It’s not very often that we here at the Elegant Themes blog do an overview or tutorial concerning just one WordPress plugin, but today that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Plugins like NextGEN Gallery by Photocrati (and a few others, such as SEO by Yoast) have achieved such a state of ubiquitousness in their niche that it’s worth being familiar with them. This is true for both general users and, perhaps especially, for anyone offering WordPress services–as many of you do.
At over 10 million downloads NextGEN is by far the most popular gallery plugin for WordPress. It comes in both free and premium versions, but today I’ll be covering the free version as that is where the largest bulk of users remain. That is not to say that the premium version is not “worth it” but that those who upgrade tend to do so because they are familiar with the free version and need or want a particular feature offered in the premium version. The free version by itself is still quite a versatile and powerful plugin that most users will be happy to use. If you’d like to follow along with this overview and example, you can download the plugin for free by following the link below to the official WordPress Plugin Directory page for NextGEN Gallery.
The NextGEN Gallery Plugin
Once installed the NextGEN Gallery plugin’s settings and options panels will live within its own primary sidebar menu of the WordPress Admin called Gallery. The submenu, called Overview, is meant to function much like your primary Dashboard screen; a quick overview of all things NextGEN Gallery.
It is in the following submenus, of course, that the intricacies of this plugin really lie. And yes, it does get a bit intricate at times. Which, for some of you will be a welcome aspect and others not so much. I expect those who love to tinker with lots of controls this is a big bonus and yet to those of us who like it when things “just work” it may at times prove to be a bit of a burden. Either way, we’re going to explore it all and then talk about our impressions/conclusions on the other side. We can begin by exploring the next submenu, Add Gallery / Images.
Adding Images and Galleries
As the submenu name would suggest, this is where you add new images and galleries. As you can see in the middle of the panel there is a large light grey space where you can drop in files (including zipped folders) or simply click the Add Files button above–which functions like all of the other add media buttons within the WordPress Admin. Once you have added your image files you must then enter a gallery name and click the Start Upload button.
When the upload is complete the upload space will revert back to blank grey (with text) and a notification, as pictured below, will verify that the upload is finished. It’s at this point that you will then want to navigate down to Manage Galleries, the next Gallery submenu, but first there is one more way to upload media via this plugin.
You may have already noticed that below the Upload Images drop-down where we just used two different methods to add image galleries, there is another one called Import Folder. If we click that drop-down it collapses the area we were just using and presents us with the screen we see below.
This method of creating galleries scans your server for folders within your WordPress file tree containing images and makes them available for you to import as galleries. You can choose to have them stay in their current location (though, if you delete them from your site, they may be deleted permanently) or you can choose to have them copied into your NextGEN gallery folder under /wp-content/gallery.
As you can see, the first screen of the Manage Galleries submenu is set up a lot like a post or page archive. When you click on a gallery name you are taken to that gallery’s collection of images and a series of settings for configuring it. Below I’ve split that page into two main sections.
The top section, called Gallery Settings, is where you are able to configure basic settings such as title, description etc.
In the second section you are able to do a number of things to either individual images, a selection of images, or all of them at once. Rather than list off each option available, of which there are many, I’d like to highlight just a few that I found particularly useful. Aside from the absolutely must-have options like title, description, tags and the like, I found that simply having the ability to view the full-size image in a lightbox on the backend was a very nice touch. I also really enjoyed being able to edit the thumbnail quickly and easily.
On the bulk side of things, adding a watermark to all images and being able to import metadata made the idea of displaying photos for sale and/or with more technical information much more appealing. A reminder that this plugin’s target audience is, and always has been, photographers.
On to albums. But first, what are they and how do they differ from galleries? It’s actually pretty simple. An album is a collection of galleries. See? Simple. And creating one is simple too, after you figure out the somewhat confusing layout of the Albums page.
To add a new album you simply write the title in the space provided and click Add. You’ll notice that album appear under Select Album. However, that is not where you select albums, if you want to populate them with galleries. Instead, you select the album you’ve just created via the drop-down menu under the page title of Manage Albums. That’s when you will notice that the area on the left that previously said “No album selected!” will read your new album’s name. You can then drag galleries from your “Select gallery” section into your new album and click update to save.
Like I said, this page feels a little odd at first but once you create one album you’ll have the hang of it and it really does become a simple process.
The next submenu is the Manage Tags page. This page/settings panel is one of the more basic this plugin has to offer. All of the tags you have created appear on the lefthand side under the search and sorting options. Then, in the main body of the page you are able to either bulk rename tags, delete them, or edit their slugs. Pretty straightforward and definitely useful.
Configuring Gallery Settings
When it comes to configuring your gallery settings, there are seven different “basic” views/formats to consider: Compact Album, Extended Album, Thumbnails, Slideshow, Imagebrowser, Singlepic, and TagCloud. Each type has its own drop-down with a few options to customize its appearance based on your personal needs. In the font end section below you will see examples of how each of these settings panels might be used to varying degrees.
Configuring the Other Options
You can likewise see that in the final submenu Other Options, there are eight drop-downs (seven pictured below) with various settings for configuring your images, thumbnails, lightbox effects, watermarks, css styles, roles and capabilities, and miscellaneous. (The eighth and final drop-down simply consists of one button used to reset all options to default.)
More notable than simply cataloguing each individual setting, I find it amazing how–even in the free version–this plugin offers an immense level of control and flexibility in how galleries are displayed.
Inserting Galleries in Posts & Pages
There are two ways to get one of your galleries and/or albums into a post or page. The first is using the bright and shiny new green button that now appears in your post or page editor.
The second is by shortcode. You can find the full spectrum of NextGEN Gallery shortcodes here.
Front End Variations
Of course now that we know how to create new galleries, configure the plugin, and insert our creations into posts and pages–we need to see what they look like on the front end! For these examples I’ve simply used stock images, the free version of the NextGEN Gallery plugin and the default 2012 theme from WordPress.
I have found the NextGEN Gallery plugin by Photocrati to be an excellent tool for displaying a wide variety of images in a wide variety of ways. Its free version is robust, full of intricate setting options, and more or less has something for everyone who decides to give it a try.
However, I have also found this to be one of its key weaknesses. It has the feel of a plugin suffering from one of the lingering maladies of WordPress itself. A tool attempting to be everything to everyone all at once. Which can at times and in places cause confusion, muddled user experience, and an overwhelming array of options.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, NextGEN Gallery is the most popular plugin for image galleries on WordPress–and for good reason. It is a good plugin, with or without the flaw(s) I just mentioned. In the end, its complexity is overcome relatively easily and once experienced with the plugin you can do some great things very easily. Which, I’m sure, is what accounts for its longstanding popularity.
My conclusion? Great plugin; slight learning curve. My recommendation? Give it a try!
Do you have anything to add about your experience with the NextGEN Gallery Plugin? If so, please drop us a line in the comments below!
Thumbnail Image via Shutterstock / Darko1981