High quality free WordPress themes for fine-art photography sites

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This is the first post in my Themes For Niches series, in which I handpick the best free and premium WordPress themes for use in niche-specific contexts. In this post, I take a look at the world of fine art photography. How do some of the world’s leading photographers display their work online and which WordPress photography themes can be used to create similar portfolios?

Exploring the niche

I began my research by surveying the websites of sixteen influential contemporary photographers, including:

Julie Blackmon (USA) – Type 1Nick Brandt (UK) – Type 2
Edward Burtynsky (Canada) – Type 1
George Giorgiou (UK) – Type 2
Mitch Epstein (USA) – Type 1
Franco Fontana (Italy) – Type 3
Spencer Tunick (USA) – Type 1
Sebastian Kim (Vietnam) – Type 3
Joseph Hoflehner (Austria) – Type 1
Erwin Olaf (Netherlands) – Type 3
Martin Parr (UK) – Type 1
Mark Neurdenburg (UK) – Type 3
Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan) – Type 1
Terry Richardson (USA) – Type 3
Tierney Gearon (USA) – Type 2
Anne Geddes (Australia) – Type 3

In reviewing these sites, I found 3 different homepage layouts:

Layout Type 1: Single Photo + Navigation Menu
Layout Type 2: Fullscreen photo with navigation superimposed
Layout Type 3: Thumbnail Wall / Masonry Grid

Each layout has a significant impact on the way the artist’s work is received. I also noticed that the dominant trend in fine-art photography sites is simplicity. Most of the sites are very bare bones in terms of design motif. Most tend to operate on a grid structure with ample white space and an image-first policy.

In what follows, I explain each of the three main layout styles, give examples of artists using those layouts and then provide free WordPress theme options that match each one.

Layout Type 1: Single Photo + Navigation Menu

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This layout style is the most popular of the three. It consists of a single image, often at the centre of the page, with a simple navigation menu either in a left hand sidebar or in the header area. This type of layout uses whitespace to pull the visitor into the main photograph, mimicking the experience of a contemporary photo gallery. Examples of artists using this layout include Martin Parr, Spencer Tunick and Josef Hoflehner.

Portfolio Theme

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Author: Organic Themes
Type: Full screen image on front page with sidebar navigation.
Launch date: June 2018
Last update: Feb 2019
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: Yes
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: The Portfolio Theme offers a simple front page with a large size gallery and a navigation section in the sidebar. You can also add your own logo. Projects are organized using the WordPress portfolio function and can be displayed in grid form. The theme also has a separate blog. Please note that this is the free version of a paid theme, so its functionality is paired down. Nevertheless, this is one of the few free offerings that comes close to reproducing the minimal layout that many professional photographers opt for in their portfolio sites.

Demo / Download

Hannover

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Author: Florian Brinkmann
Type: Central image and top level navigation bar, social media icons and impressum in footer.
Launch date: Dec 2015
Last update: May 2018 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: This is a rare free theme that comes close to the design and layout of many professional fine art photography portfolio sites. The front page contains a single image in the center with a simple navigation bar at the top. There are social media icons in the footer. These can be removed. The colour scheme can be changed using the build in WordPress customizer. Portfolios are organized in a list with a thumbnail and accompanying text. There is also a separate blog template for news updates.

Demo / Download

Hamilton

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Author: Anders Noren
Type: Full screen image on front page with sidebar navigation.
Launch date: June 2018
Last update: Feb 2019
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: Yes
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: This is a clean portfolio theme with a simple front page showing your latest projects in masonry style. Technically, this should be a “type 3” layout in my classification, but I include here since it can be easily adapted to display a single image. Each single project page has the ability to display large scale images intercut with well balanced text. The theme supports the new WordPress Gutenberg editor plugin. I also love the fact that it comes with a bespoke Resume/CV template, which is a huge bonus. This is probably my favourite theme in the list!

Demo / Download

Touchfolio

Author: Dmitry Semenov
Type: Horizontal scrolling portfolio with left hand navigation menu.
Launch date: 2012?
Last update: Sep 2014 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: No
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: I like the simplicity of this theme. In default mode it showcases projects using a large image slider. However, it is also possible to set the front page of the theme up as an image/project grid. In that sense, Touchfolio also fits type 3 in my layouts.

