quirks in how reliable they are and how they work–but they can be useful ways to find photos and accounts you want to see. So here’s a rundown of how to use them.
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But first, I should point out one of the most important quirks: the usefulness of Instagram’s location features is directly related to how well users use them. That’s because the location is something that the user assigns (or omits), and there aren’t really any controls in place to make sure that they’re used consistently.
That comes into play in several ways. Firstly, while Instagram will usually suggest a place for the Add Location field when a user goes to post, there’s no guarantee that it’s the right one. For one thing, that recommendation is based on the phone’s current location, not on the image’s GPS metadata. If I’m sitting in a cafe in Paris and go to post a photo I took yesterday in Rome, the suggestions will be based on my location in Paris. There’s also no requirement to include a location–it can be blank (being able to leave it blank is obviously a good privacy option to have).
Secondly, Instagram doesn’t define a predetermined list of locations to choose from. In technical jargon, there’s no controlled vocabulary. You do see a list of suggestions based on what users have used before, but you can also make up anything you like. Go searching for something like “eiffel tower” and you’ll find a bunch of options. Some are more popular than others, but there’s no “correct” option that you’re limited to. And some users use the location field like a hashtag rather than having anything to do with place, including brand names or things like “my favorite city” or “my street” or “planet earth.”
Thirdly, there aren’t any rules that the location has to be in the location field. Many users put the location as a hashtag, just as you would in something like Twitter, rather than in the field that’s specifically designed for the place.
All of that means that doing an Instagram location search can be a bit hit and miss. You might have to try several of the available options in the location field as well as hashtags. And if users haven’t identified the location in their post using one of those two methods, it’s just not going to show up at all in the search results.
The most basic way to search by Location on Instagram is to use the usual search feature. In the Instagram app, tap on the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen. That will bring up the search console.
You then have a couple of options. One is to just start typing. It defaults to a “Top” view, which is basically a catch-all category for all the results. That includes hashtags, people, and places. So for a search like “eiffel tower,” for instance, you’ll get the hashtag #eiffeltower, the various iterations people have used in the location field, and any accounts with Eiffel Tower in the name. So it’s the most general approach, but the results may or may not be relevant.
You can drill down into the results by using the tabs, which work as filters. So if you only want the results from the actual location field, you can click on the “Places” tab. You can do the same thing for just hashtags or Instagram account names (aka People).
There’s another good option of you want to find more photos from the same location as the image you’re currently looking at. You can click on the location field to open a dynamically generated listing of images tagged with that location. The text is small, and if you accidentally click on the username instead, you’ll open their account homepage.
The result will be something like this, including a map view:
Again, you have the same limitations in that you’re totally reliant on users self-assigning the location field.
There’s another way that you can work with the location field. This mostly comes up if you’re using an app, plugin, or feed that’s interacting with Instagram programmatically.
I said above that there’s no controlled vocabulary, but that’s not entirely true–at least not under the hood. Instagram assigns its registered locations with a Location ID, which is a string of numbers. Some plugins and feeds can use that location ID to act as a filter to display photos from that place, much the same way you can filter using hashtags.
But how to find that number isn’t self-evident. So here’s the quick way to find Instagram’s location ID for any given place.
Log into the Instagram website (instagram.com) using a web browser.
In the search bar, type the name of the place. As you type, you’ll see a list of results update in real time. This will be a combination of places, hashtags, and usernames. What you want to look for are the locations, and they’re identified with the map marker icon, like this:
Click on the location result. You’ll go to the location results page, which will have a map at the top and a grid of photos from that location below.
Look in the browser’s URL bar. You’ll have something along these lines. What you want is the string of digits in the second-last section, like this:
Copy those numbers and paste them into whatever plugin or feed you’re using.
Obviously, this isn’t a practical way to do it programmatically if you’re developing an app or script. For that you’ll want to consult Instagram’s Locations Endpoints section of the API documentation.