Changing up your wallpaper on a regular basis is a fun way to personalise your desktop, and there's no way to make it more personal than to use your own photos. You could download your photos manually and set up a rotating wallpaper based on those photos, but why do it manually when you can automate it? Here's how.
We stumbled on this trick thanks to Hacker News reader alex_doom, who mentioned it in this great thread full of creative IFTTT recipes. Check it out for even more useful recipes (some of which we've shared before).
First, we need to back up all of your Instagram photos to Dropbox for safe keeping — both in the cloud and locally on your desktop. Then, since the photos are on your desktop too, you can quickly point Windows or OS X at the folder, and tell it to rotate through the photos inside every time it switches your wallpaper. Here's how to set it all up:
Back Up Your Instagram Photos to Dropbox
Fortunately, there are close to a dozen IFTTT recipes that back up Instagram photos to Dropbox, so we don't need to reinvent the wheel.
- Log in to IFTTT (or sign up for it if you're not using it, which you really should be).
- Visit this IFTTT recipe (or any of the myriad others that auto-save Instagram photos to Dropbox) and enable the Instagram and Dropbox channels if they're not active already. You'll be prompted to log in and connect to each service if you haven't done so.
- Customise the folder path (if you want) where your Instagram photos will be stored in Dropbox.
- Click "Use Recipe" at the bottom of the page to activate it.
Once the recipe is active, it will act every time you post a new photo to Instagram. It won't grab your old photos, so you'll still have to do that manually if you want a good collection to get started. Once you do post a new Instagram photo though, IFTTT will create the folder and dump the photo inside. Congratulations, you're now backing up all of your Instagram photos to Dropbox!
Set Up Your Instagram-Powered Wallpaper Rotation (or Slideshow Screensaver)
From here, you have to configure your OS to use that folder for wallpapers. You'll want at least one photo inside, so make sure to take an Instagram photo before you start. Here's how to do it in Windows and OS X:
- Right-click on the desktop and choose "Personalize".
- Click "Desktop Background" at the bottom of the window.
- Next to "Picture Location", click Browse, and navigate to your Dropbox folder, the IFTTT folder inside and the Instagram folder inside that. Select the Instagram folder and click OK.
- If you haven't set your photos to rotate periodically, you can do that at the bottom of the Desktop Background window. Under "Change picture every:", choose how frequently you want to see a new wallpaper. Checking "Shuffle" makes sure you don't see them all in order of filename.
- Click "Save changes."
If you'd prefer to use your Instagram photos as a screen saver instead of as wallpaper, click "Screen Saver" after the first step above. Pull down the screen saver menu and select "Photos". Navigate to your Instagram folder, select how fast Windows should change photos in the slide show (and click Shuffle unless you want to see them in order) and click Save.
- Right-Click the Desktop and Choose "Change Desktop Background" (or go open System Preferences and select "Desktop").
- You'll see a list of folders you can choose from on the left. At the bottom of the left sidebar, click the Plus sign (+).
- Navigate to your Dropbox folder, the IFTTT folder inside and the Instagram folder. Select that folder and click "Choose".
- At the bottom of the Desktop & Screen Saver window, check "Change picture:" and choose how frequently you want the wallpaper to change. You can check "Random order" if you want them shuffled.
- Close System Preferences.
If you'd prefer your Mac uses the new photos as a screen saver, Click the "Screen Saver" tab after step one above. Choose the style of photo screensaver you'd like from the sidebar on the left — there are lots of options, so you can click one to see a preview of it on the right. Once you find one you like, click the drop-down next to Source, select "Choose folder" and navigate to your Instagram folder (and click "Shuffle slide order" if you don't want them in order.
That's all there is to it. There are other tools that can handle things like this, but the beauty of using IFTTT is that you can tweak and customise it to work just the way you want, using whatever photo sources you prefer. If you scoff at Instagram and wouldn't sully your wallpapers with heavily filtered photos, you can use Flickr instead, for example. Just point IFTTT to your Flickr account or to a public Flickr group that you're a member of. If you want to back up your photos to a cloud service that's not Dropbox, like Box.net or Google Drive, you can do that too.
The possibilities are endless, and that's what makes IFTTT so great: If you don't like what we've done with it here, you can very easily tweak it to work the way you want.