June 5, 2008
Matthew Campagna, owner of The Turning Gate, and 3rd party Web Gallery developer for Lightroom, kindly agreed to be interviewed for Lightroom News. Matthew is a prolific creator and very involved in the Lightroom Community, in such forums as the User to User forum and LightroomForums.net The interview is an informal affair and I hope you enjoy it.
Hi Matthew, You’ve been around the Lightroom Community for a while. Can you give us a little background for the readers?
Hi Sean, and thanks for the opportunity to appear on Lightroom-News.
To begin with, some background information that factors into some of my answers to your questions, and which explains some of what visitors will find at The Turning Gate. Since 2002, I’ve split my time between living in the U.S. and in Seoul, South Korea. I’ve been working in Korea for a total of five years as an ESL kindergarten and elementary school teacher. Between stints in Korea, I’ve done various things.
Following my second year-long stay in Korea, I began working for The Recorder, a rural newspaper in Virginia, as a reporter and photographer. I’d been heavily into photography in college, but hadn’t been active in years. My first day, they put a Canon EOS 300D in my hands. It was the first time I’d gotten my hands on a D-SLR. The paper didn’t know much about it, but it didn’t take me long to figure it out. They gave me free reign over photography for the paper, requiring only that my work appropriately serve the stories. Thus was my interest in photography reinvigorated, and thus was I introduced to the world of digital photography.
Late in 2004, still working for the paper, I started my freelance web design business, Turning Gate Design, targeting individuals and small, local businesses for clientele, and advocating web standards, affordability and user-maintained content. The idea was that, once a site was developed, the proprietor should be able to keep the site up-to-date on their own, without a dedicated webmaster, and without any particular expertise in coding languages. This philosophy has driven my work on the TTG gallery templates for Lightroom.
My latest teaching stint in South Korea has lasted three straight years, from August 2005. I’ve kept my camera busy with Project Seoul, an ongoing, informal documentary project on South Korean life and culture. Spam killed my photoblog, but I’ve slowly been transferring the material to my new Flickr account. I’m a music lover as well, and have had the good fortune to fall in with the folks over at Pastel Music, the best indie record label in Korea. I’ve been doing concert photography for them for about a year and a half, and have really enjoyed that. That’s why a lot of my sample galleries for the TTG templates feature photography of either Korean kids (my students) or Korean musicians. There’s some really exceptional music to be found here in Korea; visitors to The Turning Gate can get their ears wet in the Music section of my site, where I’ve been a series of articles entitled “The Korean soundWave”.
I first got onto Lightroom with the fourth beta release. Prior, I’d been using Camera RAW and Photoshop to process my work, and my photos were an organizational nightmare. I found Lightroom to be revelatory, and quickly bought into 1.0 upon its release. The Library module finally helped me to get organized; Develop offered massive usability improvements over Camera RAW; and with my background in web design, the Web module was of incredible interest to me. But it was also disappointing. While I loved that I could easily create web galleries by selecting images in my library, I was rather let down by the two included web templates, neither of which greatly appealed to me.
I decided there must be alternatives, and that, if not, then there should be alternatives. This was still early on in the life of Lightroom, and my searches yielded nothing. I kept at it. Eventually, Joe Capra launched www.LightroomGalleries.com. His first template and the corresponding tutorial really opened the door for me. At that point, I think it was reverse engineering and guesswork, but it was a start. From where we stand today, that first gallery was a mess. My first gallery, based on Joe’s work, was an even bigger mess. But the galleries worked, and we’ve both grown. My galleries are much improved, and Joe’s latest, LRG Complete, is frickin’ awesome. More on that later, and that’s probably enough of an introduction, yeah?
Probably! You’ve been a little quieter than your usual prolific self. Are you just resting up, or is there a big project in the pipeline?
