When I decided to go with Gallery2 rather that Zenphoto to power my photo gallery, I promised to go into more detail later, but “later” never really happened. I figured with the recent updates to both Gallery2 and Zenphoto, it might be beneficial to revisit my decision and follow my thought process, starting with what I personally want from a photo gallery, and re-evaluating the list of photo gallery options I compiled.
I’m looking for few things in a photo gallery, but I think it will be easiest if I divide my criteria into things I want for my benefit, and things I want for the benefit of my audience, which is mainly my friends and family. So, to start, things I want for me;
- WordPress Integration – I want to easily reference photos from the gallery from 2 different WordPress blogs, while keeping the photo gallery it’s own entity.
- Upload from Lightroom – I use Lightroom to manage and edit my photos, so it would help me if I could publish the photos straight to the gallery without the intermediary step of exporting from Lightroom first.
- EXIF/IPTC support – Using Lightroom, I assign tags, titles, descriptions and location information to photos using EXIF and IPTC headers. I do NOT want to manually re-type all that information.
- Slick Admin Interface – Rather subjective, really. I want a clean interface I can easily navigate.
- Easy Photo Organization – This kind of goes with the slick admin interface; basically I want to easily organize photos within albums/sets, and move them between albums if I reorganize.
- Archive/off-site backup – I’m hoping to be able to treat the photo gallery as an off-site backup, in case my hard drive ever fails. I have a DVD burner which I’m using to archive the photos, but an off-site backup would give me some peace of mind.
- Replace/re-upload photos – I continue to fiddle with photos on my computer after I’ve uploaded them; I want to be able to swap out the old photo for the updated photo without losing any comments it may have, and without having to re-add it to any albums/sets it may have been in.
- Embed/Link Re-sized Photos – There are a few photography forums that I read, but in order to participate and submit my own photos, I need to embed my re-sized photo, linking to my original. Anything that can make this easier for me is good.
- Protect Photos – While I generally want anyone to have access to my photos, I would like the ability to protect them, as well, either by password protecting certain photos or albums, or by limiting access to full sized photos.
There are also a few things I would like for my photo gallery, that would ideally make the experience easier for my friends and family viewing it. For starters;
- No Account Required – I don’t want to make my friends or family sign up for anything in order to view the public photos. Ideally they shouldn’t need to sign up for anything in order to comment, either, but I doubt my family would actually comment on photos at the gallery, so that is probably a non-issue.
- RSS – This is probably more for my friends than my family, as most of my family probably doesn’t know what RSS is. I would like an easy way for people to subscribe to feeds for either specific albums or the entire photo gallery.
- Easy Navigation – Again, rather subjective. I want an interface that is easy to navigate, and isn’t terribly confusing. If I have to explain to my family how to navigate, it’s no good.
- Search Ability – I would like the ability to search against all fields (tags, location information, decription, titles, EXIF data), and display the results cleanly. Like navigation, a bit subjective.
- Prints – It would be convenient if my family were able to order prints directly from the photo gallery. Not required, but definitely a convenience. Of course, if they could download the images and make their own prints, that would be fine as well.
While I would prefer an open source gallery option that I can host myself, I’m not completely against a commercial photo sharing site, either free or fee-based. My husband and I are paying roughly $6 a month for our hosting and domain names, but our space is finite. If we host our own gallery, eventually I will need to remove old photos, post smaller versions or only post select photos, in order to conserve space. With our present hosting plan we get 150GB of space, so filling it up is a long way off, but with the increasingly larger sizes of digital photos, it’s still a concern.
When searching for photo gallery options, I started at Wikipedia and came across this lovely comparison chart of photo gallery software, where I started my list. After eliminating a few gallery options that didn’t meet my criteria, I still had too many options. Checking out OpenSourceCMS let me view the admin screens without going to the hassle of installing each gallery option. After checking out the admin screens, I eliminated the galleries I didn’t like the looks of. When I started limiting the options to galleries which can easily interact with WordPress, my main options are down to Gallery2 and Zenphoto. Of course, if I widen my options to include photo sharing websites, I add in Flickr and SmugMug. There are other services as well, but those two best meet my criteria.
