Last month I installed WordPress and theme for Juliart Photographics, a photographer who wanted a clean, simple site with a manageable back end so she could do updates herself.  She had no need for a blog but that doesn’t mean that WordPress wasn’t the best choice for a back end for her needs.  A premium theme was chosen from Theme Forrest and then slightly modified to fit her specific needs.  As the project was coming to a close, I realized that an update to my own photography site was in need, mostly because I never fully finished the last version and partly because my site needed a better focus and direction.

Having such great results with the premium theme from Theme Forrest, I searched around and found what looked to be the perfect theme, fitting all the needs I had without me even knowing what I needed when I started.  Before this review goes further, I’m going to be as specific as I can with regards to the theme itself, this is not intended to be how-to install WordPress or Themes.  You can hire me to install WordPress and the theme of your choice / customize it though.

Why a premium theme? Like I mentioned, I had great results with my previous client’s site.  Most of these results were because of a well documented install directions, PSD files of the entire site and solid code.  There are thousands of free themes out there, but for the $15-35 for a premium theme from Theme Forrest, the value seems overwhelmingly worth it for me.  They are half or a quarter of what other premium sites charge for themes and some of the best looking one’s I’ve found.  The other reason for me choosing a premium theme is that I know it will limit the chances of seeing another person using the same one as me.  As it stands now, only 50 people have downloaded the theme I chose, who knows if they all got installed yet.  Compared with the average downloads of free themes, I like my odds more of having a somewhat unique theme.

Gallerific.  The theme I chose is called Gallerific and was created by Justin Scheetz, who through a little research also happens to live less than 20 miles from me.  Even though it’s the internet, I like to support local artists.  It instantly appealed to me because of the large images used for the home page navigation, it comes with two different color schemes and utilizes some creative and unique image handling techniques.  It also has a drop down menu system for the header navigation for a super simple and clean look and feel.  I’ve always felt that photography portfolios should be focused on making the images look good, not be so overly complicated that it takes away from the photographs featured.  This meets my needs.  Here’s what my site currently looks like.

Mike Panic Home Page

Gallerific was a simple install, following the instructions included.  There were however some speed bumps along the way that I needed to iron out, which I’ll cover later in the article.  Because I already had content, most of the initial tweaks were minor ones to properly display the home page.  If you are installing this for the first time, plan on having at least seven unique blog postings ready or this won’t work for you.

Breaking down the home page and all the features.

Header Navigation

The header navigation is powered by a combination of both Pages and Categories.  In my case, the Home button takes you obviously to home and is hard coded into the theme.  Blog and Galleries are actually categories for posts, Archives and Contact are Pages.  During setup of Gallerific, you specify which comes first (left to right), pages or categories.

For my site, every post is labeled with the Blog category, this gets everything to show up nicely in one spot and because I sometimes need to post non-photographic updates, like site updates or to promote an art show.  The Gallery category is the Parent and utilizes ten Child categories, all neatly displayed in the roll-over drop down menu system. While the theme comes widget ready, I didn’t like the idea of storing my archives in the sidebar and wanted a specifc page for them.  I created the Archive page and installed the Clean Archives Reloaded plugin that I feel serves as a better overall archive and site map than one in the sidebar.  Lastly is a rather standard Contact page with another plugin for the form used.

Logo, Search and Social Networking

Included with Gallerific is a PSD file to customize your logo, I made a minor color tweak to my existing one and uploaded it.  The directions do not specify the file format and I’m thinking it needs to be a PNG, as the JPG I used is slightly off in color.  Search is well integrated and, well searches.  The default install of Gallerific includes a section in the admin panel to easily put your name, address and phone number below the search box.  Because I’m not a studio photographer, I don’t really have a need for those fields and have a specific Contact page for such information.  I edited the theme file header to include some social networking links and an RSS icon.  The only design flaw I found for this theme was the lack of an integrated RSS button, something I hope makes it into the next version release of the theme.  For the time being, I’ve installed the overly trendy Web 2.0 style buttons, these happen to closely resemble iPhone icons.  They will more than likely change when I find something that fits in a bit better with the overall theme.

