Create Your Own Photography Website with Koken

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Thanks for reading! Andrew.

Andrew S. Gibson portfolio

Every photographer needs a place to display their photos online. If you’re fed up with photo sharing sites like 500px or Flickr, and want a piece of cyberspace to call your own, then a proprietary website is essential.

Understandably, the prospect of creating a website to display your best photos can be intimidating. Especially if you have no knowledge of HTML or CSS, the building blocks of web design.

Koken website

Meet Koken – It’s impressive: easy to use, simple to modify and beautifully designed. This software will help you create your own website with a minimum of fuss and absolutely no programming knowledge. Programmers and designers aren’t forgotten; if you know how, you can customise the CSS or create your own themes.

What is Koken?

Koken (rhymes with ‘spoken’) is a Content Management System (CMS). Content Management Systems work by keeping the content of your website separate from the design. Koken lets you upload images to your website, and displays them according the selected theme. You can change or update the images without affecting design of the website. Or you can change the design (by choosing another theme) without affecting the photos.

This screen shot shows the Koken library:

Koken library

If you’ve tried creating a website using HTML, or a program that builds websites for you, you will find that the content and design are intertwined. You can’t change one without affecting the other. Content Management Systems free you up from that restriction.

Other CMS’s you may have heard of are WordPress (very common), Drupal and Joomla.

The thing that sets Koken apart from other Content Management Systems is that has been designed primarily for photographers, artists and designers. Its purpose is to accomplish a specific task (ie enable you to build an online portfolio with minimal effort), and consequently the developers are free to concentrate on building a solution that carries out that job extremely well.

The developers are Todd Diminey, Brad Daily and Lauren Smith. The first two have personal websites built with Koken. It is worth taking a good look at both to get an idea of what you can do with their software.

In case you’re wondering, Koken is a Japanese word for a stage assistant in a theatre. Stage assistants work behind the scenes to support the actors. Koken fulfils the same role for your photos.

Setting up Koken

To set up Koken (or just about any other CMS) you need the following:

  • Your own domain name. Easily acquired for a few pounds or dollars.
  • Web hosting. A web host provides the server space where your website resides. Your hosting plan must support PHP (5.2.0 or higher), MySQL (5 or higher) and ImageMagick or GD.

The first two are database related. The CMS stores your photos and text in a database, and uses MySQL and PHP to access the information.

ImageMagick and GD are software used by Koken to resize your images to optimise them for display on various monitor sizes and tablet or smart phone screens.

Most hosting plans include these, including the very cheapest that cost just a few pounds or dollars a month. These inexpensive hosting plans are fine to start with – you will only need to upgrade to something more expensive if your traffic exceeds the bandwidth capacity of your hosting plan, or you want a website that loads super fast.

What Koken does

Koken lets you upload photos and video, organise them into albums and display them on your website. You can assign each photo a title, a description, a category and tags (below). If you’re a Lightroom user that may sound familiar – Koken lets your organise your images in a similar fashion to the Library module. Photos are displayed according to the size of the screen they are being viewed on. Visitors with a large monitor will see larger images than those with a small laptop monitor. Mobile device users will see a display tailored to their screen size.

Koken image inspector

Albums can be marked public or private. Private albums can only be accessed by someone with the link.

Koken also lets you create a written blog to go with your photos. The terminology is different (in Koken blog posts are called Essays) but the concept is the same. It also lets you create pages (for example, a contact page so people know where to find you).

Koken theme demo

Koken comes with eight themes. Click on the link to go to the theme demo page (above). It’s pretty cool – you just select the theme and the screen size from the drop down menu and watch the website change. You’ll see that the photos stay the same, it’s just the design that changes. If you’re not sure what I meant earlier by separating content from design the demo will show you.

Returning to the stage assistant analogy, you can think of your photos as the actors, your website as the theatre and the theme as the scenery. Koken, the stagehand, adroitly manages both actors and stage settings from the background. If you need to change the scenery (ie the theme) Koken does so without disturbing the actors (your photos).

If you don’t know what CSS is, you can select one of these eight themes and use it as it comes. Or you can use the Settings panel to adapt it to your needs by changing some of the colours, fonts and other factors such as padding and spacing between the elements displayed on the web page. No programming knowledge is required to do this.

If you have a working knowledge of CSS you can use the custom CSS panel to override the theme settings (below). It’s possible to make a lot of adjustments this way and the original theme may be unrecognisable by the time you’re done. This is ideal for those of you who prefer a website with a unique design.

Koken custom CSS

If you’re a programmer or web designer you can get right into the guts of Koken, changing a built-in theme around as much as you wish, or create your own using Koken’s proprietary Lens template framework. If you have a client that requires a website they can update themselves, Koken may be the solution.

Lightroom Publish Services

Lightroom Koken publish service

Koken has a lot of interesting and useful features, but the one that excites me the most is the Lightroom publish services plug-in. In brief, this allows you to upload photos directly from Lightroom (version 3 and higher) to your website. If you use Lightroom’s Library module to organise your photos you have probably begun to see the possibilities already. Here’s what it means for Lightroom users:

  • You can tag any photo that you want to upload to your website with a keyword like ‘website’ and create a Smart Collection to bring them all together.
  • You can create Collections in the Koken Publish Service. Each Collection becomes an album in Koken (ie. if you create a Collection called ‘portraits’ it becomes an album called ‘portraits’ on your Koken website). This lets you organise the photos and albums for your website in Lightroom.
  • If you update a photo contained in a Koken Publishing Service Collection Lightroom lets you know so that you can update it on your website as well. When you republish it, the latest version is uploaded to the website. It overwrites the earlier version and the website updates automatically.
  • You can enter the title, description and tags in Lightroom, and Koken will recognise them. This means you can carry out your metadata updates in one place. It saves you having to type those details in again when you upload images to your website.
  • What happens if you want to add a copyright watermark to the images on your website, or change the watermark you use? With any other system you would have to add the watermark manually and upload the photos again. With Lightroom’s Publish Service, you can add (or change) the watermark with a few clicks of your mouse and upload the new photos automatically.
  • Are you a professional photographer who needs to upload photos to a private album on your website for clients to view? If you use Lightroom to process your images, then Koken’s integration with Lightroom’s Publish Service makes it easy. And when you’re done with the album, you can just delete it from within Koken.

