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Scrap Your Trip – FREE and Creative Ways to Enhance Your Travel Photo Book Layouts (Part 2 – Public Domain Resources)



In the first part of this series I talked about ways to enhance your vacation photo books using pre-made designer themes from your favorite photo book company or using digital scrapbooking kits that focus on a travel theme.

In Part 2, I’m sharing another of my favorite sources for clip art and other ephemera and what’s awesome is that they are totally FREE!

These free resources consist of media that are in the public domain. They may include books, films, audio recordings – and of particular interest to us – photos and images. These works have fallen out of copyright protection due to passage of time or in some cases are freely available to the public as the work product of the U.S. Government.

I have to warn you that it will be very, very easy to get sucked into some of these sites. If you are in any way interested in history or enjoy looking at vintage images and illustrations, it is very absorbing. The best way for me to show you how to navigate through some of the public domain websites is to use a relevant example.


Just this past summer my husband and I took our almost-five-year-old to visit Washington, DC. He has been fascinated by the U.S. presidency since he was three, so much so that for his fourth birthday he asked for a U.S. Presidents party theme. Now that’s a bit unusual isn’t it? Just in case you think I might be pulling your leg, here we are grandparents and all giving him a little presidential surprise as he came home from preschool that day…

As to be expected of Photo Book Mom, I took a ton of photos on our D.C. trip. Photo Book Boy wanted to pose in front of every monument and every statue he came across. Hundreds of photos later it’s time to make a photo book! I definitely collected a lot of paper brochures from each place we visited, maps etc. but often I like to go online and find some fun extras. (For more general tips on travel photo books check out this post.)

Free Source #1: National Park Service Official Website

Obviously this is a great place to start if your family took a vacation to one of the United States’ national parks. There are a wealth of resources here – and not just for your photo books. For our purposes though, the NPS’s website has a section (highlighted above) called “Photos, Videos, Webcams & More“. Click on that section and click again to narrow the results to show only photos.

Using my example, in the search box you can type in “Washington D.C.” and you’ll get about 200 results.

Here’s a photo of the Washington Monument. Now, not to say that you couldn’t take one yourself, but sometimes, you get a particularly cloudy day or you didn’t quite get the angle or shot you were looking for. Or maybe you never made it over there but feel that your photo book of D.C. wouldn’t be complete without it. (Note: For convenience, if you click on each image below, it will take you to the image on the NPS.gov site.)

If you like the photo and want to save it, click on the “Download Original File” and then right click to “Save Image As” and then save it to your computer.

It’s a good idea to click on the “Usage Information” below the image to confirm that it is public domain and then you’re free to use it in your photo books, scrapbooks, anything you’d like!

Also be sure to check out the informative descriptions at the bottom of each photo. I love to include snippets of info in my photo books about each place we visit. Especially when it involves history and is educational for the kids – it also makes it more interesting for friends and family who didn’t get to go on the trip to get a bit of context.

Now here’s another image which would be great to have –  taken from the top of the Washington Monument. You’ll have to wait until 2019 before you can get a chance to have this vantage point again as the monument is currently closed for much needed elevator repairs. At the time we went it last June it was still open, but we found out it’s very hard to get tickets to go up to the top. It was booked out about six months. So, there was no chance I’d get to capture this vantage point on this trip. It’s a little hazy, but you can do a little processing on it and clean up the image.

The two examples above are of more recent photos, but what if you want to go back in time a bit?

How neat is this to see a photo of the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial?

Or how about Frederick Douglass’s study and library in 1962?

I think it would be visually interesting to place historic photos side by side with present day shots to show the differences or changes over time. Of course with a vacation spot as steeped in history as the nation’s capital, it’s a natural fit.

Speaking of history, do you love old ephemera? Such as old posters, vintage advertisements, and brochures? Here’s a historical brochure of Valley Forge Park. I guess Valley Forge Park is in Pennsylvania, but I do like the photograph of George Washington nonetheless.

My example focuses on Washington D.C. but think about all the other National Parks out there. (Many of which I’m dying to visit someday!) Mount Rushmore for instance is definitely on our list of future road trips.

What did the mountain look like before sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved those famous four faces on it?

Well, now you know!

Free Source #2: National Archives

The role of the National Archives and Record Administration is to keep the nation’s records. The archives include documents and other materials which are deemed to have value or historical significance. If you want to see the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, you’ll find physical versions on display at the National Archives in D.C., but what’s great about the archives is that so many images and documents are in the public domain, and available online. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of home to enjoy access to thousands of primary sources such as letters, maps, speeches etc.

Keeping on the same D.C. theme – are you a fan of maps? Here’s a declassified aerial view of D.C. from the 1940s. Might make for a interesting background for your layouts.

Our visit to the National Archives included a viewing of the Constitution of the United States, but due to preservation efforts, understandably we weren’t allowed to photograph it. Well, thanks to the National Archives you can have your own copy! Below is only one of four pages by the way.

Ford’s Theatre is also a big draw for folks visiting D.C. because of its distinction as being the place where President Lincoln was assassinated. Here’s an image of what the theatre looked like in Lincoln’s day.

Free Source #3: The Library of Congress

I’m going to show my age here, but once upon a time if you went to the library and needed to look for something, there was this wooden monstrosity called the card catalog. It was filled with index cards organized by subject. Each book had its own card and from there you had to write down the book’s call number on a slip of paper so you could take that number with you and physically find it on the shelf. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Thank goodness for modern technology!

Did you know that you have access to the largest library in the world right from your computer? The Library of Congress maintains millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts. Over 1 million digital images are accessible and searchable via the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

I’m going to stray from my Washington D.C. example so I can branch out a bit and give you a more diverse view of what you can find on these sites. One thing I love are vintage posters and vintage postcards. Check out these beauties:

And you’re not limited to just U.S. locales. Photographs and prints from all over the world are available.

How about finding old photographs of your city?

This is the iconic Water Tower on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue:

Here’s one of the Chrysler Building in New York:

Putting It All Together – My Washington Monument Photo Book Layout

I wasn’t intending to make a sample layout, but since you’ve spent all this time reading my musings, let’s actually see what we can do with these free images combined with the ones I took on our trip. Here is the full two-page spread.

Following are some close-ups…

Hope you find these resources as interesting and fun to use as I do! If you make any layouts using these tips I’d love to see them!

Happy Photobooking!




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One Comment

  1. Kendra
    Posted October 1, 2017 at 12:03 pm | #

    I tried looking in all the sites you mentioned but can’t pull up the vintage posters. Can you give me more advice please. Not sure what I’m doing wrong in my search.
    Love this article

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