Pics or it didn’t happen. Pics or it didn’t happen. That’s what I tell friends who want to tell me a fantastic story. Go on saying you met Lil Bub while scuba diving in Madagascar. I won’t believe it without photographic evidence.

Just like a great vacation story, your business’ website needs pictures to help you tell the story. Pictures trigger the emotions that convert your visitors into customers. They set a mood and show off your best work. They tell the world who you are. Strong copy writing is the essential backbone of any website, but pictures expand on your claims and prove them true.

Except, chances are you’re looking for a way to add a gallery of images to your website, and maybe even more than one gallery. The latest version of WordPress includes media options that have you covered. With the Create Gallery option, you can easily upload multiple images and group them together. It’s great for putting a small quantity of pictures together to display in a blog post. has a great step-by-step article to teach you the basics.

However, I don’t think it’s the best option for showing large quantities of images or grouping multiple galleries into an album. Thankfully, there are free (and paid) WordPress plugins that open up way more options.

What to Look For in a Photo Gallery Tool

Choosing a photo gallery plugin is actually a major web design decision. Your choice of plugin could determine how photos are framed, aligned, sized and organized. However, what you’re looking for more than anything is an interface that’s full of features. The built-in WordPress gallery is wonderfully easy to use, but lacking in features. You should make sure you at least have the following features:

  • Display galleries with shortcodes. Some plugins only display your pictures in special widget areas that certain WordPress themes may not utilize. You should have the option to display a gallery by placing a shortcode on any post or page.
  • Display galleries as a thumbnail grid. Most plugins I’ve seen adopt a grid of thumbnail previews as the default way to display images. However, I’ve come across some plugins missing this classic layout. Make sure you get it.
  • Click to expand images in a lightbox. Wait, WTF is a lightbox? As it refers to a website photo gallery feature, a lightbox is the frame around your picture that darkens everything else. When you click on a friend’s picture on Facebook, for example, it pops up bigger with a dark frame. Reduce your visitors’ eye strain and keep them focused with a photo gallery plugin that includes attractive lightbox options.

One plugin that includes those features and several other useful tools is NextGEN Gallery. It’s a tried-and-true solution I turn to for many small business websites.

Get Started With NextGEN Gallery on WordPress

There’s a great free version of NextGEN I use all the time for basic galleries. However, the paid version includes some uber-slick display options and image carousels. If you’re working with large format images, like a photography site, it’s worth the investment.

To get started with the free version, first install and activate the NextGEN Gallery plugin. Then create a gallery in the plugin and add images. Finally, embed that awesome gallery on a web page.

That’s not everything, of course. You’ll at least want to click “Other Options” in the plugin menu and give it a server-saving tune-up with these recommended settings.

  • Check Yes on “Delete image files” to remove images from your server when you click delete in NextGEN Gallery.
  • Check Yes on “Automatically resize images after upload” and fill in 800 x 600 as for the dimensions.
  • Check No on “Backup the original images” to prevent extra copies from being left on your server.
  • Under Lightbox Effects, choose “Lightbox” from the drop-down menu. I prefer the look of this simple option, but feel free to check out the others too.

NextGEN’s great, but what if you’re not a WordPress website or can’t use the plugin?

Alternative Photo Galleries for Non-WordPress Websites

Your best bet is to find a photo-sharing platform that allows you to host your photos on their server and share your gallery with an HTML embed code that can be used with most blogging and website software. You might use Flickr, a popular photo-sharing site with easy sharing options that include HTML embeds for your slideshows.

Or check out Cincopa, a media platform that stores your content in the cloud. It has plugins for popular website software packages and an embed code generator for when you can’t use a plugin. Pay an annual fee for premium features. Juicebox is another gallery option with a one-time fee for its premium option.

Use photo galleries to complement your compelling copy writing with rich visuals. Photo galleries aren’t a deluxe feature just for expensive websites. You can get a fantastic result when you choose the right tool for your website and put in a little elbow grease.

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc