If your site features a lot of images, whether they are photos, screenshots, illustrations and designs or artwork, making use of a specialist image gallery plugin is a great way to make your content standout from the crowd.
These tools are ideal for a range of websites: from budding photographers, to artists and those displaying their professional work in the form of an online portfolio.
While WordPress is pretty good at handling images out of the box, these plugins can bring a whole wealth of features to your website that will really enhance your images and improve the user experience, making it much more likely your visitors will stick around to see what’s on offer.
For those that want to use their images to impress friends, showcase their talents or acquire new clients, using a suitable image plugin is the perfect solution.
If you are looking for an image slider plugin check out an earlier post covering the best options on the market.
WP Simple Viewer
This image gallery plugin is available in a free version and a pro version for which you must pay to gain access to. As this plugin is listed on the WordPress.org repository it can be installed directly from inside your WordPress admin area. Once installed, a new button is added to the WordPress post editor which allows you to create image galleries right in your posts.
The options for creating an image gallery include setting the source for the images. This can include the Media Library, Flickr or Picasa. Other options include setting the maximum width and height, as well as which buttons to feature on the gallery itself. After approving the settings you must then click on the Add Media button on the post editor and select the images you want to display in your gallery.
While this looks like a good option for displaying images from your site or from your Flickr or Picasa account, I wasn’t able to get WP Simple Viewer to work as I was experiencing the no image specified in gallery XML error. While it seems many others are enjoying this plugin, don’t get your hopes up on it working for you.
Page Flip Image Gallery
This is another image gallery plugin that is available as a free version as well as a pro version, although the free version is marked with a ‘demo’ notice that your site visitors will see. The standout feature of this plugin, that helps separate it from the other options, is that it displays the images in the style of a flipping book. The live demo for this plugin didn’t work when I tried to view it so I didn’t have high hopes for Page Flip Image Gallery.
After installing the plugin you need to first create an image gallery. Doing so was like taking a step back in time thanks to the absence of the standard WordPress media uploader interface which allows you to drag and drop multiple images into your site. Although to be fair, you can upload your images via FTP to a folder on your domain and then set that folder as the source for the images.
Once you’ve uploaded your images, simply click on the Create Book button. There are many, many options for setting up your book the way you want and testing them all out would keep you busy for a long time. I just went with the default options and then created my gallery.
To add an image gallery to a post, simply click on the newly added icon on your post editor and then enter the gallery ID in the shortcode.
The page turning interface is a nice idea but it doesn’t really translate very well to a mouse and cursor system. However, the pro version of this plugin has support for smartphones and tablets, which I assume means the images/pages can be ‘turned’ using the touchscreen. For the free version users, the pages can still be turned using the arrows at the bottom of the gallery making the whole thing a lot easier to use for non-touchscreen users.
This is a good effort but only really worth using for pro users who will be displaying their image galleries on smartphones and tablets.
This plugin claims to be one of the most popular plugins of all time and with 7,725,244 downloads at the time of writing they are probably right.
It’s a breeze to setup and is packed with features. While there is a free and a premium version of NexGEN gallery, the free version didn’t seem like a promotional tool for the paid version and was a useful plugin in its own right.
You can create a number of galleries with this plugin including a basic thumbnail gallery, a slideshow and an image browser gallery to name but a few. You can also add watermarks to your images to prevent them from being used elsewhere without some form of credit being attributed to you or your site.
Amongst the settings, you are able to set the transition times for slideshows, transition effects, controls and the lightbox effects. The Pro version of NextGEN Gallery gives you six new gallery displays including a masonry gallery, and one with a filmstrip effect.
This is a good choice for anyone wishing to add a free image gallery to their site that has plenty of options to choose from.
Cincopa WordPress Media Plugin
This plugin can handle not just images but also videos and music in its galleries making it ideal for those wanting to display multimedia content on their WordPress site.
The basic version is free and there is a pro version with additional features, as seems to be the norm with these image gallery plugins.
If you are running a blog that makes use of videos and audio, as well as images then a plugin like this that can elegantly display all kinds of media is a good choice. The plugin can automatically resize images taking some of the pain out of displaying images of all dimensions in one gallery. The number of different format of video that is supported is pretty impressive too meaning whatever file types your videos are, there is a good chance the Cincopa Media Plugin will play them.
This plugin has lots of features that are well worth taking a look at. Although it only has a rating of 3.5 out of 5 at the WordPress.org plugin depository, it is still a worthy addition to this list.
Pick of the Premium Plugins
While most of the plugins featured so far offer both free and premium versions, the free versions can be a little lacklustre, making you wonder about the quality for the premium versions and whether they would be worth investing in.
If you don’t want to go own the freemium route, then here are some of the best premium image gallery plugins available for WordPress.
- ZoomFolio – WordPress Portfolio Plugin: designed for displaying portfolios, this plugin works equally well presenting photos and other images from a range of sources. It is optimised for iOS and Android devices ensuring as many of your visitors as possible can enjoy your content.
- Gallerix: this plugin is simple to use and easy to setup. Simply install and then create a category under the Gallerix tab and then add images to that category. Your gallery can then be displayed using the shortcodes that come with this plugin.
- Thumbnail Gallery: this is another simple yet effective professional plugin for displaying images and videos on a WordPress site. The layout is responsive for use on smartphones and tablets and it also supports touchscreen navigation. The Thumbnail Gallery also features prominent share buttons that can be displayed on each gallery item should you wish that allows for easy sharing of your content on all the major social networks.
- Social Gallery: the style of the image galleries created with this plugin mimic the image display format used by Facebook, allowing you to piggyback on the success of the platform. Your visitors can add comments in the same way they would using Facebook and they can even post using their Facebook account. This lightbox based image gallery plugin is a great way to get more shares, comments and views for your website and its content.
There are so many image gallery plugins out there for WordPress and while most of the free ones we looked at serve a purpose, it’s not until you start looking at the premium options on sites like Code Canyon that you realise just how much you can do with images and WordPress.
It’s hard to pick just one option as lots of these tools work in different ways and will be suited to different users and websites. Of the freemium options, NextGen looks like a good choice and a safe bet. When it comes to the premium options, any one of the Code Canyon offerings looks like a suitable option, especially the Thumbnail Gallery plugin, and its great set of features.
If you are using your site or your images to promote any kind of professional service, whether that be a photographic or design portfolio, or are just using photos to gives your business site some personality, it’s definitely worth investing in one of the premium plugins for the professional touch they will give your website, especially when considering their low cost.