Your Memories Deserve Better: Make a Photobook

Stack of photobooks: Las Vegas, Cuba, Galapagos, and Morocco
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Why make a photobook of your vacation? One of these fates could befall the precious memories you captured in time forever:

  • You get back from your trip with six million photos. You back them up on your computer, share 50 on Facebook, and email a few to your Mom. They stay stored on your hard drive for all time.
  • Same as the first one, but your computer crashes, and now your photos aren’t just forgotten, they’re gone forever.
  • Same as the first one, but there’s no crash. Five years pass by and your new computer doesn’t read old fashioned memory sticks or SD cards. Now you can’t look at your photos, unless you pay $200 to transfer your old technology to something you can use.

Question: Why did you bother taking pictures if you aren’t going to look at them?

Reason to make a Photobook #1: You’ll actually look at your vacation photos again. Photobooks are something you can show friends, parents, and acquaintances. A photobook doesn’t crash and doesn’t become old technology (no matter how ‘with it’ you think you are, there will come a time when you’re going to be behind the curve). Everybody likes flipping through a photobook, and you can bring it out during your dinner party.

Reason to make a Photobook #2: Face it: you’re just not into printing photos, framing photos, or scrapbooking. Good news: a photobook is a collection of printed photos already stuck to the page, and since you make it online you don’t need special scissors or coloured paper. All you need is photos (which you already have), an internet connection (you’ve got it if you’re reading this), and three good reasons to make a photobook (which you’re about to get).

Reason to make a Photobook #3: It’s fun to show off your vacation, and deep down you love to brag. Photobooks do this without you telling everyone, AGAIN, how great the beaches are in Thailand.

Worried that a photobook isn’t right for your vacation? Don’t worry, it is. You can make a photobook no matter how long your vacation is, or how many photos you’re dealing with. I’ve made photobooks for a six-week vacation in Indochina, a two-year stint in Japan, and a long weekend in Las Vegas.

You’re excited to get started, but you’ve got more to think about before you dust off that external hard drive and open your ‘2010 vacation pics’ folder.

Before you start

Decide between two styles of photobook:


This book is similar to a diary of your trip. Photos in the book will follow the order in which you did things. This type works best if you want to remember your trip as it happened.


Less restrictive than choronological, this type gives you the opportunity to make your photobook more artistic, by grouping types of photos. Choose your theme: markets, buildings, grain elevators, animals, accommodations, sunsets, farms, camping, etc. This style works best if you want to combine several trips.


TIP: Start your photobook SOON after arriving home from your vacation. The longer you wait for ‘when you have the time’ the less likely you are to complete it. Set a deadline. I give myself three to four months to complete a photobook when I get home from vacation.


Next you need to choose an online photobook service. Google ‘photobook’ and you’ll find plenty to choose from. Shutterfly, Mixbook, and Photobookcanada are three that I’ve used, here’s a summary with my recommendations.

  • Shutterfly: Offers online photo storage, photo printing and photobooks. I’ve used their auto-book function and their custom books (you’ll learn more about those later). I’ve also used their service to order good old fashioned prints delivered to internet-challenged relatives. Choose this one for easy auto-books.
  • Mixbook: Custom photobooks without the online photo storage or printing. I found their custom book-making interface very easy to use, and the wide selection of backgrounds and layouts was more extensive than Shutterfly. Choose this one if you want to put time into making a personalized
  • Photobook Canada: Lowest quality of the three, I found it frustrating to use their restrictive software. Not particularly recommended.

Note: I’ve made 13 books with Shutterfly, including chronological vacation books, a recipe book, and various themed books. With Mixbook I’ve made two, which have both been chronological vacation books.

TIP: Both auto-books and a custom books are VERY time consuming. You probably won’t be done this project in an afternoon.


Choose your photos

Now you’ve chosen your online photobook maker, it’s time for the fun part: going through your photos. Followed by the not-so-fun part: deciding which to put into a photobook. I highly recommend reviewing all your photos before you start to upload them. Yes, ALL your photos. Not only does it give you a chance to relive your vacation, but you’ll grasp the size of photobook you’re about to make.

You’ve reviewed your photos, now you need to decide which ones to upload. My strategy is to mass upload allthe photos I like to the photobook’s online database, then select myimageswhile creating the album. File sizes can be huge which means this takes a long time, but I find it works better than uploading individual pictures as I go.


How many photos do I choose?

For a book to look good you should have around 200 photos, making your book approximately 50 pages. This is not a hard and fast rule: one of my largest books had over 450 photos, and my longest had 94 pages. No matter what you do, do NOT include all 5,000 of your images in a photobook. You need the personal touch, trust me.

TIP: know your photos. The more familiar you are with your shots, the better your photobook will be. You’ll want to include your best photos to tell the story of your trip. And that’s what you’re trying to do by the way, tell a story. If a complete stranger could flip through your photobook and be riveted by the layout and pictures, you’ve done an excellent job.

By making a photobook soon after your trip, memories are fresh in your mind and you’ll caption your photos accurately. This is where all those little tourist maps, brochures, and business cards you collected during your trip will come in handy. No matter how memorable your hike to Basecamp Everest was, in a few months you’ll forget your Sherpa’s name. These are the little details that bring back the memories, that’s what you want to write in the captions of your book.


