WordPress Image Gallery Plugins For Photographers

An Image Gallery Plugin Can Take Your WordPress Photography Site to the Next Level

Why WordPress?

Before we get into the best image gallery plugins, at least some time should be spent on the question, “Why have a WordPress page when there are many much simpler solutions for photographers?”  In one word…customization.  I was a Smugmug user for year and built a fairly functional photography website on their platform.  They had some great features that made things very easy.  I am sure the others like Zenfolio, Squarespace, etc also all work great.  At some point though, I decided I wanted my site to do something additional and more often than not the answer was either upgrade to a higher cost plan to do that OR no you can't do that.

If you decide to create your photography website on WordPress, I highly recommend this getting started tutorial for self-hosted WordPress that will help you avoid a ton of easily-made mistakes that you could make with setting up your WordPress website.

So I decided to switch to a WordPress site where there is a plugin for almost every solution.

Which leads to the main point of the article.  You have a WordPress website, you are a photographer, and you want an elegant solution for displaying your photos…so how do you do that?  Like most WordPress solutions…you use a plugin.

After a good deal of research and testing of some pretty terrible options, there were a few options that had most of the features that a photographer would need.  The four that we will focus on are Nextgen Gallery, Envira Gallery, Foo Gallery, and Photo Gallery.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of every feature in each of the products.  My goal is to give an overview of the options that probably mean the most to photographers and have proven to be the most valuable to my business.

Nextgen Gallery by Imagely ($99/year)

I won't bury the lead…this was my favorite.  This is the one gallery plugin that you will see in almost every list of the best WordPress gallery plugins and rightfully so.  It has been around since 2007 and it shows.  The interface and features are well laid out and indicative of a mature product that has been refined over the years.  The second option reviewed below, Envira Gallery, is just as feature rich, but Nextgen has that extra level of design that just makes it look better.  This might just be a matter of personal preference though, so I would highly recommend checking out both before making a decision.

The feature set includes:

  • Multiple Gallery Templates
  • Responsive/Mobile Friendly
  • Lightbox Customization
  • Social Sharing
  • Watermarking
  • Slideshows
  • Proofing
  • E-commerce options
  • Lightroom Syncing*
  • Image Protection
  • Many third party extensions available as well

What raised this plugin above the rest is the seamless integration of e-commerce and proofing options.  Nextgen, in my opinion, does the best job in this department.  My photography business has two distinct directions, landscape fine art print sales and portraiture services.  Nextgen can easily handle both print sales (including payments, multiple size and aspect ratios, etc.) and client proofing and ordering with ease.  To get similar functionality out of some of the all-in-one website solutions mentioned above, you often need to opt for the most expensive plan, sometimes costing upwards of $50/month.  For small business owners, especially those who are not doing photography full time, this is a tough sell.  The ability to easily integrate e-commerce into a WordPress site without a huge monthly payment was the #1 reason I switched over to WordPress.

Nextgen E-commerce Options Make It Easy To Sell Prints

Envira, listed below, also has e-commerce and proofing options that are quite functional and I urge everyone to see what they like better.  For me, the Nextgen plugin just looks better and more polished.

According to the people over at Imagely the next big feature that they are working on for Nextgen Gallery is print lab integration.  This is one area where hosting sites such as Smugmug and Zenfolio are way ahead of WordPress.  If implemented well by Nextgen, this could be a game changer for many photographers that use WordPress sites.

The free version of this plugin is very basic.  It has four gallery style options, including: Thumbnail, Slideshow, Compact, and List styles.   It is functional, but designed more to whet your appetite to buy the premium version than to serve as a long term solution.  You can check out their website for demos of all the premium features.

One final note on Nextgen.  It has been around for a while, so there are a number of third party add-on plugins that are available.  I did not have the opportunity to test any of these but I highly recommend reading the Nextgen website to see what is available.  You may find that these third party add-on plugins solve a very specific need that you have.

Envira Gallery ($99/year)

This plugin is right up there with Nextgen.  The makers of this plugin claim it is the fastest WordPress gallery plugin on the market.  In my experience, galleries of the same size did load slightly faster than Nextgen but not by much.  The focus of Envira Gallery seems to be on user experience and ease of use and they do excel in those areas.  I found the interface to be simple and easy to use.  I had little to no difficulty in setting up my galleries and implementing their customization options.

The paid version has a very full feature set including:

  • Multiple Gallery Templates
  • Drag and Drop Builder
  • Responsive/Mobile Friendly
  • Lightbox Customization
  • Social Sharing
  • Video Add-on
  • Watermarking
  • Slideshows
  • Proofing
  • E-commerce options
  • Lightroom Syncing*
  • Image Protection

Envira is a very good option for a WordPress gallery plugin and comparable to Nextgen as far as their feature set.  For many, the slight bump in speed may be important, especially if you have rather large galleries or a rather slow server.  Where Envira falls short for me is the implementation of their lightbox (that is the displaying of a large image when the thumbnail is clicked).  Functionally, it is very good, but aesthetically it just does not rise to the level of Nextgen's lightbox.  This is more apparent to me when implementing their e-commerce and proofing functionality.   It works great but does not look as polished as Nextgen.  Don't let my opinion discourage you from seeing for yourself.  Like anything design related, you may have a completely different opinion and as far as functionality, Envira is comparable to Nextgen in every way.  Deciding between these two is really a matter of personal taste.

