7 Tips to Making a Fabulous Travel Photo Book

I feel extremely privileged that I get to travel the world, and making photo albums as a way I use to share this gift with my loved ones.  This post contains my advice to crafting photo albums that will amaze your friends and family.

#1 Make it by hand.  In an age where everything has gone digital, I feel homemade photo books make very precious and thoughtful presents.  Just think of how much happier you are when you receive a postcard than when you get an email from a friend shredding the pavement in Australia or in South Africa!  I just finished preparing a handmade photo album for my family, and I seriously can’t remember the last time I had made such a unique, personalized and meaningful gift.  Time to go old school, travellers!

If you’re in a time crunch, however, or that you need several copies of your photo book, there are fabulous online resources to help you unleash your creative juices.  My friend Ting has made jaw-dropping albums using Blurb.com.  I have also had great experiences using Apple’s iPhoto Print Products service.  Delivery is speedy and their prices are very reasonable!

#2 Make it hurt.   Once you’ve edited your best shots, made a preliminary selection and had those photos printed out, go through one more round of ruthless triage!  It’s tough, but do not indulge in including any pictures that fall short of exceptional.   In this process, I highly recommend making parsimony your word of order.  Yes the Eiffel Tower is awesome, but it can only be interesting so many times – even if taken from different angles!

The latest strategy I have developed to ensure I truly have the best selection possible is to cut out pictures up to the point where cutting just one more shot would actually be painful.  To help me include only great stuff, I keep the pictures I am hesitant about and send them separately, with the album.  For instance, I did not include a picture of a tiger seen through a fence in my latest India album, but sent it to my dad along with the book since I know it’s his favourite animal and that I couldn’t stop thinking of him when I took that shot.

At the end of this process, I say FOR THE WIN! I know I’ve boiled it down to pure awesomeness.

#3 Ditch chronology and start with what’s most meaningful to you!  You’ll likely be more passionate about the country you have visited than anyone who will view your photo album.  Make sure the first few pictures you include communicate that love for your destination! Put together a series that features what you feel makes this place so special, moving and worth travelling to.  When I went to Italy, food and renaissance architecture are what made me fall for la bea vita and as such I’ll make sure these things get a prominent place in my album.  In the case of India, the people with their intense religiosity, colourful outfits and deep looks are what touched my heart the most.  I therefore chose to introduce the sub-continent with this series of pictures.

Whether chronology should be sacred is debatable, but I personally think it shouldn’t.  To begin with, the people who’ll view your album are clueless about the order in which you visited each place.  Most importantly, however, I find that straying from a chronological order sometimes allows me to be more creative.  Further, I find it easier to explain complex cultural practices when I group my pictures thematically as opposed to chronologically.

Finally, I’d also suggest closing the album on a note that’s somewhat intense and will keep the people who view your pictures thinking for a while.  I usually make sure the last picture of my album is one of the most intriguing and stunning I have included in the book.

#4 Pre-write your captions.  Working by hand definitely gives more character to your craft, but it also means that mistakes are far more difficult to rectify.  I find it very helpful to prepare a draft version of my album’s text and captions so I can run a spell check, edit sentences and polish what I have written before I make it final.  Doing so helps keep my work clean and exempt from spelling mistakes.

Another tip pertaining to captions is to always keep in mind who this album is destined to, and their level of knowledge about the intricacies of the country you have visited. If you will be present when they first see the album, keeping your written content to a minimum might not be a bad idea.  If you can’t be there to provide verbal commentary, however, written explanations can go a long way in increasing the level of comprehension and appreciation your audience will have when viewing your pictures.  When I know I won’t be able to explain each picture in person, I include a one-page introduction for each section of the album where I explain the cultural particularities or events featured in the next pages.  Short captions next to pictures can also help explain simple but crucial facts about a picture (e.g. that the man on the picture above is a sadhu, that is ascetic Indian man that has renounced all possessions and is highly regarded by Hindus).

#5 Introduce meaningful people in a detailed manner.  One of my favourite things about travlling is that I inevitably meet people who broaden my horizons and allow me to grow as a person.  I make a special effort to introduce people who have had a profound impact on me or have helped in a significant way.  For example, in an album I made recently, I introduced my friend Nicolas as the wonderful guy who looked after me when I got sick travelling Asia, and of whom I took care of when he got typhoid.  I found it equally important to introduce my friend Ravi who spent countless hours teaching me Hindi and imparting me with a greater understanding of Indian customs.  Part of the reason why I make sure I include these details is somewhat selfish: I know in 20 years down the road, I’ll be able to ask my family to see this album again and that I’ll be ever so glad to be reminded of some of the amazing interactions I’ve had here in South Asia.

#6 Buy your album while traveling, not after.  The cover of your book is the first impression people will have of your photo album. Getting one that is representative of your travel destination will surely add to the effect your album makes on people.  There really is nothing like a Rajasthani leather photo album with an embossed Ganesha to introduce your travels to India, or handmade paper to showcase the artistic talent found Italy is replete with.

Another piece of advice I learned the hard way is to get a proper photo album, not a journal.  The bindings of journals are usually not big enough to accommodate how thick its content will become once you’ve stuck pictures inside.  Ultimately, this causes your book to be difficult to close and look quite amateur.  In contrast, the bindings of photo albums are made wide enough to accommodate the content you’ll paste.  They also often contain pieces of protective material that will ensure pictures on each side of a spread don’t touch each other and damage one another’s coloration.

#7 Be patient and have fun!  Truth be said, making photo albums always takes longer than you expect.  I spent approximately 34 hours working on my latest one, at times cursing myself for undertaking the project.  Ultimately, however, I can say I got far more out of making the album than I relenquished making it.  I was going through a bit of a low phase during my student exchange and making this album got me to focus on the amazing moments I’ve had in India, and to remember why I love this country so much.  At one point, I even had tears of happiness running down my cheeks.  That’s on top of how many smiles the album will put on my loved one’s faces.

Do you usually take the time to make photo albums?  Any tips?  How have people reacted to the albums you have gifted to them in the past?


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