WordPress is incredibly powerful, but also very complex. With over 60.000 free WordPress plugins, not to mention many great premium plugins out there, you can easily extend WordPress’ functionality to build the site you want. But it can get really hard to pick and choose the most powerful and reliable plugins.
This list contains my recommendations (based on reviews, popularity and my years of personal experience with them). Please keep in mind that the number of plugins you need also depends on the quality of the page builder and/or WordPress theme you’re using!
I obviously don’t install all the plugins in this list on every site. Nor should you. In fact, installing plugins with overlapping features is a recipe for errors. Simply read their descriptions, click to view their screenshots, and then decide which of them are worth installing on your WordPress photography site (and potentially replacing your existing plugins). Not sure what WordPress plugins are? Read this first.
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Almost all plugins below have excellent reviews & a rating of at least 4 out of 5 stars, and have been thoroughly revised and tested.
Always start by choosing a hosting service and a page-builder
This decision can remove the need for a lot of the plugins mentioned below.
Unless a new website requires special needs, my go-to solution these days for building a new photography website is using hosting from SiteGround and then the Elementor page builder (with or without its Pro version or other addon packs, depending on the site). By doing so, I’d say that 10-20 of the plugins listed below become superfluous and I no longer need to use them. What’s even more important, with Elementor, you no longer need to a theme either. Elementor is powerful and flexible enough to control everything: headers, footers, page/post layouts, global site colors & fonts, popups, etc.
Other paid/premium page-builders I’ve used in the past (all of them arguably worse than Elementor):
- WPBakery Page Builder (formerly called Visual Composer) + “Ultimate Addons” pack
- Divi Page Builder (really good as well)
- Awesome Builder
- Page Builder by SiteOrigin
If you already use a page builder, but still need to extend the design and layout of your pages, you probably need to use a shortcode plugin. These allow you to create buttons, lists, icons, columns, etc. (or create your own shortcode):
Media library optimization and control
When adding content to your website, you sometimes need to completely replace an image. Instead of uploading a separate file to the media library, you can use this plugin to simply replace the image (and automatically update all uses throughout the site).
Whenever you upload an image to WordPress, a bunch of smaller versions (some cropped and some not) get created (depending on the values under Settings > Media or dictated by your WP theme). Sometimes you do need to re-generate these: after replacing images, after optimizing them, or in some site migration scenarios.
An alternative would be AJAX Thumbnail Rebuild, but I think this one is better.
It’s not rare to want to change the default image thumbnail size offered by your WordPress theme. Or the size at which other plugins generate their thumbnails. Usually you can’t control those sizes, but this plugin exposes them (including the cropping preference).
This plugin allows you to automatically generate images/graphics for high-DPI (“retina”) displays. Incredibly fast and easy to use.
A great way to rename all images uploaded to your site (for an extra SEO boost). It automatically changes filenames for your uploads based on the title field. You can also manually change an image filename, when needed.
Among other features, this allows you to organize your media library uploads into folders. The paid version has more useful features, well worth the cost if you often need to reference the media library and find it messy now.
What this plugin does is clear from its title :-))
Have a lot of useful metadata “trapped” inside the EXIF information of your files? This plugin allows you to move that over to the caption field which might be displayed on the site depending on your theme and site settings.
If watermarking is for you, this plugin does a pretty good job.
Extending the default WordPress functionality starts in the admin area. This set of plugins can help you manage your uploads and post types, or perform more advanced tasks.
If you’re using anything other than WordPress’ new inbuilt Gutenberg page builder, installed these two plugins!
A simple site-wide switch to turn off comments for pages and/or posts.
Already have a page on your site that you want to replicate (like a landing page, or a portfolio page with a particular layout)? A plugin like this makes your life easier.
Talk about another self-explanatory title :-) Whenever you link to other websites out there, you might want to have those links open in a separate browser tab, so users easily get back to your site once their done. This is thought to slightly improve bounce rates.
Has your WordPress theme introduced a bunch of unnecessary stuff in your WP admin navigation menu? You can now hide them, re-order them, or even add new custom ones.
This also allows tweaking the WP admin menu, but most importantly it allows customizing your site’s login screen. It’s obviously not critical in any way, but I like to personalize the login pages for my web-design clients for consistency. A great alternative is WP Admin UI Customize.
