Photo Blogging and Featured Images

After using this WordPress.com hosted blog more intensively for a while now, as well as my self-hosted WordPress.org portfolio site, there’s one thing that stands out as a single, major grievance: the Featured Image.

WordPress offers so many different themes that would work for photo blogging. Yet, it’s almost like every theme that I tried has it’s own different way of dealing with the Featured Image. Some rely on it. Some of them look odd when using it. Some themes (Elegant Themes for example) have implemented their own, more fail-safe approach to offer similar functionality.

This ties people to a certain theme once they picked it, and if you intend to switch theme, you may have to add or remove the Featured Image from all of your posts if you want archives and the posts page to look good, and the way the theme designer had intended.

But there is no bulk edit feature for adding or removing the Featured Image. Devin Price wrote a plugin to automatically add the Featured Image to posts (described in this post), but this is of course only useful for self-hosted sites. And if a different theme that you consider does everything you want just right, except for the Featured Image? You have to get rid of them in your existing posts (read: you’re screwed, or have to find another theme).

I picked the “Syntax” theme for this WP.com hosted site because it gets Featured Images right (UPDATE: I switched to the “Visual” theme a while ago because it suits me better, I like the masonry grid of multiple posts, but the same applies: it gets Featured Images right) – well, at least for me: they are shown like a title/header image in the posts page and archives, but they’re not shown when viewing a single post. All I need to take care of is to use the “Read More” tag wisely. I think my Taiwan travelogue posts illustrate it nicely (if you click on that link you’ll see what I mean; then compare with the topmost post in 1-up view). The funny thing of course is that Syntax isn’t a theme that was made specifically for photo-blogging. 🙂

And I picked Devin’s Portfolio+ for my self-hosted portfolio site because it allows me to switch the automatic display of the Featured Image on and off. This is so useful, I can’t praise it enough. It also has beautiful archive pages that use the Feature Image: click – yes, that’s a post tag archive page – just to illustrate that Features Images can be used creatively, and beautifully.

Nevertheless, how different themes are handling the Featured Image differently is a big mess and can be hell if you’re changing theme. There should be a standard for themes, and how Features Images are handled. Ideally, how themes use and show the Featured Image would be configurable individually (as a site-wide setting, or even better, per post). I for example would not want to show the Featured Image when viewing single posts.

Why?

First, in a photo blog, it’s tempting to add only descriptive text into the post when the Featured Image is shown automatically, and omit placing the image into the post to avoid duplication of course. Now imagine switching to a different theme that does not display the Featured Image automatically. Your posts contain text about photos that are not there. Awesome. (#sartalics)

Second, say I want to write about a certain topic and use multiple images as an illustration (or just a single image, doesn’t matter actually). And I want to put the image that I also use as the Featured Image into the middle of my post, into context.

Imagine I’d be writing about a hike. I illustrate my way up to the summit of a mountain, and then, a couple of paragraphs in (just like in this post), I show the views from the summit:

Reiffelberg & Vorderlahnerkopf
Reached the top! Reiffelberg & Vorderlahnerkopf seen from Sonntagshorn peak, looking west.

It makes sense to use this image as the Featured Image so that it shows up on the posts page and in archives (teaser) – but I don’t need to see that image at the top of my post, and more so, in some obscurely cropped/truncated way, when I’m viewing that post, where it will appear anyway.

Now, I’m no WordPress developer and far from an expert. I’m curious to learn more, and would like to start the discussion, and draw some attention to the discrepancies that arise around the Featured Image. If you have a different point of view, or other remarks, please add a comment. Thanks!

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve been using WordPress since before featured images were a feature, so I just never adopted them. I throw some customized html in there to govern how my images are presented at leave it at that. I guess that gives me more control but it is no doubt more time consuming. When I ultimately update my theme I wonder if that will be easy to transition or a giant pain in the butt compared to having a featured image….

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    1. Well, as it is right now, you have little control over Featured Images, and how they are used or not is entirely up to the theme. You can always adjust your custom code to a new theme…

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  2. I found the same problems when trying to find the right template for my photography page. You find just the right theme and then some functions are missing. You change theme to have these functions missing and then the design is not as good as the previous or other things are missing.

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    1. That’s true. It appears that WordPress is missing a defined core functionality set, and too much functionality that affects the appearance is part of the theme, instead of the core.

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