Sunday, June 27, 2010

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Lightroom 3: Web module plugin compatibility

A note about web-gallery plugin compatibility with the latest version of Lightroom...

(Shortcut to the gallery mentioned: 2010 Olympics: February 22nd Festivities)

Adobe is finally shipping boxed copies of Lightroom 3, and we now have upgrades and full versions in stock at Beau Photo.  I have been using the beta version of LR3 ever since it came out, and one very obvious improvement is in image quality.  The new "Process 2010" raw conversion algorithm is vastly improved over the previous one, which Adobe has tagged "Process 2003".  Much better noise reduction (very near the quality of third party programs like Noise Ninja) with detailed control over luminance and chroma settings, including the ability to essentially turn NR off completely if you want to handle noise using third-party software. In any case, what I want to mention here is compatibility with third party gallery plugins, specifically those from The Turning Gate.

I had been using a web gallery plugin called TTG ShadowBox (an older version that was free at the time) for all my web galleries on my revamped-in-Sept'08 website.  After modifying the templates a fair bit, I was quite happy with the look and have generated roughly 100 image galleries with it since.  Everything still seemed fine when I was using a beta of LR v3, however a slight incompatibility cropped up when the final shipping version of LR was released.  Adobe had changed the internal workings of their watermarking code and now the Shadowbox gallery would no longer imprint a copyright watermark on images it exported.  Bummer.

I figured I would finally go and upgrade to the no-longer-free version of Shadowbox since I saw a recent update that mentioned adding LR 3 watermarking compatibility.  I was not concerned at all about the price, since I think $15 is very reasonable for such a nice looking gallery plugin, but I was worried about how much time it would take to customize the new version to my liking again.  I downloaded a demo, and one thing that immediately bothered me was that the ability to click on the right and left sides of an image to switch to the next/prev one, was gone in the new version!  Now, one can only click on the tiny little icons at the bottom right, which move around on the screen every time an image changes aspect ratio, since they are anchored to the bottom right of the displayed image.  Sure, you can use the keyboard to navigate, but I think many users will just expect to click somewhere with their mouse.  For me that was a deal-breaker and I did not feel like trying to modify the javascript code to enable that feature again.  So off I went to look at some other gallery plugins.

After viewing some online demos, I decided to download the TTG Highslide Gallery plugin. Wow! I was amazed at the extensive degree of customization this gallery offered, with a much more robust feature set than the Shadowbox gallery. There is far too much in the way of cool features to do them justice by describing them here, so I strongly suggest you download a demo version and try it out yourself.

A few things I liked immediately stood out in the Highslide gallery. Although one still cannot click on the image itself to navigate, one now has the ability to fix the navigation controls relative to the viewport (window) rather than relative to the image, so this means that the controls will no longer move around when you switch images.  The second thing that stood out for me was the ability to have an optional link to a higher resolution image, which opens in a new window.  My old website had that functionality, but I could never get this to cleanly work with the old Shadowbox gallery I was using, at least not without spending much more time modifying things. Lastly, it was great to see the ability to edit a few crucial meta tags from within Lightroom, an important one being the meta description tag.

The one thing that really bugged me about the newer TTG galleries though, was the inability to put the title or subtitle in the header area.  This is something I had been doing for all of those 100 galleries before and my initial reaction was that unless that would work again, I would not be using these new gallery plugins.  After a few emails to Matthew at The Turning Gate, it became clear that I would have to let that feature go, since it wasn't possible to bring it back... at least not without a lot of work.  He was very quick to reply with some helpful emails, and this type of support is something which always makes the experience of working with products bought online much more pleasant.

In the end, I decided to buy the new TTG Highslide gallery plugin since I feel all the awesome features definitely outweigh the relatively minor issue of the missing header titles. After about 4 hours of work tweaking settings, and doing some very slight template modifications, I now have a gallery style that blends well with my website and my previous galleries.  Here is one example of a gallery I just generated with TTG Highslide (shot with my Canon EOS-7D and 17mm TS-E)...

(Updated this gallery with my latest settings - July 1, 2010)

2010 Olympics: February 22nd Festivities

When you click an image it enlarges, but only enough that it fits within the browser window you have open.  There are controls anchored at the bottom which allow you to switch to the next or previous image, play a slideshow or zoom the image to its full size. Once zoomed, you can click & drag the image around to see other parts of it. Clicking the image again will close it. There is also a link to open a high-res version in a new window and in this example gallery, you'll get a 2000 pixel image that way. In addition, you get keyboard controls as well once a thumbnail is clicked: left and right curser keys move to the previous or next image, the spacebar starts and stops the slideshow, the F key will magnify to full size and escape will close the image and get you back to the thumbnails.

For a comparison, here are the same images generated with the Shadowbox gallery I had been using previously...

2010 Olympics: February 22nd Festivities (old version)

So check out The Turning Gate and see all the gallery plugins they have for Lightroom 3 - flexible, reasonably priced and way nicer, in my opinion anyway, than any of Lightroom's built-in web gallery modules!


joomla web design said...

Awesome shots, The beauty lies in the timing of the shot.

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