For five years, WordPress has been my website development tool-of-choice. I’ve built literally tens of websites using the system for friends and clients alike. I’ve maintained other people’s sites in the WordPress CMS as well.
I’ve recently gotten into photography again, and thanks to the help of a good friend (Hi Greg!) I’ve started using the Manual settings. This has been a lot of fun and like everything, the more you do something, the easier it becomes.
After upgrading to a very nice Canon camera last week, I came to the conclusion that I’d like to get my photos out there into the big wide world. I’ve been on instagram for a while of course, but I wanted to join-in with the other social ways of sharing photos (with the associated theft problems this might entail where peeps lift photos willy-nilly; but I digress).
I started by creating a Flickr account, against my better judgement, and loaded a bunch of photos there. The aforementioned friend mentioned some issues he’d heard of from other photography buddies with Flickr, so I made the decision to go freelance. To that end, I created the sub-domain photos.gotheek.com.
WordPress is not ideal for a photographic portfolio
I hate to say this, because it’s great for everything else, from blogs, to full-blown CMS websites, to Shopping carts, to just about anything you can name.
But IMO, it’s sub-optimal for photography.
The issue I have is a non-starter for any other website purpose. WordPress imports images just fine. When it does this, it creates several sizes of image for display by the system. This is so that the site doesn’t grind to a halt when someone clicks your 18MPX image you’ve taken which will cover a wall if printed out.
The web needs lightweight, optimised images; it needs images that measure in the kilobytes, not megabytes. It needs images which will display on standard screens, not take half an hour to load, killing bandwidth and the website in question.
Therefore, what WordPress does is a VERY good idea.
It’s all about the metadata
The trouble is that by creating copies of the original image, it strips out the exif and other metadata. Exif, or Exchangeable Image File Format is the standard for encoding useful information into images by digital cameras. Information such as copyright, date, aperture and exposure area all useful to be displayed with images in photo blogs.
Ordinarily you can get this data to display, on the original image, with the Exifography plug-in. But it’ll only display the data if it’s there.
Indeed, the only way that WordPress will display this information is on the original image, which creates a bit of a conundrum; how much pre-processing do you want to do on an image before you upload it?
Certainly, you can set the image sizes in the Settings > Media tab, but it’s a case of having then to make a choice; do you upload three images and hope WordPress won’t create the same ones as the different sizes, or do you take a punt and hope the one you have uploaded won’t be resized and therefore lose the data?
WordPress lists a bunch of plugins and scripts to use if you do want to use it as a photoblog site though. I tried a number of them, but the aforementioned issues prevailed: Exif is only available on the original image, not the copies.
So what’s the alternative?
I uninstalled WordPress after about 6 hours of frustration. Really, I needed something designed for the purpose of displaying images out-of-the-box. Again, I have no ill-feeling toward WordPress. It handles images in a totally logical and reasonable manner, and optimises the site accordingly.
I’m with Dreamhost, and among their one-click installers, they’ve got two photo website solutions: Gallery and Piwigo. Both these were appropriate for the job. I’ve had a fiddle with Gallery before, so chose Piwigo just to see how it worked.
Piwigo works for me
Piwigo is open-source, free and maintained by a community of developers. Once installed, there are skins and plug-ins which you can choose from to make your site look snazzy. There’s even an iPhone (or Android) app which you can use to upload your images straight to your site.
Like every site, there’s a little set-up. For example, setting albums for your images (which are like Flickr’s “sets”) is a must. You can have tags and with some plugins, add copyright and other information to batches of images.
I’ve chosen the Stripped theme for my site, which makes the albums and images initially look like little slides, which is nice. It’s dark, but that’s okay I think.
In fairness, WordPress isn’t the problem
Here’s the thing: WordPress is a great tool for images and other content management. It has lots of different plug-ins which can allow you to extend the framework beyond the basic setup.
I wanted WordPress to do one thing: display Exif metadata. In 6 years of use, this is the first time I’ve found it couldn’t do something. And WordPress only couldn’t do this because of a reasonable, logical design decision by the developers which may one-day be overcome. It’s possible to copy metadata to copies of images using current technology.
But I wanted this feature now. So I chose a different tool.
You be the judge, but perhaps, it’s better to use something designed for a specific purpose?