24 - Photos in ExpressionEngine: Gallery Module or Weblog?
The church series resumes with work on the Photos section of the Church site.
There are essentially two ways to build a gallery with EE - either use the Photo Gallery Module that comes with the Personal and Commercial versions, or roll your own using a weblog and custom field approach. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages and in this post I’ll cover some of those and lay out the direction for the sample church site.
So - for photos is it better to use the provided Photo Gallery module or a more custom approach with a dedicated weblog and fieldset? In one sense, photos are just another content type and EE is especially well-suited to storing and presenting different content types. However dealing with photos does raise some issues that you won’t normally run into with text content. Let’s compare the two build approaches:
Weblog and Custom Fields
This approach to a photo gallery in EE offers the following advantages:
- Unlimited Custom Fields
The photo gallery has custom fields, but is limited to six. With the Weblog approach you can use way more custom fields (not unlimited, but close).
- Searchable Content
Content stored in the Photo Gallery module will not be found by the EE search engine. Content stored in the Weblog module will be.
- Consistent Workflow
Using the Photo Gallery will require a different series of steps for adding/editing/deleting content (as well as access to the Modules tab of the Control Panel). Using a Weblog approach would keep the basic workflow the same as any other content.
- Comment Moderation
The Photo Gallery allows comments and offers most of the same options as weblog commenting. Comment moderation, however, is not currently available in the Photo Gallery Module like it is in the Weblog Module.
- Meaningful URLs
The Photo Gallery does not create “Category URL Titles” like the weblog module does. Nor does it use create a “URL Title” from your image title. Both category and single-image views will have ID’s in the last segment of the URL. A Weblog approach would naturally create more meaningful URL’s.
- User Submissions Outside the Control Panel
You can use a Stand Alone Entry Form to allow users to contribute photos the site while not letting them have access to the Control Panel. There is no parallel functionality with the Gallery Module.
- Tell a Friend
EE’s built-in Tell a Friend function will work for Weblog entries, but not for Gallery Entries
- Multi Site Aware
If you are running the Multi Site Manager and install the Photo Gallery, it will appear installed to all sites. Categories added will appear to all sites. Control Panel access will be to all sites. The templates that the Photo Gallery installs will only go to one site, but overall the Module doesn’t slot itself into one site discreetly. A weblog-based approach would live under a MSM installation with better access control and visibility within the Control Panel.
- Category Sharing
Weblogs have categories. The Photo Gallery Module has categories. They aren’t the same, and you cannot create one category group and assign it to both a weblog and a Photo Gallery. If you want one category group to encapsulate Photos and other content, then the Weblog approach would be preferable to the Photo Gallery approach.
- Granular Permissions
If you have multiple member groups accessing the site and want to allow them to only have access to a specific gallery, then use weblogs as you can map weblogs to member groups. Access to the Photo Gallery Module is an all or nothing affair, with no ability to map members to a specific gallery or gallery category.
EE Photo Gallery Module
On the flip side - the Photo Gallery does offer some functionality not directly available with the weblog approach:
- Batch Processing
The Photo Gallery allows uploading of a batch of images via FTP to the server. You still need to go through them and add captions, etc before they publish to the site however. There is no batch processing with the Weblog approach.
- Multiple Image Sizes
When you upload an image to a Weblog post you can have EE create a thumbnail. The Photo Gallery will do both a thumbnail and medium size image.
The Photo Gallery module does offer the functionality of dynamically placing a text or graphic watermark to your image to help prevent image theft. This feature is not available in the Weblog Module.
- File Organization
The Photo Gallery can be configured to create category-specific folders on the server for keeping your photos more organized server-side. This functionality is unavailable in the weblog module.
- Image Editing
The Photo Gallery has a Toolbox tab where uploaded images can be cropped, resized, and rotated, and those changes can also be applied to the related thumbnail. This image editing ability is currently not available via the Weblog module.
- Quick Implementation
If it meets your requirements, the Photo Gallery is just flat-out quicker to implement for a site photo gallery. If your schedule is tight or you’re bumping up against the hours you quoted for the job then it’s worth looking at as a solution.
Note that there are 3rd party add-ons on both the weblog and Photo Gallery side that solve some of these issues one way or another - my evaluation here is only around out of the box functionality.
So What To Do?
Keep in mind that I’m building out this site using completely made up requirements - at least from a client/use perspective. What’s more important to me at this point is the learning value I could show by walking through the implementation. Since setting up and configuring weblogs, custom fields and templates is what I’ve done for everything else on the site, I’m more interested in walking through the use of the Photo Gallery Module.
So - my implementation will be to use the Photo Gallery Module, and have it present an index page with photo categories listed. Clicking a category will load a page of image thumbnails, and clicking a thumbnail will load the full-size image in Lightbox. The Lightbox script will provide navigation back and forth within the category.
The next post will cover installation and configuration of the EE Photo Gallery Module.