Other options

What other options are there out there for creating a portfolio on your website? There are two that come to mind:

Pixelpost: Another CMS designed for creating photography websites. I really like Pixelpost and used it to create my Photo Gallery. There are plenty of themes and they are easy to adapt. But it’s not as easy to use (or adapt) as Koken and doesn’t support Lightroom’s Publish Service. It also hasn’t been updated since September 2009. That’s a shame because it has so much potential.

WordPress: WordPress is the heavyweight contender of the CMS world. Widely used, it can be adapted to just about anything including creating a portfolio website. There are lots of portfolio type themes available, with far more choice than you get from Koken’s eight themes. As WordPress is so widespread there are lots of people developing themes for it, and new ones appear all the time. You can see some of the choices available for photographers here and here.

In comparison to Koken, WordPress is a little more difficult to set up and adapt. The library in Koken is much better. The best portfolio themes are not free, expect to pay $50 to $100 for a good one. It also doesn’t support Lightroom Publish Service (with the exception of the Next Gen gallery plug-in). On the other hand, there are lots of tutorials and forums out there to help you if you get stuck.

Who is Koken not for?

If you want to create a website with a client log-in area, or that supports ecommerce, or that lets you sell stock images to clients then I don’t think Koken can help you there. It may be possible in the future, but for the moment Koken is limited to creating portfolio websites.

Also bear in mind that Koken is still in beta. That means that there are still bugs to iron out, and some functions may not work properly in all browsers on all operating systems. If that bothers you, it’s best to wait until it comes out of beta.

The verdict

My Koken portfolio

You can see the portfolio website that I created with Koken here. I used the Boulevard theme and adapted it by removing some of the elements to simplify the design. It’s early days yet, but eventually I want the portfolio to become my front page (ie. it’s what you see when you go to, which currently redirects to my blog). There’s some way to go before that’s ready yet – but that’s more to do with branding and design issues than anything else. I need to figure out if I can change the portfolio page to match the colour scheme of my blog, or whether I should change the blog design to match the portfolio page. Either way, they need to be consistent.

Furthermore, it has also made me realise just how difficult it is to narrow my favourite photos down to the handful that I’d like to display in my website portfolio. Not only do I have to ruthlessly select my best images, but they have to work well together. That will take time.

Overall, I’m extremely happy with Koken. I’ve toyed with the idea of using WordPress to create a portfolio, but I’ve been put off by the amount of work that would require to get it right. Koken was very easy and quick to install, and the fact that it integrates seamlessly with Lightroom means that I can use keywords to send images that I think will work in my portfolio to a Smart Collection and publish them whenever I like. Lightroom sits at the heart of my image management system and it’s nice to have a website solution that integrates so well with it.

The most exciting thing about Koken is that the software is still in its early days. I’ve got a feeling that it has an exciting future. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from the developers in the future.


These are the links used in the article:

Koken website

Todd Diminey

Brad Daily

Koken theme demo

Koken lens template framework

Koken Lightroom publish services plug-in


Pixelpost photo gallery


55 Amazing WordPress Photography Themes

16 Best WordPress Themes for Photographers

My Koken portfolio


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9 Responses to “Create Your Own Photography Website with Koken”

  1. Enjoyed the article very much Andrew very informative. Personally I use Imagevue , i it was the gallery that I liked and found it easy to set up and adjust. Not too expensive either.

  2. Koken is quite raw now but it’s awesome. I making my new website with it now but I’m far from finish yet 🙂

  3. Niko says:

    Really great article Andrew! I also felt in love with Koken a few months ago. In fact, I have been working on a new project based on Koken to help photographers create the perfect website to showcase their work. I plan to do some beta testing in the coming weeks so if you are interested & want to test it to give me your feedback, please sign up here: I would love to have you testing my first theme! Thanks again for the great article! Niko

  4. Thanks Andrew for this article. Some weeks ago, I came across it and checked out koken. It’s a great tool to setup a portfolio homepage. I checked it out and felt in love with it.

  5. Damiano says:

    I tried Koken because convinced it was a good idea then I purchased an new theme, Regale2. When I discovered the Theme was incompatible with my host, I asked several times for support or for a refund but Koken staff never replied. Their beahvior was really unprofessional, I suggest avoid Koken, the support and the company are terrible!

    • Sorry to hear about your experience Damiano? Why couldn’t your host support the theme, were you able to find out? Most hosts should be able to.

      • Damiano says:

        Hi Andrew,
        according to the error message,
        the problem should be loopback connections. But now is too late. The real problem is nobody tried to help me and nobody replied me for the refund. Now I turned my website to WordPress but I’m really upset with Koken for their very unprofessional behavior. I work in the e-commerce and I know sometime the problems happen and if is impossible to make a software running, is a fair behavior refund the amount and keep good relations.

        • That doesn’t really mean much to me, I’m not a programmer, but at least you were able to use WordPress. It’s a shame someone from Koken didn’t get back to you as that’s not a good way to treat people.

          • Damiano says:

            Thanks, I agree with you. Making business on internet doesn’t means only create products but mainly the ability to create relations.

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