Friday, 19 August 2011

Gallery 3: A User's Review

One of the reasons I elected to use Gallery 3 for my portfolio is that it's in constant development and there's plenty of support. I'd be lying if I failed to mention the variety of plugins and extensions you can add to make it a versatile and valuable tool. However, its convoluted coding can make it a terror to upgrade.


Gallery 3 is a versatile program. Plugins include a PayPal link that allows you to sell goods via your gallery. There's a growing range of them, and I'm hard put to choose between Gallery 3 and ZenPhoto for ease of use, collaboration (you can have multiple members posting images, and they can be subdivided on the same lines as blog administrators), and customization.


There's a helpful forum, thorough documentation, and best of all, it's free to use for personal and commercial purposes.


Customization


Customization is fairly easy if you know CSS. There's not usually much to do in terms of matching it to a website's theme: just change the colours and perhaps the fonts, and you're done.


The tricky part is when you want to integrate it fully by adding the same CSS 3 effects and menus as are on the rest of the site. I recommend a thorough exploration of the forum for instructions on altering the structure of the gallery. It'll still work well enough if you make the odd mistake, but the convoluted coding means it can be hard to work out where the CSS for assorted items, i.e. the program menu, are. When the !important; CSS declaration messes with your carefully-crafted breadcrumb or drop-down menu, finding the CSS colour codes for individual items can be a bit of a trek through a maze of files and directories, not all of which are in the theme folder.


Am I the only one who ever assumed she knew what she was doing and ploughed on regardless? I could have saved myself a great deal of time by just perusing the forums for a while to learn how to do it properly.


Oh, and remember to copy the theme you want to customize. Doing so makes upgrading easier because you won't have to start all over again when the upgrade loses all your hard work from the first time around. There is a wide range of themes, some of which have nice drop-shadows and rounded corners. These can also be customized to suit your needs.


Upgrading


Upgrading is really easy! Unpack the new version, move the var/ directory of the old version to the new version's folder and then either browse to: http://your-site.com/gallery3/index.php/upgrader or at a shell prompt: php index.php upgrade For more detailed upgrade instructions, please refer to the Gallery 3 User Guide.

Those are the instructions. You have to rename the main gallery directory, upload the new version, then follow the above directions. To cut a long story short, I goofed it up, lost all the content of my original gallery and had to start all over again from scratch. Thankfully, I didn't have a lot of images in there.


It turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise because I went back to the forums and figured out what I should have done the first time around, then did it all properly this time. The result is, it matches the site theme much better than it did before. All the links work properly, and I've got a nice, shiny new sitemap uploaded and linked to Google Webmaster tools. Since this came at a time when, once again, I'd made changes to the site theme, it gave me a bit more experience in customizing galleries because I don't get to do it very often. I mostly work with blogs.


Galleries versus other options


Of course, all this begs the question, "Why not use a blog plugin, a slideshow, a carousel, or a fancy new Flash portfolio flip book?"


Carousels and slideshows


I already did! I've used a variety of Javascript carousels and pop-outs on different websites. The volume of images I have now is a bit big for a carousel or slideshow, and I like to organise my pictures by type. The carousel/slideshows would require a page, or an area of page, for each one. It would be cumbersome, is what I'm saying.


Flipbooks


Flash is not a great love of mine. The flipbook websites listed here are all part of one big advert for flash CMS website templates maker motocms.com. They're pretty and all, don't get me wrong, but I don't like waiting for a website to load, and some of the effects are reminiscent of the classic Harryhausen stop-motion animation scenes in movies like King Kong and Clash of the Titans (the early versions), so it's not even worth the wait. HTML5 versions of the flipbook will be available soon if they aren't already. Organising isn't as simple as working with a gallery program: you have to make a separate flipbook for each group of pictures.


Blog plugins


Blog plugins tend to be small and squarish, and require a widget to sit in, so they usually end up in the sidebar, at the top or at the bottom. Again, the question of organizing your images comes into play. It's easier by far to use a gallery.


Blog as gallery


B2evolution has a blog theme that's optimized for photo display which I could use if I wanted to, but where would I gain the experience of working with a gallery program if not on my own site? It's better than waiting for another client to come along; I mostly end up being asked to make blogs as it is.


Gallery programs


ZenPhoto is every bit as good as Gallery 3. I only chose Gallery 3 to get the experience of customizing it. I was accustomed to working with Photobucket and Picasa, the online image storage websites. They provide widgets to embed in websites but the problem of organization comes up again, as you would have to link directly to your gallery on those sites to make it easy for viewers to access your image albums if you didn't want to make a page per widget.


The clunky, cumbersome nature of the Fidlers Ferry setup makes updating a bind, since I'd have to access their Flickr account, navigate to the relevant album ("collection") and get a widget to display on a new page. The same principle applies on all the other options.


In a gallery program, the ability to organize images by album makes it easy to display images by type, and you don't need to place HTML code anywhere to display it. The simple user interface makes it easy to upload, tag and describe images, move them between albums and arrange them on the page. For me, there's no other option to consider for displaying my portfolio. This, to my mind, is the best way to do it.

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