I wish I were resting up, but there are no big projects in the pipeline. I’m winding down my time here in Korea. I’m due to attend the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Massachusetts come fall, and thereafter plan to pursue a career in professional photography. I just hope I know what I’m getting myself into. I fly out of Korea on August 2, which is rapidly approaching and I’ve just been trying to get things, and my head, together. I’m still working on my templates and have some updates planned for release sometime after Lightroom 2, but I’ve backed off a bit to work on life-related issues like setting up housing for school, exiting my job, setting up a flight, visiting friends, etc.
I’ve also recently purchased a Nintendo DS with some gift certificates I’d received, and that’s been crap for productivity (I [heart] Zelda). Ought to help keep me entertained on the flight over the Pacific, though.
We look forward to the updates. Speaking of the galleries, you’ve over 17 now, not to mention indexes and special galleries. What drives you to be so prolific?
On first digging into Lightroom’s Web module, I quickly located the Templates pane and excitedly began to sift through the myriad options. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment, however, when I realized that the Templates pane was not the treasure trove of gallery goodness it had at first appeared. The templates weren’t templates at all, but template presets, variations on only two actual, different templates. “Foul!” I cried. I believe in options — real options and lots of them, not two options each carrying a bagful of masks.
Originally, I thought it’d be great to be able to toss out a SimpleViewer gallery. But SimpleViewer is Flash, and Joe’s tutorial only covered HTML galleries. I’d been employing Slimbox on my blog for a while, using my content management system to generate dynamic galleries from my database. Managing images one-by-one from the database was a headache, though, and meant that my galleries were so deeply rooted to my site architecture that it was a nightmare to change them, move them, remove them, etc. It seemed like a great idea then to produce an HTML-based gallery on Slimbox, sorting out how to create galleries along the way. Once I had a grip on template creation, I came back to SimpleViewer, then AutoViewer and PostcardViewer — but those galleries were all wrong. I’d built Flash galleries as HTML galleries, rather than Flash galleries as Flash galleries. They worked great on the Mac, but didn’t preview on Windows. When Adobe produced their own versions of the Airtight Interactive galleries, I was able to pick them apart and learn the proper way to develop a Flash gallery for Lightroom.
In the beginning, that was the extent of my ambition. But then I found other Lightroom users really appreciating my work. I began to receive a lot of feedback, some feature requests and even people offering to send donations for my work. Naturally, I set up a donation button on my site. The feedback — the good, the bad and the monetary — is great to receive, and helps to motivate me to continue working, to continually improve my galleries.
And, via feedback, I found the Web module creating as many problems as it solved.
Here we had this fantastic application enabling photographers to spit out as many galleries as they like with the press of a few buttons. Suddenly, photographers who’d never taken their work to the web could do so easily. But it was a mess. Coming to digital photography with a solid background in web design, it had been a natural progression for me to merge the two disciplines. But now there were photographers who didn’t know the first thing about publishing their work to the web, and they were doing just that.
A pile of disparate photo galleries does not a website make. Users needed some way of tying the galleries together, making them navigable. I made an indexing template. Then users had galleries, an index, but still no website. An indexed pile of disparate galleries still does not a website make. And so, problem solving became a motivation unto itself. “Okay, we have this. Now what do we need? Pages? Sure. We can do pages. A contact form? Yeah, that’s doable too.” And so on …
When I began Turning Gate Design, my founding philosophy went something like, “Affordable, maintainable, quality websites for everyone.” The TTG galleries follow this same ideal. Anyone with basic computer skills, regardless of coding experience, should be able to setup a complete, functional, attractive website with a minimum of fuss. FOR EVERYONE. That’s the part that got me into this mess, and the galleries have become kind of self-perpetuating because of it.
It also helps that I enjoy coding the templates. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.
I know how you feel. One change that helped me was from Version 1.3 on, Lightroom added creating Galleries in Lua, as well as XSLT. Which way do you prefer developing? Are there advantage to each?
Lua is hands-down the better for HTML galleries. The syntax is nicer, template files are easier to organize and keep track of, and there are things can be done in Lua that couldn’t be done using XSLT. Also, the output is cleaner; no XML progs, and it’s easier to perform functions in the HTML files prior to output. I also like not having to deal with binding strings; it’s nice to have the bindings in the code for the controls, rather than separate. Making the transition from XSLT to Lua, I wasn’t so sure that I liked it. Having had my time with it, though, I think Lua was the right way to go.
