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Chances are if you’ve used WordPress and toyed with displaying a picture gallery on your site, you’re at least somewhat familiar with the NextGEN Gallery. The plugin was launched by Alex Rabe back in 2007 and since then it’s become the most popular photo gallery plugin downloaded by WordPress site owners.

Earlier this year, a company named Photocrati Media acquired the NextGEN plugin and took over the reigns of its future development. Photocrati sells WordPress photography themes, so it’s a fair assumption that a premium version could be in the works. I’m hoping they’ll keep the plugin free and use it for lead generation, but that might be a stretch as it directly competes with their bread and butter.

I have the NextGEN Gallery running on a few of my sites, but it really gets a work out on my family photo gallery site where I’m nearing 500 galleries and over 6,700 pictures to date. I went through a few different designs starting with Coppermine, then a quick Plogger test, and then Gallery before settling on WordPress with the NextGen Gallery. While all of them were decent, there really is no comparison to be able to use the platform I’m most comfortable with and also having flexible and attractive galleries just a few clicks away.

Here is a number of reasons/features why I think NextGEN is the best free gallery plugin available right now.

  • Set your own thumbnail image size
  • Set max image dimensions to resize your photos
  • Set the number of image thumbnails per page
  • Display your images in a slideshow
  • Sorting and reordering options
  • Custom image watermarks
  • Multiple image upload options
  • Quick and simple gallery creation

Don’t take my word for it though. Check out all the NextGEN features for yourself.

How about the cons? Well, in the few years I’ve used this plugin quite heavily, I only ran into one issue with the plugin running out of memory and not creating all the thumbnails during image uploads. The original images actually uploaded fine, and I could click through them on the front end while the full images displayed, but the thumbnails just weren’t present. However, this is not a plugin issue at all, but rather a server memory setting that some people may run into in some (but not most) shared hosting environment.

By the way, if you haven’t started your own family photo website yet, I think it’s time you start. With so many pictures being taken solely on cellphones, not to mention all the single drive computers out there, people are losing years of images when those phones get lost or stolen or those hard drives fail. Sure, with digital images we can point and click until we get the perfect image, but that’s not going to matter if there’s no images left to share.

I began when everyone started having kids around me, and now years later I’ve got a decent collection of the last few years and a good start on getting the old stuff scanned and posted too. Nobody other than my mom cares about it now, but I like to imagine one day when I’m old (or gone), it will be like a treasure chest of photos that most family members forgot about or never knew existed. Not a bad start, eh?