Option #1 – Gallery2
Gallery is the photo gallery option I have the most familiarity with, as I’ve used it for over 2 years now to host my photos online. It meets most of my criteria, but has a few failings. While I can make it interact with WordPress via WPG2, the plugin no longer easily allows interaction without embedding the gallery into the blog, which is aggravating. As for metadata support, Gallery does support EXIF and IPTC, however “Location” is not supported by default. There does not seem to be a way to easily link to resized images, or if there is I’m not aware of it. RSS feeds are available in Gallery, via a plugin, but need to be configured individually.
One of my bigger issues with Gallery, however, is the way it handles searches. When a search is performed, it will search tags, keywords, titles and descriptions, but can not presently search any other data, including EXIF or custom fields. The search results are rather rough looking, as well; all the results are listed, without distinguishing between an image or an album.
Option #2 – Zenphoto
Zenphoto is a photo gallery solution I’ve only become familiar with relatively recently, despite the fact that it pre-dates Gallery 2. I installed it briefly after moving from by previous hosting at ikith, but gave up on it as I was unable to move or rename photos or albums, which has since changed. Overall, Zenphoto meets almost all of my criteria. Presently, there’s not an advertised way to replace or reupload a photo, although since photos can be uploaded via FTP, theoretically I could just overwrite the file on the server with a newer version. Like Gallery, there is not an automatic way to link to resized images, but it can be done.
One of the main reasons I like Zenphoto is it’s search ability; all fields can be searched (including EXIF fields), and the search results are presented as an album which can be browsed. Additionally, dynamic albums can be created as a type of saved search; as new photos are added which meet the search criteria, they show up in the dynamic album.
Option #3 – Flickr Pro
I formerly used Flickr as my photo gallery, until I was introduced to Gallery by a friend. The primary reason I switched from Flickr to Gallery was cost; Gallery was free, and in order to create more than 3 sets on Flickr required a Pro account, which cost $24.95 a year. Flickr meets virtually all of my main criteria; it especially excels at the “sharing” aspects of photo sharing. It easily allows me to embed or link to a re-sized image, or make prints or other merchandise via the print service partners. And with a Pro account, I get unlimited space and uploads, so I can never fill it up, unlike a gallery I run myself.
Flickr handles searches a little better than Gallery, but not as nicely as Zenphoto; all EXIF and IPTC fields can be searched, but the results are simply spit out in a long list. And while Sets and Collections make sense to me, I’m not sure how easily navigated Flickr is for someone not already familiar with it. My chief complaint with Flickr, however, is a result of the fact that I’m not running it myself; I can’t change aspects I don’t like.
Option #4 – SmugMug
SmugMug was recommended to me as a more professional hosted photo solution, at a higher cost. Whereas Flickr Pro is $24.95 a year, SmugMug has three different plans going for $39.95 (Standard), $59.95 (Power User) or $149.95 (Professional) per year. It seems to meet most of my criteria, while looking a bit more professional than Flickr Pro.
I’m not sure how extensive the EXIF and IPTC support is with SmugMug – I know it’s supported, but I’ve not been able to view the EXIF and IPTC information in galleries beyond the standard title, description and tags. Without creating an account, I can’t really judge the the interface for the admin or photo management. The ability to replace or re-upload a photo is not advertised, but I can’t know for sure without creating an account. Beyond that, it fares well; member can choose who is allowed to comment or download images, and folks don’t need to sign up in order to leave a comment.
Between the two open source options, I would lean towards Zenphoto over Gallery. My only real complaint with Zenphoto is my inability to replace photos, which I may actually be able to circumvent by simply overwriting the photo via FTP. I much prefer the search and dynamic albums of Zenphoto, and it now has support for the Shutterfly printing service.
Between the photo sharing websites, the decision is a little tougher. I prefer the design flexibility of SmugMug, but can’t necessarily justify the price difference. Of course, SmugMug has less controversy regarding censorship, leading me to feel my photos would be more safe at SmugMug than at Flickr. Without seeing the admin interface firsthand, though, I can’t really choose SmugMug over Flickr.
Final decision? I think I’m going to go with Zenphoto. It lacks some of the photo sharing and print service aspects that Flickr and SmugMug have, but I don’t really need them. For what is primarily family photos, I think I feel more secure having them under my own control.