How to Make an Awesome Vacation Photo Display | Northern Virginia Family Photographer

I came across Melissa Stottman's vacation photo display tutorial while I was on vacation last summer and knew it would be the perfect way to showcase a little piece of our family reunion in Montana. I also knew the displays would make perfect Christmas gifts for our family and couldn't wait to make them. Except that I did wait...until almost the last minute.  After a bit of trial and error (I've never stained wood before) and a few extra trips to Lowe's and Michael's, I happily finished then this week and love the way they turned out. Now I just have to remember to ship them in time for Christmas! Here's everything you need to know to make an awesome vacation photo display.

Awesome Vacation Photo Display | Northern Virginia Lifesyle Photographer

Materials Needed:

  • wood plaques (these were $1.29 at Michael's) large enough to fit your print and any mementos you want to include
  • vacation memento. I used rocks to remember how much fun my son had throwing them in the lake. You could also use a vial of sand like Melissa shows in her tutorial. Or something else entirely!
  • photo of your choice
  • printout with location and date info, if desired
  • wood conditioner
  • wood stain in your color of choice
  • paint brushes
  • rubber gloves
  • old rags/cloths
  • sand paper
  • mod podge (I used satin finish)
  • hot glue gun
  • saw tooth picture hangers
  • mineral spirits (or paint thinner for cleanup)

After testing a couple of colors, I went with Minwax Ebony. I also learned after testing that unfinished wood can be soft and porous which can lead to blotchy staining, so pretreating with a wood conditioner is a good idea. 

1. First sand any rough edges of the wood and wipe away any dust. Put on your rubber gloves to protect your hands and make sure you're in a well-ventilated area or outside (I wouldn't do the staining process inside because of the fumes.)

Unfinished wood plaque with can of stain and paintbrush | Alexandria VA family photographer

Use a paint brush to apply wood conditioner to the plaque. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess with a clean, dry cloth. 

2. Next, the staining. But first a note: It's useful to do a bit of testing on an extra piece of wood to determine how long to leave the stain on and how many coats you need to apply to get your desired color.  It lengthens the process, especially if you wait for the test piece to dry, but it's worth it to ensure your end result had the color you want. 

Within 5-10 minutes of applying wood conditioner, apply a coat of stain with paint brush. I used one coat of Minwax Ebony and let rest for about 10 minutes.  Wipe away excess with cloth and let dry. (I let rest until the next day.)  Use the mineral spirits to clean your brush.

4. Once dry, you're ready to assemble everything else.  It's helpful to arrange everything on the plaque before you start gluing to make sure everything fits.  When you're ready, apply a thin layer of mod podge to the photo and place on plaque. Allow to dry.

materials in place for making photo display | Northern Virginia documentary family photographer

If you want to include a bit of info about your vacation, add that next. I printed the location and date of our trip, cut to size, and secured with a very thin layer of mod podge mod podge to prevent bubbling. I printed mine on regular letter paper (I tested three font sizes and 14 worked best for me), but you might try something thicker if you have it to prevent it from bubbling up when you glue it.

acation info disply | Alexandria Virginia family photographer

5. Before starting this next step, it can be helpful to ensure you have a clean workspace, free from any dust or pet hair (ahem, cat-who- insisted-on-assisting-me).  Once you start applying the mod podge, it's difficult to remove any dirt or stray hairs without smudges.

Apply thin layer of mod podge over entire plaque, including print. Be careful to go very thinly over printer paper. Mod podge dries very quickly, so when going over the photo, I found it helpful to be pretty liberal with the application and move quickly. If you start with the photo you can push any excess to the edges and use on the rest of the plaque. It will look cloudy at first, but will turn clear as it dries, which takes less than half an hour. 

od podge drying on wood photo  display | northern virginia family photographer

6. Next, use a hot glue gun to secure your memento(s).

7. Finally, secure a saw tooth hanger to the back of the plaque and hang proudly! 

ttaching sawtooth picture hanger | northern va lifestyle family photographer
inished vacation photo display hanging on wall | alexandria virginia lifesyle family photographer

inished vacation photo display hanging on wall | alexandria virginia lifesyle family photographer

Aside from the staining process which took a bit longer due to testing (and that I've never stained wood before) this was a really quick process and super easy.  Check out Melissa's tutorial to learn how to make a display using paint and a sand vial. And please come back to share if you make one yourself.

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