Envira Free Version Gallery Options

The free version of Envira gives you a basic tiled gallery and their basic lightbox option.  Just like Nextgen, the free version is designed more to sell you on the premium version than to be a real option, but it can give you a taste of the different ways the plugins are implemented.  The other galleries and lightbox options are all able to be previewed on their website as a demo though, so go check it out and see what looks the best for your site and your style.

*Lightroom and WordPress Gallery Plugins

Both Nextgen and Envira has Lightroom integration.  Both allow you to create Publish Services within Lightroom so that you can create galleries simply by dragging your photos over to a collection.  This is one of the main features that put them above the competitors (at least for those of us using Lightroom).  The ability to drag a newly edited photo into an existing gallery to sell prints or easily create a client proofing gallery from within Lightroom is a huge time saver.  If you have used similar plugins from Smugmug, 500px, or Flickr…this is similar but a little less reliable.  After extensive testing my results have been a bit of a mixed bag.  These varying results have nothing to do with the plugins, though, and everything to do with the company with which one chooses to host their WordPress site.  Some servers just don't play well with upload services like this.  The cause of problems can be blocked permissions, bandwidth insufficiency, or simply the inability to configure the server settings to work with the plugin.  Testing the Nextgen plugin on two different sites hosted on two different servers yielded widely different results.  This is one plugin that can really expose the weaknesses in server choice.  While no host is perfect, Nextgen does have a list of recommended hosts on their site that work well with their plugin.  I would highly recommend choosing one of these if you plan to host a photography site on WordPress.

Foo Gallery (free with add on extensions available for purchase)

Foo Gallery Lightbox – Free Version

This was my favorite of the free options.  With the prior two plugins, it is pretty clear that the free versions are meant to be teasers to sell the premium versions, the free Foo gallery is a viable stand-alone option.  While it certainly is not as feature rich as the premium versions of Nextgen and Envira, it does have more customization options than the free versions of those products.  The free version of Foo Gallery gives you six options for gallery layout: Responsive Image Gallery, Image Viewer, Justified Gallery, Masonry Image Gallery, Simple Portfolio, and Single Thumbnail Gallery.

Gallery Options for Foo Gallery Free Version

Foo Gallery also claims to be the most developer friendly of the image gallery plugins.  So if you are a developer, then this is certainly an option worth looking into as you may be able to customize it exactly how you want.  That is certainly not my area of expertise so I really can't comment much more on that front.

One notable functionality difference is that Foo takes your images directly from your main media area, rather than create a separate gallery like Nextgen and Envira.  Foo still sorts them into galleries for you but the files are pulled from your “media” section.  Nextgen and Envira store their images separately so they are not mixed in with the rest of your website media.  This is certainly a personal preference thing, but I prefer to have the gallery photos separate from the other content on my site.  I don't want my high resolution landscape shot mixed in with a portrait proof for a client mixed in with a PNG of my business logo.  However, there are other plugins that you can find that will help you segment your media files, so as with most things WordPress, there's a solution to that problem if you know where to look.

If you are just getting started with a website and need basic gallery functionality on a budget, then I highly recomend Foo Gallery.  As your needs mature, you may find yourself looking for the more advanced features of Nextgen and Envira.

Photo Gallery by WD ($45/year)

I debated including this one on the list because, frankly, I couldn't get it to work correctly.  But based on online reviews and comments, many other people have.  So most of the information here is based on the demo and info from the product website and not on personal use experience.

The free version of this plugin seems to be on par with the free versions of the rest of the plugins mentioned above.  It gives you the ability to create simple galleries with a lightbox effect for viewing a larger version of the image.

Photo Gallery also gives you the option to allow comments, social sharing, e-commerce and other features in the premium version.  Some of these features are built into the premium and some are available as add-on options.  I like the idea of features being available as an optional add-on because it allows you to keep your website as lean as possible and only install the features you want.  This helps with website speed and every little bit helps.

Based on my limited experience, I am lukewarm on this last option.  It seems to be priced right as it has less features than the more expensive options and more features than the free version of Foo gallery, but it doesn't seem to excel in one direction or the other.  My recommendation would be to either go with the full featured Nextgen or Envira if you want a paid solution or Foo Gallery if you are on a budget.

If anyone has more suggestions for WordPress image gallery plugins or any questions about the ones reviewed above, please leave a comment below.  It is impossible to cover every aspect of these plugins in a single article and the best way to learn more is to start a conversation…

1 thought on “WordPress Image Gallery Plugins For Photographers”

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