Instagram Photo Books Are the New Millennial Scrapbooks

Squared.One Gave My Instagram Photos A New Life Offline

I have a photo problem. Just ask my laptop which literally groans when I open Lightroom containing 18,000 photos or iPhoto with an additional 27,000 – it starts burning up like I lit it on fire. Part of this is just the curse of being an amateur photographer – I’ve got a DSLR camera that’s been in heavy rotation since 2007, and a decade of travel that needed extensive documenting. But then came along iPhones that could actually take decent photos and sit in my pocket, and the photo problem became a photo obsession. 

I take pictures of everything. And I have no idea what to do with all of them. When you average 2000 photos per two week trip, it’s impossible to showcase or share all of them. No one flips through endless Facebook albums anymore except your well-meaning busy-body aunts, and Instagram is the home of the elite curation. Last year I spent a week in Devon and a week in Scotland, and I maybe shared ten of those pictures on Instagram. I still loved all the rest (OK some) of the ones that didn’t make the cut, but what do I do with them? Let them rot on my hard drive? My walls are already shuddering at the weight of my photography, as are my friends and family, and let’s face it, printing and framing pictures is expensive.

So color me delightfully surprised when reached out asking if I’d review their service. To be fully upfront, they offered me a $200 voucher to print my Instagram photos. Squared has a variety of services, from vintage Polaroid-style framed photos to large square photos with and without borders; layflat cardboard as well as smaller paper with matte colored cardboard bound photo books; individual poster sized prints and squared Instagram wall-esque posters; as well as magnets in all shapes and sizes.

Admittedly, I was skeptical at what the quality could possibly be on photos plucked from Instagram. If you’ve ever printed one your phone pics (especially ones edited on a phone app) you know that the print quality tends to be very low. The dark tones tend to blur together, skin tones take on an orange hue, highlights blow out, and the overall effect is highly pixelated. As much as it sucks, there’s a reason quality printing is so pricey. But the lure of finding a home for my endless supply of photos (that wouldn’t require me to buy a new house with a gallery wall or beat my laptop until Lightroom opens so I could show people), was enough for me to give it a whirl.

I decided to try my hand at the photo books, and promptly had an existential crisis over which photos to choose, how to organize them, what themes to go with each book, and if the color schemes worked per page. (I’m a Virgo, you just learn to live with these conundrums.) Over the timespan of a week and a half I combed through my photo libraries, and narrowed it down to four potential books: family beach vacations, Scotland trips, England and Wales trips, and a compilation of my baking endeavors. This was hands down the hardest part, and all of it was my own anal retentive fault. When I finally started using Squared’s layout software, it couldn’t have been easier. 

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The best part about Squared is you can just pull photos from your Instagram. For the casual user, this is probably all you’ll need to do – input your Instagram username and it will pull up all your posts that you can drag and drop as you please. If you’re like me and need to grab them from a hundred other locations (Lightroom, iPhoto, Flickr, SmugMug, hard drives, Dropbox, etc…) you can  drag and drop batch uploads directly into their interface all at once. There’s no lag in having to upload them one by one and eat up an entire night just preparing to make your books. The interface gives you a multitude of layout options for the books as well. You can do full two-page spreads with one, two or three photos; stack one to four photos per page; do full single page squares, verticals, or horizontal photos, and so much more. There are options to put text besides, above, or below most layout options, though admittedly there is little to no text editor. You can’t change font, format, or switch size or colors on the text. It’s a minor annoyance, but if you’re anal retentive like me it will bother you. 

I decidedly went overboard designing my photo books. I chose the large 8×8 layflat cardboard books for the Scotland and England collections because they’d be comprised of almost entirely DSLR photos that could be scaled up for print. Each book started at $39 and I very quickly ran out of their allotted 40 pages. To add more pages, it cost $1.55 each and for the largest book I made, it ended up costing $60 and included 110 photos. The rest which were of a more reasonable size, were $52 for another 8 x 8” and 64 photos; a 5 ½ x 5 ½” with 83 photos for $44; and a square 6.7 x 6.7” paper book with 66 photos for $22 (additional pages for this one were only $1). To round out the voucher, I printed 23 4 x 4” Polaroid-style Instagram photos for my sister for $13.57. That’s 346 photos printed in a beautifully designed (by me no less) format for $200 exactly – and free shipping. That’s kind of hard to beat if the quality stands up. 

Perhaps my favorite part of the site was the ability to share the projects you’re working on. Squared gives you a link you can copy, tweet, email or send to Facebook to either show off your photo books, or in my case, get a second set of eyes on them to see if you missed anything. It gives you the ability to flip through the whole book and view the layouts. What’s even cooler, I can share them with y’all too:

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Baking: Small Photo Album 5½×5½″ 

Scotland: Big Photo Album 8×8″

England & Wales: Big Photo Album 8×8″

Hatteras: Square 6.7× 6.7″

Once I ordered the books and printed photos (hell yeah to free world-wide shipping) it took about ten days for them to arrive, and boy was it worth the wait. The large photo albums legitimately felt like a slightly thinner children’s cardboard book. It threw me a bit at first because it gives everything more of a matte look, but I quickly began to appreciate how sturdy that makes them and less prone to ripping or manhandling over the years. The smaller square book had thinner paper, but the glossiness made the pictures pop more. The quality of the print far exceeded my expectations. The colors were vivid, there was no pixelation to be found, and frankly it’s up there with the wedding book I’d ordered professionally printed from SmugMug, but for a quarter the cost. 

I do have to make the caveat that 75% of my photos were from a professional camera. The snapshot Polaroids I printed for my sister directly off her Instagram were definitely not as clear. They’re absolutely fine for casual framing, but if you’re looking for professional grade photography, please remember that any printer is limited by the quality of the photo. If it’s too small or the .jpeg has been overedited, that’s what is going to show up, so don’t expect miracles. 

Overall I am absolutely delighted by the photo books, and so are the family and friends I’ve been showing them too. I feel as if I made my own coffee table books and now have an easy, portable way of sharing special memories and cherished photos with people without having to shuffle through thousands of photos each time. I plan to have these for a long time to come, and I like the idea of continuing to make these books as a modern keepsake books. I’m never going to be the scrapbook person my grandmother is – she has a whole hallway with meticulously compiled books curating her whole life collecting dust upstairs in her house. It’s a stunning archival of history, but who has the time or space for them? But these small books fit as easily inside my purse as they do on a bookshelf, and with the customizable covers and bindings, look like art themselves. And afterall, isn’t kind of nice to showcase art that you made offline?

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