For Flash galleries, though, XSLT is still the only choice. Lightroom’s implementation of Lua for Flash galleries, as seen in the LR2 public beta, is very much centered on the Lightroom Flash Gallery and is, as yet, not flexible enough for third-party use. I’d like to see that change in future releases, but have no idea what will come. On the other hand, I dread having to rewrite all of my Flash galleries, so I won’t be all too sad if it never happens.
I’m in the middle of a self created Flash gallery so I understand where you’re coming from. One thing common to all the galleries is that they’re free, but with a donation button on each page. What’s the free philosophy for?
Another multi-part answer.
In my time, I’ve definitely taken my share of freebies from the Internet. There are a lot of good people out there developing great things — applications, scripts and other types of tools — and releasing them to the public for free. I’ve always admired, respected and appreciated those folks, and I think it’s nice to be one of them.
On the more logistical side of things, many of my templates include one or more of these wonderful scripts. My Slimbox and Shadowbox galleries employ Christophe Beyls’ Slimbox and Michael J. I. Jackson’s Shadowbox, respectively. The Client Response Gallery uses Torstein Hønsi’s HighSlide, Jean-Nicolas Jolivet’s MooTabs and Charles Sweeney’s FormToEmail.php script. SmoothGallery is by Jon Schemoul, and my Flash templates include components by Felix Turner, Christopher Einarsrud and others. Each of these components is the intellectual property of its respective author, and each released to the public under its own licensing agreement. Legally, I can’t charge for most of the my templates because of these inclusions and dependencies. I could probably get away with charging for a few of the templates — TTG HTML Gallery, the indexing templates and a some others — but it’s kind of an all-or-nothing deal for me. Also, cross-reference with my “websites for everyone” philosophy above.
Collecting donations is something that was originally suggested by users. For reasons that should be obvious, I took up with the idea. I’m very grateful for the donations I’ve received, and have really been amazed and moved by the generosity of the Lightroom community. When I move from Korea to Virginia to Massachusetts for photography school in August, those donations will be making a huge difference. I fully intend to show my gratitude by continuing to support and develop the galleries into the foreseeable future, as school allows me the time to do so.
Would you do commercial galleries ala SlideShowPro for Lightroom from Todd Dominey in the future?
What features would you like to see available for Web Gallery creation?
In creating the TTG templates, I’ve come into contact with Andy Rahn at Adobe, who works on the Web module. He’s been very receptive to ideas, and very helpful in sorting out problems. Much of what I’ve wanted has made it into updates already, and some additional things will be in LR2 when it releases. At this point, my wish list is short. I’d mostly like to see more metadata being made available to the Web module, both via the Image Settings pane and also in the form of Lua variables.
I’d also like to see more flexible Lua implementation for third-party Flash galleries.
Other than that, nothing comes to mind. Like the rest of Lightroom, I think the Web module is a fantastic tool and moving in the right direction. I’m in love with the application; if I weren’t, I might be developing templates for Aperture instead. I also really like the tack that Adobe has taken with its recent releases, holding public beta periods, being very open to feedback and interested in users’ issues and concerns. It’s fantastic to see a company with its finger on the pulse of its user base, and it’s great to be developing these templates, knowing that I can get in touch with the team behind the application and actually be heard.
For my part, and aside from what the Web module can or cannot do at this point, I’d like to get some sort of e-commerce functions into some of my templates. I’ve already made a beta release of one e-commerce gallery, but I’m now thinking I’d like to take that in another direction, so there’s more work to be done there, and some other things I need to sort out. I have a few other ideas, but want to toy with things before making specific statements. I don’t plan to shake things up too much, though. I think I’ve settled into a comfortable place with my templates. They’ll continue to be developed and will evolve, but I think the most drastic changes are behind us.
Thanks for your time Matthew, especially jumping in with such detail!
Thanks for the opportunity to speak on my galleries, Sean!