Pictures are an almost indispensable part of any website. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional photographer displaying their portfolio, a local store displaying their products, or a blogger looking to make your content more dynamic, you are using photos.
WordPress, as a CMS, is very aware of this and gives you out of the box options to add images to your blog post or web page. The native image gallery allows the user to upload a picture in the media library and easily place it on the page.
Though you can add a gallery, the WordPress native gallery has very limited functionality and lacks many features, including an out-of-the-box lightbox.
Thankfully, WordPress is extendable, and the WordPress plugin directory is full of options. In fact, it has too many options. There are so many gallery plugins out there, many of them with identical features, that the sheer number of possible choices can leave a user frustrated.
In this article, we are going to present some free gallery plugins that we have used in the past.
FooGallery is easy to use and extensible.
It is easy to use in the sense that, if you know how to use one gallery plugin, you can use them all (except, maybe, NextGen, but we will get there). The logic is typically the same: The plugin creates an entry in the dashboard menu, you create a gallery there, choose your options and are given a shortcode, that you can use to insert your gallery to any post or page.
The extensibility is something I personally love about Foo Gallery. The basic installation is, exactly that: basic. You can choose to create a gallery grid, a Masonry grid (which is a Pinterest-like layout), a simple responsive gallery, and more. However, this is all there is. No lightbox, no gallery albums, not many of the options we see in other, more full-fledged solution.
But FooGallery doesn’t really lack these features. The options are there, pluggable, all you have to do is to activate the functionalities you want. The FooBox extension, for instance, gives you a lightbox-like overlay, to present your images. There are many extensions, both free and premium, that you can install to add functionalities, pre-made gallery templates, and more.
That’s right, the nice folks at FooGallery created a generator, a boilerplate to create your own FooGallery plugin. You can change and override absolutely everything from the way FooGallery works by default. Any developer who has been frustrated in the past, trying to tame a plugin to do what they want, can see why this is an amazing feature.
Next, comes another favorite one of mine, Unite Gallery Lite. I have used this one in a number of sites because it has so many options. You can either create the gallery as usual and leave the default settings, or you can fiddle with the options to customize your design.
You can configure your grid as you want, specify the position of the gallery and the margins, customize absolutely everything about all the text that is displayed, title, description, everything. The included lightbox is, as well, full of options to configure.
Curious about what you can do with Unite Gallery Lite? Check the demo pages. You can showcase your pictures pretty much every way you want. From a tiles display to a grid, a slider, thumbnails carousel, you just imagine how you want your gallery to display, and you will probably find a good solution.
This has been a long time favorite of mine before I started switching to more configurable plugins. The reason? The original, amazing jQuery Justified Gallery by Miro.
The demo page of its WordPress counterpart is also pretty impressive. Note the rollover image title, as well as the lightbox page, with the gallery thumbnails on the bottom and the iconified menu on the top. Also, note how the images are justified, in equal size row heights; this is a feature that many plugins miss.
This plugin makes a call to the scrolling event of the jQuery Mouse Wheel Plugin. While on lightbox mode, you can move to the next image by scrolling, a behavior that I would like to see on more plugins. They also offer transition and some animation effects.
What makes this plugin very interesting is that it uses the native WordPress gallery. You don’t get a separate menu where you have to create your gallery and copy the shortcode; it is all done right there, in the Add Media option. If you have been using WordPress native gallery, once you add this plugin, all your galleries in previous posts will be using its features.
Gallery by Envira (the free version)
This is the free (and very basic) version of the popular Envira Gallery. The free version is widely popular as well, with over 70,000 active installs, as of this writing and a very high rating.
Envira works with a drag & drop interface, that allows you to directly upload images from your computer and use them, or you can choose pictures already uploaded in the WordPress media library. Its default settings give a sleek and modern look and a fully responsive layout. It will automatically justify your pictures, resizing them as needed to give equal height rows. It will also allow you to configure some basic options, such as the number of columns to display, the row height, whether you want to crop your images, and more.
The free plugin has a number of options that, once you try to access them, you realize they are premium only and that you have to upgrade to use them. That’s not bad, as the free options are already more than enough to create a basic, modern-looking gallery layout. It also offers an amazing amount of paid addons that allow you, among other things, to use images from your Dropbox, or to work directly with Adobe Lightroom.
The truth is, I never managed to get too much into Envira gallery. The free version feels restrictive and customizations more than the basic can be difficult to implement. It is certain though that, there must be a reason that it is one of the most popular gallery plugins, and there is no doubt that the additional features offered by their premium version are very versatile.
NextGEN gallery is the most popular. It boasts over 1 million active installs, and over 16millions downloads since 2007 when it first appeared.
Once you install NextGEN, you are presented with a video and a sort of testimonial page with the pictures of professionals who use (and advocate the use of) NextGEN gallery.
On a first glance, it seems easy to use, with an intuitive interface and you can call it directly from your New Post page, as well as from its own menu. But once you are actually trying to use it, you might be overwhelmed.
Here’s an example: The fist thing I did once was to create a gallery, called “new” from the NextGEN menu. And now I am on my new post and I want to insert it. There was no shortcode offered when I created the gallery, but there is a link right on the New Post page that allows you to insert your gallery. So, here’s the screen I am faced with:
I couldn’t find where to insert the displayed gallery. You have to open the “What would you like to display” box to actually be able to choose your gallery. It is not difficult, really, but it is certainly not very intuitive. Additionally, the new user might feel overwhelmed by the options, presented on the very first screen, also they might start searching in the tabs, instead of looking at the options that are lower on the screen and feel secondary.
I think NextGEN gallery changed the way of displaying images in WordPress and paved the way for many more plugins. It is also options packed and allows the user to manage galleries, albums, make use of tags, and so much more. However, a new user will typically not prefer it over some more intuitive options.
Of the above options, I personally am a huge fan of FooGallery and of Unite Gallery Lite. However, this is simply personal preference, also this list is by no means exhaustive of all the great gallery options that exist out there.
All of these will provide beautiful and functional galleries to display your content.