Featured

Moving down is the Featured section of the home page.  Photos in this section appear when posts are in the Featured Category and the photo must be set to a specific width to work properly.  The screen shot above shows what happens when you roll the mouse over it.  Note that it shows the post name, categories it’s filed under, number of comments and the first few words associated with the post.  Clicking the post title or View Details will take you to the specific post.  The arrow to the right will take you to the next Featured posting. This is way cool and a great way to spotlight specific files and a very creative use of WordPress.More Featured

Directly below the featured header box are square boxes numbered, in my site’s case, 1 through 3.  When you hover over them a small thumbnail will appear of the other featured posts that can be displayed in the header if clicked.  From the overall size, I’d guess two dozen or so images could be utilized as Featured and gives the viewer another way to access and see images used.

Main Body

The main body features cropped images from the last six blog postings made and text, customizable from the back end of WordPress.  I really like the fact that every blog post means fresh content on the front page utilizing these lower six boxes, always giving visitors something new and fresh to look at, while the featured box at the top can remain a little more static.  The text to the right is where I’m displaying what would normally be on an About page, which I usually hate on portfolio websites.view-details-larger-image

The six images also hide one more secret, they are not just links to the blog posts associated with them.  Hover over and you will be given two options.  The first is View Details which will take you to the blog post, the second is View Larger Image.  When the second option is clicks, the uncropped photo opens up and gives the viewer a better idea of what could be seen in the rest of the article.   Once again, giving the visitor to the site more to do while remaining super clean with design.

footer

The footer is clean and utilizes the same header navigation, sans the drop down menu system.  Copyright info is displayed to the right, I’ve chose to leave the credits in the footer and added in text for my RSS feed, which again was lacking, and a little icon for stats tracking.  One design element I find missing here is an Up or Back to Top button, often usefull so the user doesn’t have to manually scroll.

Looking at more details.

blog

One setting that is kind of unique for Gallerific is how Categories are displayed.  Each Category can be displayed as a blog or as a gallery.  For the Blog category, I’ve chose to display it as a blog, same is true if you click on the word Gallery.  This shows one highlighted image that I specify for each post (same as used on the front of the site or for the featured section) and about 40 words followed by a Continue Reading that takes the reader to the rest of the individual post.  This keeps the page neat and clean, which is why I like it.  For each of the child Categories under Gallery, I’ve set them to gallery view, as seen below.

people

This displays 10 posts that are in the People category in the same fashion as the front page, looking like a nice gallery with the options to roll over images and view one larger or be taken directly to the post.  Text indicating older entries takes the reader to the second page and so on. You’ll note the two images / articles featuring cars in the screen shot above and may wonder why they are showing up in the People gallery.  Because I’ve associated each of those posts with more than one category, including People, they show up under different galleries.  Because you can only specify one image for the display square, it’s hard to be exactly perfect.  Each of those posts also feature photos of people, clicking the View Details button reveals that in the full post.

As I’ve said, the install went really smoothly and once I wrapped my head around how the categories section worked, I’m more than thrilled to use this as the theme to power my site.  Making images Featured on the front page and creating the thumbnails for the gallery view is very straight forward and well documented.  I do have plans to utilize Parent / Child categories more for an upcoming wallpaper section of the site which I hope to launch in a few months, as well as a page to sell prints from.  The only main problem I had with the theme during install and configuration was that I had existing posts, more than 150 to be exact.  Each post was in a category but didn’t utilize the parent / child sections because, well I had no need to.  Gallerific almost requires that and relies heavily on categories to function to its fullest potential.  Because I wanted every post I’ve published to show up under Blog and needed to move every post in an existing category under the parent category of Gallery, some time was going to need to be invested.  WordPress does not feature a bulk or mass edit categories option, and I spent two full days searching google with different search strings, asking on Twitter and Facebook for a plugin that would simply let me bulk edit categories with no luck.  The plugins I found weren’t supported by the newest version of WP and I was left high and dry.  A week after giving up I tried a new search query and found exactly what I needed and compliant with the newest version of WP, Manageable.  This plugin should be included with the theme as it’s almost essential to anyone looking to use Gallerific on a site with existing content.

I’ve quietly launched this, now 4th version of MikePanic.com over the last two weeks while tweaking and making minor customizations to it, and adjusting all the categories to fit my needs.  Today marks the unofficial relaunch, in this review, and the best my site’s looked since buying the domain name 9+ years ago.  I can’t thank the coder / developer Justin enough for making such an amazing, low cost theme.  Justin currently has six super high quality, amazing themes available for WordPress here, some as low as $15.00.