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Unfortunately, since writing this post in 2016, one of the plugins I relied on to build this functionality has been shut down and cannot be downloaded from the WP Repository anymore. This tutorial no longer works.
This tutorial comes close to what I had built:
Alternatively, you can look into the SearchWP plugin to build your own image search engine.
Recently I've been working on a project to build a searchable image archive with WordPress.
A client of mine has 1,500+ historic image files he wants to manage in a searchable archive on his community website.
And I was given the task to build that search function in a way, that the website visitor can also search through tags, descriptions, and titles of those images.
This plugin makes maintaining galleries and albums super easy.
My client is a 70+ year-old man, so everything needs to be as simple and smooth as possible.
With NextGen Gallery (NGG) you can add images to galleries by simple drag and drop. You can order them in the way you want, and add descriptions, tags, and titles with ease.
You can show galleries and albums on your site using shortcodes, so you can place them in any post, page, or widget you want.
This task was a bit tricky at first, but I eventually stumbled upon the "WP NextGen Gallery Search" plugin. It doesn't seem to be very popular with only 200+ installations, but it adds exactly the functionality we need to our searchable image archive.
Also, the developer responded to my emails within 1-2 hours. That's always a good thing.
It comes in a free version that only searches through image descriptions and a paid version that also searches through the tags.
According to your needs, the free version might be sufficient already. The paid is only $39 USD, so it's not that big of a deal either.
I highly suggest to test the free version of the plugin and to see how it integrates into your website.
I had to write a bit of code to make the styling work with my client's website, but that also depended on the theme. Just so you know.
When activating the "WP NextGen Gallery Search" plugin, it creates a search page called "Gallery Search".
The slug of that search page is: "gallery-search".
The developer has fixed the slug in the code of the plugin, as this is tied to the routine to create the page (@Abdullah: thanks for clarifying!).
If you want to change this, you'll have to edit the main plugin file:
In plugin version 1.0, change line #21 from
$usts_ngg_page = get_page_by_path('gallery-search');
$usts_ngg_page = get_page_by_path('your-new-slug');
This should allow you to add any slug you want, but when updating/reactivating the plugin, you'll have to do this change again.
With these two simple plugins, you'll be able to build a nice, searchable image archive on WordPress.
My additional task is to code a backup functionality for the images. Specifically to download the image files and text files with their descriptions, tags, and headlines.
Unfortunately, I won't be allowed to share this backup with you.
However, I still wanted to give you this quick two-step tutorial on building a searchable image archive that website visitors can actually use.
Let me know what you think about this tutorial and how these plugins work for you!