Having too many pages in alphabetical order can make things hard to manage. Use this great little plugin to organize your pages (or custom posts) in the WP admin area.
With larger websites, you sometimes need to go beyond just the basic WordPress posts & pages. Creating custom post types (for your galleries, portfolios, workshops, testimonials etc.) can add clarity to your WP admin area.
If you create custom post types (or they’re part of your theme), you sometimes need to custom-sort them (instead of the default sorting order). This plugin allows you to do that in style, using drag-and-drop.
While the Types plugin is for creating custom post/page types, this one is for adding custom fields to WordPress posts & pages, and it’s great at it. Use this plugin to add visually-editable fields to your site, so you never have to work with source code.
Sometimes you need to share a post with a friend (or an editor) for preview before publishing it, WordPress doesn’t allow that (without giving admin access). This plugin comes to the rescue: you can now share an anonymous public link to your drafts.
Need to import a lot of content from an older website or a different platform? Save everything in a spreadsheet, save it as a CSV file (“CSV” stands for “comma-separated values”) and then import it all using this plugin. It can save you a lot of time, and its intuitive import process is a joy to use.
For advanced users.
Have you ever been in this scenario: you want to change something on your site’s design, you Google it, and find instructions telling you to place snippets of code into your theme’s “functions.php” file.
This plugin allows you to do that directly in the WP admin, and it’s actually very safe: it checks the entered source code for fatal errors before saving.
Need to change an URL or a piece of text on multiple pages?
You can avoid all the repetitive work using this fantastic plugin that does a “search-and-replace” on the WordPress database. And you can also do a quick “dry run” first (just searching, without replacing) to see how many items need to be updated.
It’s good to do a database backup before using it, but this plugin can really be a huge time saver when dealing with repetitive content changes.
If image security is a concern, use this plugin to prevent some of the most common image-theft actions. But keep in mind that nothing is 100% safe, and advanced users can still get your content and images from the source code of your site. This free plugin does a decent job. For a stronger solution, check out this premium plugin.
The look of your site depends primarily on the WP theme you’re using. But these plugins can help you improve the design and layout of your site even further.
When just starting with a new site, you might not be ready to share your creation with the world just yet :-)
Use this plugin to create a great-looking “Coming Soon” or “Under Maintenance” page for the public. (You’ll still see the “real” site when logged in as WordPress admin).
A good alternative: Under Construction
Unless you have a robust “Custom CSS” page in the Theme Options page provided by your WordPress theme, this is the plugin to use. If you do know a little CSS and want to make quick design tweaks beyond what the theme offers, you can try this plugin. It has nice CSS syntax highlighting too, and it adds a “custom CSS” fox when editing any post or page too.
If your WordPress theme doesn’t have a good selection of fonts you can choose from, a plugin like this one can do wonders. It allows you to choose any font from the free Google Fonts library and apply it to specific elements on your site.
Display beautiful and mobile-friendly tables on your site, with advanced features (like sorting, filters, pagination etc.).
Unless your WordPress themes comes with its own galleries and slideshows, a plugin like Envira can work wonders. Forget bulky and ugly gallery plugins. Envira is fast, well-designed and a joy to use. And most importantly, it’s mobile-friendly. You might need to get its Pro version for advanced functionality, but it’s well worth it.
Another excellent gallery plugin. Once again, you might quickly outgrow the free version and need to go for the paid version.
If your theme is lacking this functionality, this plugin allows you to view enlarged versions of your images in a mobile-friendly lightbox effect. It comes with a ton of animations and options to choose from, and it also works with video links.
Slider Revolution (paid)
The most powerful slider plugin on the market. It comes with a $19 price tag, but it’s incredibly flexible (animated texts, full-screen slides, video support, visual drag & drop editor etc.), allowing you to build sliders of any kind. Especially useful for your site’s homepage. (A great alternative: Soliloquy)
Essential Grid (paid)
If your WordPress theme lacks modern grid or masonry layouts, use this plugin to displays anything in a fully-adjustable grid. Not just images, you can display posts, pages, products, videos etc., and it comes with tens of pre-made skins. Made by the same company that does Slider Revolution (mentioned above).
