For people who like to make things

As an amateur photographer I like displaying my photos on my blog, especially when there are particularly interesting stories behind them. In this post I’ll show you how to modify the default Octopress theme and add a type of layout that highlights a single photograph. You can see an example of this in this sample blog.

The first post in this sample blog is a “regular” post, and the second is a photo post - a photo of Cloud Gate, also known as “The Bean.”


Before starting, lets look at the key requirements for my new layout:

  1. In this new layout the photograph should be the primary focus of the page.
  2. The blog’s title and subtitle above the navigation bar should be diminished, to allow for more vertical real estate for the photograph.
  3. All the details of the photograph should be specified in the YAML preamble of the post. The contents should only be notes.
  4. Octopress should automatically display a thumbnail of the photograph in the Index view.
  5. The photographs should be optimized for Retina displays, but still look good on normal displays
  6. The header should not be displayed at the top of the page. Instead, it should be displayed underneath the photograph.

The New YAML Tags

In this solution the YAML preamble dictates how the page is displayed. A typical photo post in its entirety is shown below, along with comments. Most importantly, instead of layout: post what you should have is layout: photo.

The next three tags are required. They specify the URI of the photograph as well as its dimensions.

The rest of tags are also supported, and are optional. If you include them, the respective value will be displayed on the web page. All of these values are treated as strings. In the file below, a sample value is shown, and a descriptive comment appears above the tag.

title: "The Title of the Post"
date: 2012-09-02 11:30
comments: false
- Photos

- Tag 1
- Tag 2

## start of required tags

# The URI of of the photo to be displayed in this post
image: /images/photos/coolPhoto.jpg

photoWidth: 768       # width in pixels
photoHeight: 511      # height in pixels

## end of required tags

# The URI to a thumbnail image. This thumbnail
# will be displayed on the index page.
thumbnail: /images/photos/coolPhotoTn.jpg

thumbnailWidth: 384   # width in pixels
thumbnailHeight: 256  # height in pixels

iso: 400              # ISO

aperture: 4.8         # The aperture value

shutterSpeed: 0.4     # Shutter speed in seconds

focalLength: 24.0 mm  # Focal length of the lens

scaleFactor: 1.0      # Scale Factor to 35mm

flash: No Flash       # Was the flash used here?

expComp: N/A          # Exposure Compensation

camera: Nikon D700    # Camera Model

lens: AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED  # Lens

creator: Your Name    # Photographer Name

# Date and Time the photograph was taken
dateTaken: 2012/03/29 16:21:19

# Copyright information
copyright: Copyright 2012 Your Name

# License information - This may be HTML
license: <a rel="license" href=""><img alt="Creative Commons License" style="border-width:0" src="" /></a>

# The URI to an image of the photo's histogram
histogram: /images/photos/coolPhotoHist.jpg

histogramWidth: 128   # width in pixels
histogramHeight: 50   # height in pixels

This is what's called the content.  This text will 
be displayed underneath the photo in the photo post.

These are just the tags that are supported by the system described in this blog post. You can always add more tags and use them in the source/_includes/photoFile.html file that you’ll see in a little bit. Later in this post I’ll also show you how to extract this information from your photograph’s EXIF data.

Layouts and Includes

The Layout

The first step is to create a new layout file. Since we’re using layout: photo in the YAML preamble, we need to create a file called source/_layouts/photo.html. This layout file is almost identical to source/_layouts/post.html, so I’ll just show you the diffs:

{% include_code photoBlog/photo.diff lang:diff photo.html %}

Here are the changes:

  • I’ve set the sidebar YAML tag to collapse. This instructs octopress to collapse the sidebar and display it instead at the bottom.
  • I’ve set the no_header tag to true so that the post header is not displayed.
  • I’ve set a new YAML tag: header: condensed. We’ll see how this is used a little later.
  • Instead of including article.html, I’m including photoFile.html (found at source/_includes/photoFile.html).

