Online Photo Galleries

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work on developing photo galleries. I’ve explored hundreds of galleries across the web and I’ve attempted to pin-point which galleries produce the best look and feel to a site. Other factors I’ve taken in to account include the time taken to load and how relative the gallery is to the site it lays within.

Photo galleries seem to occur in most sites i design these days. I suppose that may be a factor of digital cameras becoming commonplace along with the community forums such as facebook, myspace and bebo offering a source to share and comment one another’s photos. Not to mention the myriad of dedicated photo-sharing sites such as flickr and Google Images amongst a hundred others.

One of my personal favourite galleries i came across is a flash object called tiltview from a company called Airtight Interactive. For my own amusement i created my own application based on this object but utilising asp and xml to make the object dynamic. This gave me the advantage of being able to update the photographs on my server and have them automatically recognised by the tiltviewer. I wrapped this in some of my other development apps giving users the ability to upload new photo files and create new albums. I then combined this with another of my projects utilising ImageMagick to resize the photos on upload - meaning my server isn’t overflowing with other people’s photos and also the tiltview is much faster to load.

There are problems with the tiltview object - first and foremost is the same argument i use against using any flash object: the customizations are extremely limited. There are no - or very limited - options of changing colours, size, positioning, not to mention the functionality. It would be nice, for example, to be able to add custom html to the back of the photos. Also flash has limited support these days with the mobile market such as iPhones and iPads which will not play flash applications.

I tried building a simple image gallery primarily for a limited number of photographs but built for speed and the ability to view as many photos at once as possible. Again I used the ImageMagick tool to create thumbnails of all photos in a specified directory on my server. This time I used some simple CSS layout tricks to display the images in rows and columns on the page with neat and eye-catching thick white borders. I then added a javascript function to the images (added to the page dynamically using asp) to open a lightbox (a semi-transparent dark layer) across the page and added the original size image across the top of this. This is quite an effective gallery to use if you require as many images to be on the page at one time and it is also vary fast. You can view my efforts here.

To summarise I believe each image gallery has it’s pros and cons. These pros and cons need to be weighed up against the general feel of the site, the design and ultimatly the purpose of the site. Speed needs to be considered as a factor as well as the number of photos that can be displayed and the volume of files that are likely to be in the gallery. My ultimate goal is to build a tool with a dropdown box that allows you to switch between galleries whilst viewing the same set of photographs.

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