Justified Image Grid (paid)
The best way to display justified grids of your images, with a ton of controls. As mentioned in this past article, justified grids are the ideal type of layout for displaying thumbnails, prioritizing horizontal images (as opposed to masonry grids that emphasize vertical images).
Unless your theme comes with its own contact form functionality, use this.
My go-to contact form plugin these days. For advanced forms (with file uploads, conditional logic, payment integration & more), you’ll need their paid version, but it’s worth it.
Powerful yet straightforward plugin, easy to use. And because it’s so popular, many other plugins and themes integrate with it nicely.
These plugins can help your site get more visibility on social media sites.
A great plugin to display social media sharing buttons in your posts and pages.
A good alternative for displaying social feeds on your site.
Highly customizable social sharing plugin.
Another great plugin to display social media sharing buttons in your posts and pages.
Sometimes you want to save time and automatically push your blog posts to your social media profiles. If that’s the case, this plugin is a godsend.
You can no longer afford to have a slow website. These plugins can help you improve your page load times.
Once I tested and switched to WP-Rocket, I never looked back, it’s fantastic. It’s not free ($39 for 1 site), but it’s an important investment (since site performance improves user experience and SEO).
Whatever performance plugin you use, be careful how you configure it (and thoroughly test it).
This plugin does something special to help improve performance: it allows you to restrict the loading of certain resource-heavy plugins on specific pages, reducing the bloat. It works well in combination with other caching plugins (like WP-Rocket).
Image file sizes have tremendous impact on website performance.
Start by making sure you only upload images at reasonable pixel dimensions (under 2000px, dpi is irrelevant here). But then use an image compression plugin like this way to bring file sizes as low as possible (in a lossless manner!)
If you’re looking for other options, check out my full guide: How to optimize images for website performance: image sizes, compression, tools & testing
As you probably know, you should never upload high-resolution images to WordPress, they’re not perfectly safe. This plugin can automatically resize all uploads to a smaller size. It can even help you batch-resize all your past uploads!
This is a great optimization plugin that comes to the rescue when your site’s starts accumulating unneeded database info, slowing down your admin area. You get full control over what “fluff” gets removed, and have the ability to schedule automatic database cleanups as well.
Another self-explanatory plugin title. Good to do house (database) cleaning once in a while.
A great alternative: Better Delete Revisions
Plugins sometimes come with their own vulnerabilities that might leave your WP site exposed. Great security plugins can minimize the risks.
Unless you run your site on a managed hosting platform, having a good security plugin is essential. This is touted as the #1 WordPress security plugin, and it lives up to this title. It contains a strong firewall, many security measures, and the ability to detect problems in your themes and plugins.
Another excellent security plugin with tens of security features to protect your WP site, and it has never disappointed me. It comes with tens of security measures to protect you from common (or more obscure) security attacks.
A plugin that scans other plugins, looking for security vulnerabilities, sending you email notifications . This is a must-have!
The no-setup SSL plugin that makes sure your entire site is loading over a secure HTTPS connection (after you’ve installed a SSL certificate on your hosting provider).
Finally a good anti-spam solution to replace the classic (Akismet).
Without regular backups in place, you’re asking for trouble. These backup plugins work well on most hosting providers and, most importantly, allow you to automatically upload backups to an external hosting service (like Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon S3).
Excellent free backup AND RESTORE plugin.
You can schedule it to run automatically, it can backup your database & files, save to Dropbox, Amazon S3, Google Drive, FTP, email etc.)
A good alternative (but just for back-ups, no restore functionality).
The Yoast plugin should basically come pre-installed with WordPress, that’s how good it is. If you’re into SEO, you can also use plugins to help with redirects and with detecting broken links. (By the way, the Pro version of the Yoast plugin can do all three)
Yoast is no longer my go-to SEO plugin. Perfectly fine to keep Yoast if you’re already using it (as is half of the entire Internet), but Rank Math (and new contenders like SEOPress) are incredibly easy to use and have all the right features, without all of Yoast’s bloat.
Adding 301 redirects is useful when:
- You rebuild your website and completely change the URLs of most of your pages (example: /old-path/old-file.html becomes /new-path/something/)
- You just want a short URL to share on social media (redirecting to the proper page).