Demo / Download

Expositio

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Author: WPShower
Type: Horizontal sliding portfolio with left hand navigation menu.
Launch date: June 2011
Last update: April 2014 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: No
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: I wish this theme had continued to be developed, because it's so easy to use straight out of the box. What I particularly like about this design is the horizontal scroll. It looks great on tablets where swiping left to right is easy. Note that there is no blog with Expositio, so it's purely a portfolio theme.

Demo / Download

Layout Type 2: Fullscreen Photo

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A simple full screen image with a superimposed navigation menu, this layout type removes all whitespace and immerses the visitor in the artist’s world. It is a great way of communicating a particular vision or theme to an audience in the blink of an eye. This website layout is used by Tierney Gearon and George Giorgiou.

Artwork Lite

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Author: MotoPress
Type: A series of scrollable full screen images with overlaid post excerpts.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: July 2018 (use with caution)
Documentation: No
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Although this theme is geared towards fine art painting and galleries, this could be easily repurposed for a photography portfolio. The front page opens with a top navigation bar and short introduction text. Following this are a series of scrollable posts consisting of a full width image and overlaid text box for the post excerpt. Each of these posts can have a different colour background. There is a separate portfolio page layout which displays projects in a seamless grid. I also like the fact that this theme has built in support for the WooCommerce plugin, meaning that you could set up a shop and sell prints.

Demo / Download

Arctic Black

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Author: Elevate360
Type: Full screen image home page with top level navigation superimposed.
Launch date: Aug 2018
Last update: Sep 2018 (use with caution)
Documentation: No
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Arctic Black is a simple theme with a full screen gallery on the homepage and a nav bar up top. The theme uses the WordPress portfolio post format to organize projects and it also has a separate blog template.

Demo / Download

Photolo

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Author: PixiHQ
Type: Multiple, including a fullscreen layout with superimposed top navigation bar.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: May 2018 (use with caution)
Documentation: No
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Photolo comes with multiple front page layout options. I have chosen to showcase the fullscreen layout here as it is pretty rare. The images are displayed in a full screen carousel, with user navigation buttons at the bottom. Other configurations include a masonry grid and long stripes. The theme also has a built in blog with the ability to display images full-width in blog posts.

Demo / Download

Draco

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Author: Extend Your Web
Type: Fullscreen photo layout with top level hamburger navigation and blog below the fold.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: Nov 2018 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Draco is a simple theme that is easy to install and customize using the built-in WordPress customizer. The front page starts with a full-width image, the site title and a “hamburger” menu button top right. Below the fold is a list of blog posts. This theme does not support portfolio type posts. However, each individual post could be configured to function as a portfolio item.

Demo / Download

SKT Photo Session

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Author: SKT Themes
Type: Fullscreen photo layout with top level navigation menu.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: Unknown (use with caution)
Documentation: No
Support: No
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: This is the “lite” version of a paid theme and as such it comes with minimal features. What the theme does well is present an immersive experience on the front page via its gallery. The gallery can be set to play automatically or through user control. Each gallery image is linkable via a title to a post. The theme also has a blog section.

Demo / Download

Layout Type 3: Thumbnail wall / Masonry grid

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The final pattern, and one that is more rare, is the use of a full screen thumbnail wall (aka masonry layout). You can see this in use on Terry Richardson, Sebastian KimMark Neurdenburg and Franco Fontana‘s websites. This layout gives the visitor an immediate overview of the artist’s subject matter and style range.

Hitchcock

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Author: Anders Noren
Type: Masonry home page with top level navigation. Single posts are blog posts.
Launch date: June 2011
Last update: Jan 2019
Documentation: No
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: Yes
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Hitchcock uses regular blog posts instead of portfolio posts. So for photographers, each post would need to be set up as a project containing multiple images. The theme was created by the indomitable free theme developer, Anders Noren. It has a simple and elegant layout, with basic customization options via the WordPress customizer. There is no documentation, but none is needed since it is very straightforward to use.

Demo / Download

Photos

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Author: Automattic
Type: Masonry home page with top level navigation. Single posts are blog posts.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: Unknown (likely to be recent)
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes (via WordPress.com forums)
Gutenberg ready: Yes
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Photos is similar in design to Hitchcock in that its main page presents a grid of images, each one a WordPress post. What I like with the Photos theme is that each single post does a great job of showcasing the images using a wide container. I also like the ability to cycle between posts/projects using the prominent arrow icons on display in single post view. This theme was designed by staff at Automattic, the company behind WordPress and received frequent updates.

