Building a photoblog

In 2012 I set out to teach myself how to build custom WordPress themes in order to finally launch a much talked about, but never realized photoblog at The News Journal. Right off the bat, we knew we wanted to shy away from a Big Picture-style photoblog. It’s already been done, and done well. Also, we don’t have a dedicated photo editor who would have time to curate images from the various wire services.

Instead, our first thought was to build a blog that would highlight the work being done by our staff, and have it fed automatically through their smartphones and photo services such as Flickr, Instagram and TwitPic. I wrote about the blog theme last year, but unfortunately, it never took off.

Fast forward a year and I decided to try and tackle a photo blog again. This time, with a community-centered blog that encouraged outside contributions, highlighted photo communities and events in the state and no longer relied on what is an already overworked staff for content. The new photoblog, now titled First State Focus, launched last week and is easily one of the projects I am most proud of here at The News Journal.


My first wordpress theme

Okay, technically it is a child theme of the popular TwentyTen theme, but, as you can see from the before and after above, they bear little resemblance to each other. Creating a photoblog here at The News Journal has been on the to-do list for myself, the assistant new media editor Andre Smith and our photo editor Suchat Pederson for some time now, but it wasn’t until the new iPhone initiative came through that Andre and Ashley Barnas brainstormed the format as seen above (previous iterations all took the form of a more traditional photoblog, similar to The Big Picture).

While a typical photoblog would have been nice, because we lack a traditional photo editor (Suchat does far more shooting than photo editing, and would not have the time to scour the wire to put together photo packages) and with the increasing focus on breaking news and sending images from the field, we decided to create a frontpage that displayed the latest photographs from all of our photographers. To make things easier, each photographers is his/her own category, and thumbnails are automatically created from images inserted into a post, for use on the frontpage, archives and category pages. While most photographers will update their images once they are done with a shoot and back in the office, the blog is set up in a way that it can receive images via email from a smartphone (that they will all now have) or pull in from Flickr directly to the appropriate category (the first, thanks to Postie, and the latter thanks to ifttt).

In keeping with the focus on social media, photographers will all have a Twitter follow button next to their name. On posts and category pages, custom sidebars feature content for each photographer … a headshot, short bio, set of thumbnails (currently set to random, but possible latest), latest tweets, etc. Some of this content is hard-coded to “photographer proof” it, but below the hard-coded area is a widgetized sidebar that each photograph can personalize. Also, because we have a strong focus on video, if the most recent post in a category is a YouTube video, it will be playable on the front. When it moves from that latest post spot to the recent post on the front (there are three smaller thumbnails below each main image) it reverts to a thumbnail. Initially, I had that playable as well, but it just seemed too small to be worthwhile. If the embedded video isn’t from YouTube, it will still create a thumbnail for use in both the main and secondary slots on the frontpage.

Plugins used:

As with anything I’ve done on my own time, from my first Vuvox timeline of Drake basketball to the small jQuery project I worked on in November, I have no idea where this will end up. If anything, it was good practice and gave me a better understanding of what makes up a WordPress theme and how to manipulate it. What do you think? Not bad for a first effort? What features would you look for in a newspaper photoblog?

Live demo

A quick plug for one of my good friends, Chicago-based photojournalist Rene Edde. Giving a voice to the voiceless is a goal that many journalists aspire to, and Rene is doing just that with her work through Americorps on


According to the site, TeenMomShoutOut is “a safe space for pregnant and parenting teens and their supporters to talk about issues that affect their community.” Rene set up a WordPress MU blog, aggregating the latest posts from individual blogs on the main page. The site gives pregnant teens and teen mothers a place to express themselves and use writing/blogging as a cathartic exercise. Already there have been posts about Charisse preparing a child for the realities of life, Blake wanting more for her child than she currently has for herself, Tiffany being following by a suspicious man and Verenice write about the importance of family in her life.

I am excited to see what other stories (and forms of storytelling) come out of this project.

WordPress template to display multimedia

From the moment I moved over to WordPress from Blogger, I had planned on using my server space to build an actual showcase for my portfolio, and not just a blog. While I didn’t stray away from WordPress, I did finally make a site to house my various projects and multimedia.

Portfolio Site

The new site makes use of Robert Ellis’ Aperio theme. Ellis is also the designer behind a theme I previously used, Modio, and was the man behind the Upstart Blogger site, before he sold it for $14,500.

The Aperio theme is still in what Ellis calls a prototype stage, with limited support. While the main page is obviously very image-driven, the single post pages have extremely narrow columns (no room for images) and I found that I had to delete the sidebar in order to display my multimedia properly.

Uploading images for the main page is relatively simple, and photos are automatically cropped down when a post goes from the latest post slot (top left) to any of the other recent post slots which are half as wide. There is a spot for a seventh post on the main page, but I chose to put links there instead.

I had considered using the Monochrome Gallery theme I wrote about last week, with it’s featured categories, and prominent rotating recent posts, but it seemed more of a magazine-style theme than a simple portfolio.