Last year I relaunched my own site utilizing a premium WordPress theme and had a wonderful resonance to the change.  Over the winter and into the spring the number of stunning premium themes coming out from developers is nothing short of amazing, so when my former client Jeff hit me up about rebuilding his site, I was all for it.  Jeff owns and runs Sabotta Imagery, a Pennsylvania based photographer specializing in weddings, engagements and family shoots, he also happens to be a friend of mine.  I had originally set him up more then two and a half years ago with WordPress and a free theme, but it was time to take his website to the next level, one that was on par with his photography and that his clients would appreciate more.  Knowing his needs, I found the solution with ThemeSnack and their Phototastic premium theme.Phototastic is a pretty close resemblance to Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom software editing program and yields a stunning, easy to navigate site for viewers.  The instruction file is very straight forward and installing and activating the theme is painless.

Sabotta Imagery home page

When you hover over any of the main images on the home screen the title and lead info to the blog post are displayed as is left and right navigation arrows to jump to the next image.  Each of the images on the Home base are linked to Posts and not every post needs to appear on the Home page.

Sabotta Imagery home page detail

Because Jeff had more then two years worth of content, as did I when I upgraded, I knew I’d have to do some shuffling around to make it all work, but it turned out to be far easier then I thought.

On the home page you’ll see a large 950 pixel wide photo and thumbnails across the bottom, all which you choose as you post and can even control the duration spent on each thumbnail as it transitions to the next frame.  The transitions and resizing are all handled server side by jQuery and work flawlessly.  For Jeff, this was a great way to present both recent and his best work right on the front of the site.

Sabotta Imagery header

The header of the site is clean and straightforward, the logo can be uploaded through the admin panel of WordPress and the main color of the site can even be changed there.  A thick underlining bar indicates what page you’re currently on, in this case the Home screen.  What was different about this theme compared to his previous was how pages and categories are setup.  The arrows to the right of Portfolio and Blog indicate a drop down box by hovering them, but due to the limited vertical space, I opted to stuff some of Jeff’s pages into child pages of the parent page, Portfolio, as shown in the screenshot below.

Sabotta Imagery drop down menus

The ability to use drop downs and then further drop downs allowed Jeff to retain all the pages he had created within his previous theme but have them more organized and in a neater, easier to digest package. For his site, I created the Parent category of Portfolio and then stuffed everything under it.  All pages are as creative as you need them to be, but require setup on each and every one.

Sabotta Imagery blogThe Blog section in Phototastic is very similar, it relies on one main category, in this case named Blog, and then child categories under it.  When you hover over the Blog word on the theme the categories are displayed and thumbnails from the most recent photos in posts associated with those categories are displayed, this I thought was pretty amazing and a very slick addition to the theme.  From a user perspective, you can either click any of the specific categories or the word Blog itself to display all recent posts, this is where more of the Phototastic magic happens.

Sabotta Imagery blog thumbnail display

The default view is to show the 45 most recent posts, yes, 45!  All in auto-magically created thumbnails, again done server side.  As a photography, I truly appreciate the ability to show off a vast array of my photos without the clutter of words, but as a viewer, this is like utopia.  The vast array of colors and snippets of photos is wonderfully enticing and makes me want to dive in, but that’s not all Phototastic brings to the table.  In the top right corner you’ll see Switch View, clicking the middle icon switches to list view and shows the 10 most recent articles in a slightly different light.

blog-list

Again, the thumbnails are all generated server side and it gives the viewer a different way of viewing the same content.

Individual blog postings feature the highlighted photo large at the top, the same one rendered for the front page and thumbnails, then whatever content displayed below it.  The screenshot below is only small sample, to view the entire post click here.

Sabotta Imagery individual post

The contact page uses a fairly standard Contact Form 7 Plugin to handle the form new customers fill out.

Overall, Jeff is very pleased with his new site and visitors to it, new and old clients couldn’t be happier.  Installing it was really straight forward and the directions are very well documented.  There was a slight bump for me, as I needed to upgrade the hosting plan Jeff had to run PHP5 instead of the older and slightly out dated PHP4, which wasn’t in the documentation.  Because I was converting an existing site into this new theme, a little more work needed to be done too.  If you are purchasing this theme to start from a fresh site I’d strongly suggest having at least 15-20 posts ready to go before your public launch date.

Because Jeff already had a steady flow of site visitors and the theme upgrade was going to take me at least an hour to do (turned out being longer due to the PHP speed bump, not Phototastic’s fault), I installed the Maintenance Mode plugin and customized it to allow visitors to still get to the About and Contact pages of Jeff’s site and an outbound link to his Facebook Fan page.

One thing to be aware of with Phototastic, image optimization for the web is crucial because your web server will be rendering all the thumbnails for the various ways of viewing the site.  If you don’t optimize them in Photoshop or similar editing program, you could really bog down your server and slow the speed your site loads for customers.  Additionally, while the thumbnails are loading you may occasionally see the following screen.

loading1

The little icon in the middle is animated and I don’t think this distracts at all from the site and I’ve only managed to see it a few times even on slower connections.

The logo should be saved as a transparent PNG file, this isn’t mentioned in the instructions but I’d assume for most all applications this would be the best way to display it because of the gradients.  The footer is customizable via the admin panel for left and right side and accepts plain text and HTML.  The only thing I feel the site lacks is a proper integration of social media icons / placement and RSS button.  Because so many people use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, RSS feeds and other things, having this integration should be standard.  I manually placed a Facebook icon in the footer as Jeff wanted his visitors to be able to fan and follow him there in addition to the site.  We’re still undecided about adding Twitter and RSS icons at this time.

Overall the theme installation went really smoothly, when I did need to contact support about the problem that ended up being a server side PHP error they responded promptly and explained immediately how and what needed to be done to resolve the situation.  Phototastic is coded brilliantly with plenty of options to keep everyone happy.  It’s professional, easy to navigate and displays photographs wonderfully, any photographer should be proud to use this as their theme.  Future plans include filling the right sidebar with marketing material, both on blog posts and pages, as they are separated within this theme, a really nice touch.

Phototastic WordPress theme can be purchased from ThemeSnack.com for $49, a small price to pay for the full versatility of this amazing theme.