Add structure to the book

Now that you uploaded your photos, it’s time to get started on the actual book. This can be intimidating, but you can break it up into manageable pieces.

Choose your cover

Use a single photo or create a mosaic of images that summarize the entire trip. I’m don’t usually have people in these photos, I would rather see a sweeping landscape or image particular to the place I visited.

Make your title page

This simple page should list the purpose for your trip. ‘Perry and Tina’s Wedding,’ ‘Climbing to Machu Picchu,’ ‘Arizona Boys Golf Trip’ etc. Be sure to put the year, you’ll forget later.

Write an intro

This comes after the title page. You can choose to have one or not, but this is where you summarize the trip and set the scene for the photobook. The title page tells people where you went and what you did, the intro gets into details. Make a list of the things you did during your vacation. What did you like best? Least? Was there embarrassing moments? Was the food fantastic? Scenery? Did you learn the language? You can choose to add a photo to this page or not.

Write a conclusion

Wait until the book is almost done before working on this. The conclusion should be the last page of your photobook (duh), and it’s an important one for me. It summarizes my vacation and gives me a chance to put in one last really great photo. The conclusion is a lot like the summary, and should make you feel like you got everything you wanted out of the trip and had a great time doing it. If you didn’t have a great time, you probably won’t want to remember it in a photobook, right?


Create the pages of the book

Now that you’ve taken care of some key pages, it’s time to get into the photos and start placing them. Don’t worry if you don’t use all the photos you uploaded, or if you need to upload some more. The first try won’t be perfect, don’t expect it to be.


For an auto-book, you choose a theme and the pictures get popped into the book automatically. Notice I said things are ‘easier’ not ‘easy’, because the auto-book feature makes an OK book, not a perfect one. You still have a lot of work to do to make this into a great book.

Custom book

If you’re not using an auto-book, you’ll choose the layouts and put the photos into the pages yourself. This can be easier than an auto-book because you don’t have to undo anything the auto-book did. Unfortunately you’ll be constantly selecting everything yourself, which can be intimidating when you have to choose photos, colours, layouts, and edge effects. It’s time-consuming, expect half an hour to do one page, especially when you first start.


Get the book the way you want it

Unless you’re easy to please, your auto-book isn’t going to look the way you want. For custom books, you’ll be doing this constantly. In either case, the best way to make progress is to go through page by page and tweak things until you like the result. It’s up to you whether you go through the book a few times focusing on a certain aspect of every page, or if you try to get every single page perfect before moving on.

What am I supposed to check for?

Here’s a checklist of things to go through on every page to make sure your book takes shape the way you want it to:


Sometimes the auto-fill knows what you want, but it’s only guessing. Do you like to crowd the pages with images? Or is a pair enough? Change the layout until you’re happy. Since you’ll be messing around with the number of photos in the book, it will end up longer or shorter than your first try.


Whether you’re doing a chronological or a theme book, be sure to make titles for different sections. This could be cities, countries, activities, or anything. Titling sections makes the book easier to follow. It also makes it easier for people who don’t read every single caption (GASP! There are people who won’t read every word in your book?!?).


Now’s the time to caption your photos. Who’s in them? Where were they taken? What day? What time of day? Also add text to your page if you’re jumping into a set of photos different from the previous layout. What point in the trip are you at? How long did you stay? Did something funny happen? Is there interesting facts or local history? Include a block of text on every other page, and your book will come to life.

Check the colour theme

Solid colours or patterns? Auto-books have a habit of repeating backgrounds, which is boring. This is one of the easiest things to change in your book.

-Edit: Photobooks cost by the page, go through from beginning to end and try to cut down a page or two. My photobooks typically end up being about 50 pages long. Go through every page and ask yourself if it really needs to be there or if you can condense anything.


It may come as a shock to you, but spellcheck doesn’t know how to spell foreign words. Get on the internet to make sure you spelled things correctly. And when you hurried through to write those captions, you might have missed something. Changing photo layouts can mess with your captions, make sure your photo captioned “The beautiful white sand beach of Costa Rica” isn’t a photo of you and your five best friends taking tequila shots. Once this thing is printed there’s no turning back so take the time to proofread ALL the text in your book.

Do this checklist twice then take a break from your photobook for a day or two, then go back and read through one last time before placing your order. Better yet, have someone review it with fresh eyes. At this stage I usually catch a few more errors, or see things I’d like to tweak.

Note: Like in our post Planning your Next Vacation is Easy, you can get stuck in this stage, tweaking things forever. Set a deadline so you don’t spiraling around in the ‘almost finished’ zone.

By now your photobook is looking good, and you’re looking forward to showing it off. If you’re not, figure out why: are the colours good? Is the text descriptive? Are the captions funny? Accurate? You’ve worked hard, and you should be aching to share this with the entire world.

Final advice

Keep at it! If you work a little every day on this book, even half an hour, it will be done before you know it. It’s a lot of work to get started, but once you do, you might become addicted to working on your photobook.

All finished?

Time to order your book and wait eagerly for six to eight weeks. I promise it will be better than sharing on Facebook, better than tweeting, and better than Instagram. A photobook captures your vacation memories, and makes it easy to share your photos. It will never crash, and it will never become obsolete.

The world deserves to know about your vacation, and you deserve to show it off. Your photobook says it all without you having to say a word. If you head over to Shutterfly right now and start a profile you will be one step closer to finishing your first photobook.

What do you think?

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