Vacation locations: How to make a story map with photos, text, map

Share photos that show just where they were taken and add a narrative with a free ArcGIS Online account.

It's easy (if not intuitive)

Want to share vacation photos to show just where you've been -- and tell something about each one? Or perhaps showcase pictures taken close to home on a map? There's a technique that newsroom developers use to combine images, videos and maps without having to code from scratch, thanks to Esri's free story maps templates. While the workflow isn't very intuitive, it turns out that story maps are quite easy to create if you know the steps. Here's how.

First, sign up for a free ArcGIS Online public account if you're not already registered. Note that you can only use a free public account for non-commercial, non-work-related, personal content. Lone exception: Journalists working on media projects.

Create and save an empty map

Next, you'll need to make a map. (Just follow the next several slides for the steps for how to do that.) But before you do anything else, click Save and add a title, tags and summary, even before you add content to the map. Be patient; saving a map to your free account can occasionally take a while.

Share the empty map (trust me)

This step is somewhat counterintuitive, but the very next thing you have to do is click the Share link above your map. Yes, I know: You haven't done anything worth sharing yet, so this may feel odd. Nevertheless: You need to check the box next to "Everyone (public)" and then click "Make a Web Application."

Pick a template

You'll now have a choice of map templates. As of this writing there are 24 templates. We'll pick "Map Tour" on page 2. Click on the Publish link and choose Publish from the dropdown. (If you want to find out more about a template before choosing, click Preview.) Once again you'll be asked for a title, tags and summary. Fill those in and choose "Save & Publish."

Head to your map

After you click "Save & Publish" you'll get a dialog box with a final sentence saying, "You can go to the item now to share and configure your application or click Close below to return to the map." Click the "go to the item now" link. (Without choosing that, you wouldn't be able to find your story map application under "My Content.")

Choose your photos

Next, click on the "Configure App" link at the right of your screen. That brings you into the ArcGIS Online story map builder mode where you can start adding content. For images, it's easiest to use photos already posted publicly on Flicker, Facebook or Picasa. If your photos are somewhere else, though, you can create a CSV file with column headers "Name, Caption, Icon_color, Long, Lat, URL, Thumb_URL". For more info, download the sample CSV template.

Sample selection

In this example I'll choose some photos that are already in my Google+ account.

Position photos on the map

The next screen will give you the option of positioning your photos on the map -- this is important if they're not already geocoded (or are coded incorrectly). Zoom into a smaller area of the map by clicking on the plus sign or holding the shift key and drawing a box around part of the map. To place a photo on a specific point, first click the image and then click a spot on the map. Note: This takes two separate clicks, not a click and drag. When finished, click "Import."

Note: If your trip is on a continent other than North America, you can click and drage the map to a different starting point before zooming in.

Create your narrative

It gets more intuitive from here. Click on each thumbnail to bring up a larger view. The two pencil icons on the large photo allow you to create your map narrative by editing each title and caption. It's obvious how to change marker colors by clicking on them in the map panel at right.

To add more photos, select the "Add" or "Import" buttons. To see how the map will look on the Web, click the eye icon next to Settings above the photo.

Organize and save

To reorder photos, click the "Organize" button, which will bring up a dialog box like the one at left.

Important advice from Robby Deming at Esri, who kindly walked me through these steps: Save your work! "One of the things I recommend doing is saving religiously," he says. "Save when you can."

Set the map's starting view

Chances are, you want your map's starting view to be something besides all of North America. Click on the "Settings" button at the top of the Builder window and choose the Extent tab to create a new border for where you want the initial map view to start. You can also have the map zoom in as points are clicked; set that with the Zoom Level tab. The Header tab lets you add your own logo.

Make your map public

Back on your "My Content" page you'll see your project as a "Web Mapping Application." While the underlying map was already shared in an earlier step, the app hasn't been yet. Click on the project, select "Share" and then choose "Share the items with Everyone (public)."

The finished story map

Now if you click on the title on your My Content home page, you'll see the URL. Grab that URL to share with family and friends, or code an iframe to embed in another Web page.

You can see an interactive version of this project hosted at

Keep in mind, when selecting your photos and writing your text, that whatever you create is public, and is searchable by title and tag on unless you have an enterprise subscription.

Want more data tools? Check out our 30+ free tools for data visualization and analysis. For more story map samples, see Esri's gallery.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.