On Dragon Burn Photography

As a volunteer for Dragon Burn I am responsible for maintaining the Dragon Burn website. Part of that responsibility is curating images created by the Dragon Burn Community. As with other aspects of running a Burn, what seems like a simple task can have some unique challenges.

Dragon Burn

Dragon Burn is an event that runs once a year in Anji. It is a temporary village built in a forest near a flower farm where couples take wedding photos, and by a reservoir that gave Yang Guifei her beauty. It is entirely non-profit and is built in part by every member of the community.

I mention this because an important aspect is that we do not pay photographers for their images. Instead, images are gifted to the community by photographers after the event. The quality of these images range from amateur to professional.

Collecting Images

Our first attempt at curating images was to simply create a shared iCloud. Participants could upload images they wanted to share to the cloud. This led to many problems:

  • We ended up with a gallery of hundreds of images that were completely unorganised.
  • Many people were uploading the same images over and over again, leading to a lot of duplicated images.
  • People were uploading images they didn’t create themselves.

This led to me publishing newsletter where images were incorrectly credited. I was quickly contacted by the actual authors of said images. I had to follow up the newsletter with an errata that gave the corrected credits.

But I knew I had fucked up. We didn’t know who any of the images we had belonged to. Even worse than that, we had no idea if we actually had permission to use the images that had been uploaded.

When images are gifted to the community, the least we could do is give the correct credit and make sure we actually have permission to use said images.

We needed a better solution.

Getting Enthusiastic Consent

To fix our issues we needed an actual process for curating images. The first thing we did was set up a “Ministry of Photography”. This was just an email address that forwarded to anyone on our social media team.

The second thing we did was to create a page explaining how to gift images to the community. Here we give some recommendations (use watermarks!), state what permissions we request, and also make it clear that we do not take ownership of any images gifted through this process.

This page does several things:

  • It gives recommendations to photographers on how to protect their work.
  • It tells them how we may use their images so they can give explicit permission for these uses.
  • It makes it clear that we don’t claim ownership over any images and that we will take them down at their request.

Now after every event we can share this page and anyone who wants to gift images will know exactly what to do.

One last thing we did is to start organising the images by the photographer that donated them. You will see on the sidebar that since 2017 the albums include the name of the photographer. This is much easier than crediting each individual image. Especially when there are albums with more than 500 photographs.

We Don’t Like It RAW

So now we have images coming in nice zip files and each collection is attributed to an author who has given us permission to use their images. Problem is that not every photographer is web-dev savvy.

Sometimes you get images which have been selected, edited, and reduced in resolution and size. They are usually good enough to upload straight away.

Sometimes you get 500+ RAW images ranging from 5 to 15MB in size each with a resolution of 4000px+. Total size is usually 50GB+. That’s going to take a while to upload through WordPress.

I’ve tried various WordPress plugins to handle automatically optimising images. It turns out it’s not a task that plugins can handle.

Realistically the only way to do it is to optimise the images before uploading. I use Caesium Image Compressor for this. It’s simple enough to use and has no limit on the number of images it can process.

WordPress Desperately Needs Better Image Management

Anyone who’s worked with WordPress for a while knows that the way it handles images sucks. I love WordPress, but come on! It really needs to handle images a lot better than it does.

I use the NextGEN Gallery plugin to manage all our galleries. It’s the most popular plugin and it works pretty well. The only caveat is that due to our site being bilingual we have to create two pages for each gallery.

Social Links: No need to use plugins

Social media links can help a site gain a following. They can allow people to share pages and follow your social media pages. There are several plugins that can add links for you and they can work quite well. The problem is that these plugins hook your page into a third party application. I wouldn’t have too much trouble with this on its own. These applications seemed quite well put together. Then I found that my page load speed was increasing by an average of 3-4 seconds!

Thus I began a quest to figure out how to add social media links without plugins. I decided to have two places for social media links. The first at the end of each post, allowing users to share pages. The second would be links to follow my Twitter, Facebook and Google+ pages. These would appear in the sidebar.

Twitter

The simplest way to add twitter buttons can be found on their website. It’s as simple as selecting the type of button you want and copy/pasting the code.

I wanted to have a vertical follow button like I was using for the others. There was no option for styling the button on the page. After a brief search I found this page. Here it lists a bunch of options for changing the style of the button.

Twitter code requires a URL. Each page and post in your website has a different URL so it’s not ideal to add one for each by hand. Fortunately you can replace the link with a WordPress function. If you look at the code provided you find it has something like data-url="http://www.your-link-here.com/subpage". We can add a call to get_permalink which provides the link to the current page.

The other thing you need to do is make sure that data-via references your screen name. The final code for my share button looks like this:

Continue reading “Social Links: No need to use plugins”

Category Pages

I wanted to split up my content in a neat and tidy way. I realised the easiest way to do this would be to split up my content by category. After trying a few plugins to create pages that displayed a list of posts in a category I realised that I needed to approach this another way.

As it turns out you can do this in WordPress easily by using Menus and Widgets. You don’t need plugins and you don’t even need to write a line of code!

The first step is to create a new menu. Under Appearance->Menus you can create a new menu. Call it whatever you want – the name doesn’t appear anywhere on your site. You can add pages, custom links or categories to the new menu. The latter is what I was after so I added a bunch of categories to my new menu.

Creating custom menus
Creating custom menus

Under Appearance->Widgets you can add new menus, search boxes, and other things to your sidebar. What I needed was a Custom Menu. Here you can give it a name that will actually appear on your site.

Attaching the custom menu widget
Attaching the custom menu widget

And that was it. I now have a new fancy menu that splits up my content in my sidebar. Now when visitors check out the site they should be able to see the kind of content that is available.

The final menu in all its glory!
The final menu in all its glory!

There was one last thing to do before I was completely done. Up until now I had been treating categories like tags, adding 3 or 4 categories to each post. I decided this would work better if I kept my categories a little tighter. So I went through all my old posts and assigned them to no more than one category each. I didn’t have much content on my site so this was a quick job for me.

When Plugins Collide

When making a new post one day I came across a bug in my website. I created a new post, attached a featured image, and hit preview. I got a messed up page that had two copies of my featured image above the page content.

As panic set in I went through and checked everything. My site still looked fine. Already published posts seemed okay. Checking previews of already scheduled posts showed that they were fine. I tested different images to see if they were the cause. No luck there either.

Continue reading “When Plugins Collide”

Optimising WordPress

I spent the better part of last week improving my blog, and I figured I would write about my experiences. WordPress is a great platform and I’m having fun working with it. But, like any piece of software, it needs some fine-tuning before it can work the way you want it to.

GTmetrix

My first major problem was the site’s speed. I’d always noticed that it was slow, but I never realised by how much. I discovered GTmetrix, a site that scans web pages and determines how you can improve them to make them faster. When I scanned my home page: 27+ seconds!

I needed to fix this.
Continue reading “Optimising WordPress”