Now that we’ve told Octopress that the photo layout should include photoFile.html, it’s time to have a look at that file. Since it’s so similar to source/_includes/article.html (before we change that file), I’ll just show you the differences between the two files:

{% include_code photoBlog/photoFile.diff lang:diff photoFile.diff %}

As you can see, what we’ve done is replace line 4 with lines 5 through 30. Instead of merely displaying the content, we’re also displaying a table with all the EXIF data that we provided in the YAML preamble. We wrap each table row in an if/endif block, so that we don’t include blank rows if any of the EXIF data is missing.

If you want to support more data than you see in this table, simply modify this table, and then make sure to include that data in the YAML preamble.

Displaying Thumbnails in the Index

In order to display the thumbnail of the image in the index view I changed source/_includes/article.html:

{% include_code photoBlog/article.diff lang:diff article.diff %}

What this says is that if Octopress is displaying the index and the current post’s YAML has a thumbnail tag defined then display the thumbnail image in its own div and make the thumbnail a link to the actual post.

Condensing the Header

To get the condensed version of the header I changed source/_layouts/default.html:

{% include_code photoBlog/default.diff lang:diff default.diff %}

In the first set of changes (lines 5-10), if the page has a YAML tag of header whose value is condensed, then instead of including header.html, we’ll include custom/headerCondensed.html, and make the header be of the class condensed. In the second set of changes (lines 12-15) we assign a class of photo to the main and content divs if the post’s YAML has an image — in other words, if the post is a photo layout post. This is merely so that we can apply different styles to the photo pages.

The custom/headerCondensed.html file is shown below:

{% include_code photoBlog/headerCondensed.txt lang:html custom/headerCondensed.html %}

CSS Changes

All of the changes to CSS are in sass/custom/_styles.scss:

{% include_code photoBlog/styles.scss lang:css _styles.scss %}

Supporting Retina Displays

It is easy to add support for retina displays using retina.js. I added retina.js to source/javascripts and modified source/_includes/custom/after_footer.html as follows:

{% include_code photoBlog/after_footer.diff lang:diff after_footer.diff %}

I chose to add retina.js to photo pages (pages that have an image YAML tag) and to index pages (for the thumbnails). If you want, you can chose to support retina displays all the time. In order to get this to work, I also had to add @2x versions of the main photo, the thumbnail as well as the histogram image. You can find more detailed instructions on the retina.js website.


There are two helper scripts that I use to help me with my photo posts. I’m including them here with the hope that you might benefit from them. You will need to modify them for your own purposes. These scripts are available on github at

The first script,, converts a double-sized retina image to the non-retina version. It also generates the thumbnail and histogram images and invokes the second script.

The second script,, extracts the EXIF information from the image and generates the YAML preamble and creates the post file. You can run this script even if the post file already exists - it will overwrite the preamble, but will preserve any content that you had already typed in earlier.

Future Enhancements

This is a simple solution that displays one image per blog post. The main enhancement I would like to make in the future is the ability to display multiple photos in a single post. This would also allow for the addition of a series of photographs to a ‘normal’ post.


Although this post shows you how to make an Octopress-powered photoblog, it’s really about the flexibility of the YAML preamble in general and the layout tag in particular. With the proper inclusion of supporting files, layouts can be used to create wildly differing types of posts within a single blog. Finally, please keep in mind that we added a new layout, and did not change the postlayout. This means that even if you make the changes described in this post, you won’t lose any of the functionality of Octopress.


  1. Building Static Sites with Jekyll
  2. EXIF Wikipedia Page
  3. EXIF data
  4. Image::ExifTool at CPAN
  5. ImageMagick
  6. Retina.js
  7. A sample Octopress photoBlog
  8. A photo page on this blog
  9. The photoBlog script repository
© 2022 Aijaz Ansari
The Joy of Hack by Aijaz Ansari is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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