Demo / Download

Blask

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Author: Automattic
Type: Masonry home page with sidebar navigation.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: Unknown (likely to be recent)
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes (via WordPress.com forums)
Gutenberg ready: Yes
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: This is one of my favourite free photography themes, largely because the text is minimal and the images really stand out. This theme has separate portfolio and blog options. The front page displays your latest portfolio items in a masonry grid layout. There is a nice hover effect when you mouse over an image, revealing the project's title. The blog is equally well designed and the theme is very easy to use. This would definitely be on my list if I were building a new portfolio.

Demo / Download

Cubic

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Author: Automattic
Type: Full width masonry front page, with large featured images for photoblogging.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: Unknown (likely to be recent)
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes (via WordPress.com forums)
Gutenberg ready: Yes
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: This front page of Cubic is, as its name suggest, a square grid of featured post images and accompanying titles. There is no portfolio provision for this theme, so everything is operated through WordPress posts. The single post view allows you to display the featured image full-width, but any subsequent photos are displayed in the body of the post at a smaller size.

Demo / Download

X Portfolio

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Author: ApertureWP
Type: Masonry layout with sidebar navigation and Instagram widget.
Launch date: 1 Oct 2017
Last update: 24 Oct 2018
Documentation: Yes
Support: No
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: This is a very simple theme that uses the WordPress portfolio structure to display images in a clear and prominent way. The front page has a masonry layout showing the latest items in the portfolio. Each portfolio item is simple and can accommodate multiple images. The theme has a widgetized sidebar, including provision for an Instagram widget.

Demo / Download

Silvia

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Author: ThemeJunkie
Type: Thumbnail grid layout with top level navigation menu.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: Unknown (claims to be recent)
Documentation: Yes
Support: No
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Silvia is an elegant portfolio theme with a grid based front page showing project titles and categories beneath the thumbnail images. It also facilitates an intro section and has a top level navigation bar. The theme supports tiled galleries that you can add in single posts using the Jetpack plugin and the WordPress media tab. I like the toned down design aesthetic of this theme and it definitely lends itself well to black and white photography.

Demo / Download

Tography (Lite)

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Author: Quema Labs
Type: Thumbnail grid layout with top level navigation menu.
Launch date: Unknown
Last update: Sep 2015 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes (via WordPress.org forums)
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: I like this theme a lot. This will appeal to those looking for pure minimalism in design. The front page displays a masonry grid with portfolio items. The items are arrangeable by portfolio category. Each single portfolio project is well laid out and easy to access. There is also a blog template, which is also well designed and easy to read. This is another strong contender.

Demo / Download

Foliopress

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Author: Theme Horse
Type: Thumbnail grid on front page with intro text and top level navigation menu.
Launch date: July 2018
Last update: Aug 2018 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: Yes
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: Foliopress uses blog posts on the front page grid. This theme would be best suited to a photographer looking for a balance between text and images. Most of the other themes in this collection put visuals first. Foliopress is a neatly designed portfolio theme with a clean style and accessible feel. Project collections can be displayed in grid or list format and the blog layout offers a full-screen image and single column post.

Demo / Download

Photopress

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Author: Pixel Tribe
Type: Masonry layout with top level navigation and intro text.
Launch date: May 2017
Last update: May 2017 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: No
Gutenberg ready: Yes
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: This is a “lite” version of a premium theme. The front page gives you a full width grid of your latest portfolio items. Each single portfolio page uses the full width with a neat two-column image layout and space for project details at the top.

Demo / Download

Photoline

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Author: DinevThemes
Type: Masonry layout with top level navigation and intro text.
Launch date: June 2015
Last update: Jan 2017 (use with caution)
Documentation: Yes
Support: No
Gutenberg ready: No
Responsive: Yes
Price: $0

Notes: While this theme is more geared towards photo bloggers, it could still be arranged into a portfolio site. The front page displays the latest posts images in a masonry layout. You could transform the posts into portfolio items or projects. The theme supports the Jetpack plugin galleries. You can also remove the front page top photo and intro text to make the design even more simple. Note that this is a free version of a paid theme. The features are therefore paired down and there is no official support.

Demo / Download


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