I am helping my cousin with a small web site for his custom upholstery business. On this site, there will be a portfolio section displaying images of his prior work.
His work typically involves vehicles (automobile interiors, motorcycles, boats), furniture, apparel accessories (purses, wallets), and custom leather artwork. Each project he completes typically has three to ten pictures associated with it. A project can take anywhere from a day or two, up to several weeks depending on the complexity and current work load.
I am trying to determine the best means of organizing the pictures to enable site visitors to quickly access examples of his work that match their current interest or need.
In my current implementation, a Portfolio screen is displayed where each project is presented as a link on the left hand side of the content area of the screen. Once the link is clicked, the page displays an auto-scrolling gallery of the images for that project. This implementation works OK for the existing projects, but as the number of projects continues to grow, having a single list will become unwieldy.
I am considering grouping/layout options to manage the current image supply, as well as scale to a larger set of project collections.
One option I am considering is something similar to the Lego Architecture page, where there is a top-level horizontal category list (Landmark Series, Architect Series), which then provides a left-hand menu for specific galleries, and selecting a gallery shows the images in that gallery (other than the top-level horizontal menu, this is how I have his page now). So in the case of my cousin's site, the top-level content menu would be categories such as "Vehicles", "Furniture", "Accessories", "Artwork", which would then bring up the list of galleries under each category.
A second option I am considering is to represent each gallery link as a thumbnail arranged in a grid layout (possibly sectioned by category headings). Something vaguely similar to the standard Google Images search results. Clicking on a thumbnail would open the auto-scrolling gallery in a lightbox.
My first option seems like a decent layout, but I am not sure it offers the best ux - there would be a fair amount of drill-down to get to something that may be of interest (Portfolio -> Category -> Gallery). Also, I think I still have a scaling problem if a particular category ends up with a lot of galleries.
The second option may scale a little better, but then the visitor is potentially presented with many more options than they necessarily need. If they are only interested in boat upholstery work, they don't want to have to scan through all the other thumbnails to find the boat images.
So I am throwing this out to the experts - are either of these options "good"? Are there other options I should be considering? Are there other factors I may be missing that would help inform my decision? Any example sites would be appreciated, and if there are tutorials for implementing the option, that would be great; I am a software developer, but my UX design skills are immature but growing.