The Redirection plugin is not needed when using Rank Math though (which already has that functionality).
* I don’t recommend using the “Simple 301 redirects” plugin which was hacked a while ago.
A truly excellent plugin to control your site’s permalinks, with a ton of features. Use responsibly. And get the pro version for really advanced needs.
A simple plugin for adding your GA tracking code to the site.
* Don’t use the popular MonsterInsights plugin for this. They’re awfully aggressive with admin area notifications and promos.
Need to create a multi-lingual WordPress site? The absolute standard is WPML. It’s a paid plugin (requiring a hefty $79/year payment), but it’s the most powerful way to present your site in multiple languages, along with language-switchers (like the flags in this site’s header).
A good plugin for super-charging WordPress’ default commenting functionality. It automatically integrates nicely with every theme, and has really good comment moderation features.
Looking to sell physical or digital products on your site? Look no further than WooCommerce: it’s the leading eCommerce plugin for WordPress with tons of options and extensions. And virtually every WordPress theme integrates nicely with it (so you can have a cohesive design in the shop area of your site).
Setting things up does require some work, though. The greater the power of a plugin, the greater the complexity. And as you grow, you’ll also start needing premium WooCommerce extensions for more advanced functionality (automated customer emails, dynamic prices, custom shipping rates etc.), don’t say I didn’t warn you :-)
Sometimes you just need a quick way to add a PayPal button to charge for a small product or service. Look no further than this small PayPal button plugin.
Membership plugins have exploded in recent year, and there’s no clear winner yet.
This is one of the free membership plugins I’ve have a good experience with, and allows creating your own online community and restricting content to members. Alternatives: WishList Member, Memberful WP, Members. For the most powerful solution, go with Restrict Content Pro.
For any advanced search needs through your (custom) posts.
Graphs & charts:
- Google Maps Widget
- WP Google Map Plugin
- Simple Google Maps Short Code
- OSM – OpenStreetMap
- Interactive World Map
- Geo Mashup
- Easy Google Maps
- Mapplic (paid)
- Mapify Pro (paid)
Events & bookings:
“Should I only use a few WP plugins to not slow the site down?”
No, I don’t think that’s necessary.
If you don’t know how to make your website fast, and you’re not using any sort of caching plugin, then yes: plugins can impact the page speed, of course.
But once you take care of performance, and you use a caching plugin, then it doesn’t matter. You could have 1000 plugins, and the output is already cached. When a new visitor comes to your site, the website just serves a cached copy of the code directly, it doesn’t need to process all the plugins again. That’s what a caching plugin does.
The only impact plugins can have is in the admin area. If you have tens of complex plugins, the WordPress admin is going to be slower, of course. That’s why you need to use a good hosting company, because cheaper hosts have really low resource limits and can’t handle too much stuff (GoDaddy and Bluehost, I’m talking about you).
My site is very fast, and I use 20-30 plugins. But I always keep them up to date, and I tested them, and I know what they do, and I’ve used them for many years and know they’re not causing problems. And with performance measures in place, plugins are not a problem.
And you need plugins. You can’t just stay with the default WordPress features or with what your theme provides. You can’t just use an SEO plugin and that’s it. Plugins are useful.
If you’re still unsure, and you’re noticing some weird issues in speed testing tools, ask a developer to look into it. Some plugins add extra JS and CSS files to the frontend of the site, slightly affecting performance, and sometimes that can be easily fixed.
You obviously don’t need to use all these plugins. Simply pick and choose the ones that fit your needs. If you’re using a good performance plugin (like WP-Rocket), and if you have a quality hosting provider, it doesn’t matter how many plugins you’re using. And don’t forget that an awesome page-builder like Elementor can also reduced the need for many other plugins.
If you have any questions, please write a comment below to ask about:
- using specific plugins or not
- recommendations for other types of plugins that I didn’t cover here
- configuring/troubleshooting plugins
If you’re using WordPress for your photography website, I really hope you find this curated list useful.
P.S. Considering starting or improving your photography blog? Check out my in-depth blogging course for photographers.
Need help managing your WordPress site?
Save time & money by protecting your website and having me do ongoing testing, maintenance, prevention & iterative improvements.
Check out my website maintenance plans & technical services for photographers: