I’m sure you have your own favorite theme or are simply confused by the number of themes out there.
The layout of the theme is subjective, of course, but here are my feelings on this topic.
Many photographers use themes that advertise themselves as being built specifically for photographers. But I feel that those are usually lacking in other departments. They’re visually impressive, they have big fancy slideshows, and they catch your eye with that. But once you want to customize more details, to make your site unique, you quickly run into limitations.
The solution is to use a more powerful multi-purpose theme. It might look more generic at first, because their theme demos are for different types of business, but they’re very capable with photography-specific elements as well.
You just need a bit of imagination to see what can be built with them. These multi-purpose themes basically provide the building blocks to build anything you want, along with more flexible theme options.
So you can basically build complex layouts, and customize them to your liking, without needing extra plugins and coding. At least most of the time.
What you should look for in a good WP theme
- it should be responsive, of course (though I doubt you can find one that isn’t responsive these days)
- should have a good page builder included (see examples below)
- should be compatible with WooCommerce if you plan on selling stuff on your site
- compatibility with WPML is also good if you need a multi-lingual site
- should have a large number of downloads (as proof of standing the test of time), good buyer ratings (usually above 4.5 stars (as proof of quality) and positive comments (sign of a responsive support team)
- having free lifetime updates is ideal (because you don’t want something you want to renew every year)
- and finally, look at the theme changelog and see how active it is! Are the developers actively updating things, adding new features, increasing compatibility with other plugins and with the WP core? Seeing at least several updates per year in the theme change is a good sign.
My WordPress theme recommendations
After building tens of WordPress photography sites, here are the WP themes I personally recommend these days:
Note that none of them are free. In fact, there’s no free theme out there that can compare with them. With a WP free theme, you get what you pay for.
All 4 are great, but I think “The7” has a slight edge ahead of the others, because it has the most extensive set of theme options out there:
For photography sites, it has a ton of elements and layouts for galleries, slideshows, image walls, landing pages, shops, etc.
But you can’t go wrong with either of them:
- They’re well-coded. All 4 themes have large user bases and their developers are active. New theme updates come out often. All 4 allow creating child themes if you really want to custom-code parts of them, though usually not needed.
- All compatible with the latest version of WP. In fact, they came out with WP4.5-compatible upgrades before WP 4.5 was even launched (because they pre-test the WP beta versions)
- All 4 are compatible with WPML for creating multi-language sites (proof about Divi here and here, proof about The7 here, proof about X-theme here, proof about Avada here)
- And most importantly, they have great page-builders (included with the theme), all different from one another:
- The7 uses WPBakery Page Builder (formerly known as Visual Composer), which I think is the industry standard, along with an extension called “Ultimate Addons for Visual Composer” – also included in the theme – which makes it even more powerful.
- Avada uses Fusion Builder
- X-theme uses Cornerstone
- Divi uses Divi Page Builder
In my experience, Divi Page Builder is easiest to use (and better designed), but Visual Composer is the most powerful:
So if you need one single recommendation, go with The7. It also comes bundled with the powerful Revolution Slider plugin, GoPricing (for creating pricing tables) and Convert Plus for email marketing and options, all included in the price of the theme! Basically, the top 3 most popular premium WP plugins are already included in The7.
You see all these “photography themes”? All of them, down to every single detail, can be reproduced with “The7” (and sometimes with a bit of extra PHP and CSS code as well), it’s that powerful.
Here are some websites I built with it to show you the full range of what it can do:
- http://www.stevegreerphotography.com/ (this uses Armada, which is a sister theme of The7, same features)
Purchase the WordPress theme
You should do your WP theme shopping at ThemeForest (the world’s most popular theme marketplace, tied together with CodeCanyon, the best source for premium WP plugins)
A good theme will cost somewhere between $20 and $60 for a regular license (which allows you to install it on one single site, and gives you 6 months of support from the theme developer).
If you’re hiring a web-developer, those 6 months of support are more than good enough, since you’ll probably go to them for help anyway.
But if you’re building the WP site yourself, consider purchasing the “Extended support”, giving you the ability to contact them for questions.
And definitely don’t get the “Theme, setup & hosting” package. That’s considerably more expensive in the long haul than getting them separately: a decent shared hosting plan is below $5/month, and the theme can be purchased as a one-time expense. You do the math :-)
Install and activate the theme
After purchasing the theme, download it from your ThemeForest download page:
You probably also want to download the purchase code (needed to activate the theme) and check the box to get email notifications about theme updates (so you’re on top of things when an update is needed in the future).
The simply upload the theme archive to your site (Appearance > Themes > Add new then choose “Upload theme”)
Once installed and activated, the theme will ask you to enter your purchase code to register the theme (and enable all of its features and included plugins). Once you do that, you’re ready to go:
Configure the theme options
You are now free to start playing with the theme options provided by the theme
You can tweak the theme settings before, after or during the time you add content to your site. As a recommendation, I generally like to start with some general theme options first (Branding, General Appearance, Typography) and then I start creating some initial site structure (creating some empty pages, creating the site menu, adding in some of the content). Only then to do revisit all the theme options and start tweaking the design. Over time, the site will start taking shape, and you’ll regularly go back to the “Theme Options” along the way to tweak a few more details.
Some themes, like The7, also have a “Design Wizard” to help speed up the initial configuration of your site: it’s a limited set of options that you set once, in the beginning, to help create the site faster:
WordPress themes have come a long way in recent years. Premium WP themes are now incredibly flexible and powerful, they’re mobile-friendly and SEO-friendly, and they often include a slew of powerful plugins that extend their functionality even further.
In my experience, when you’re building a WordPress-based photography website, you’re often better off getting a popular time-tested WP theme instead of a shallow “photography” theme (which looks good in their demos, but is quite limited when you start trying to customize it). And you need that flexibility in order to make your site unique, otherwise, you risk looking like hundreds of others sites using the same theme.
This article gives you my recommendation of quality WP themes that you can use to build a great WordPress site, anything from a lightweight portfolio website to a full-featured eCommerce photo archive.