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Aperture

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Every once in a while I write blog entry about software that helps make my cooking, photography or website chores easier. This blog entry is about Apple’s Aperture 3 which is a photo management software I started using several months ago. So if you are here for a food related entry you should try a different blog entry. Also this software happens to be Mac only, so if you only have Windows PC’s this may not be your cup of tea either. If you have a Mac and find yourself outgrowing iPhoto or if you spending quite a bit if time in Photoshop Elements or some other editing program too, read on.

I am not a professional photographer or a wannabe. I used to have a Canon A-1 and a couple thousand dollars worth of lenses to go with it. Right from the start I could see that digital photography was the future, but I just couldn’t afford to be an early adopter. I bought a Canon G5 about 5 years ago now as a bridge to getting a DSLR. At the time the cheapest DSLR was about $1,500 and that was too rich for my blood at the time. I bought the G5, which is an advanced point and shoot, to buy some time for the prices to come down and let me learn about digital photography. The G5 had all of the exposure controls and logic chip found in their entry level cameras. The big different was a fixed lens. Another big selling point was it had a hot shoe that accepted Canon’s flashes. When I outgrew the G5 I figured I could buy a DSLR, which by then would be cheaper, and use the flash I bought for the G5. Funny thing happened though, the G5 actually took really decent pictures, in some ways with the new multi spot exposure metering, auto flash metering, and auto focus my pictures were sometimes better than the results I achieved with the thousands of dollars worth of gear I used to use. I also was returned to the simple joys of photography. The smaller form factor of this camera meant I was taking this camera more places and shooting more pictures. Part of this is due to the fun factor, and partly because it really doesn’t cost you more money to take more pictures. The G5 made my food photography a breeze with it’s LCD display which folds out of the body like many digital video cameras. The Canon Speedlight I bought allows me to do bounce flash of the ceiling which make food photography much easier. So with that brief description of the type of photography I enjoy let’s talk Aperture.

Aperture has been around for a few years now and when it first came out I gave it little notice. It seemed to be both more professionally oriented than I needed and also at the same time lacked some basic functions I enjoyed in iPhoto.Version 3 of Aperture came out early this year and this time the buzz was different. This time it had most of the features it had been missing in the past and also added some really cool new ones. With Aperture I could use one program instead of my current workflow which involved both iPhoto and Photoshop Elements plus a batch rename program. Currently I would take 30 or 40 pictures of something I was cooking, import them into iPhoto then open them up in Photoshop Elements for retouching, exposure adjustment and color correction. I would then reopen the photos in iPhoto for cropping and straightening. Finally I would export the photos in smaller sizes for use on my web site. Occasionally I would make use of the slideshow, book or calendar feature in iPhoto. The reason I used Elements for the image retouching is I felt the tools in PSE were more advanced and even the auto exposure controls worked better that iPhoto’s. On the other hand I preferred iPhotos cropping and straightening tools and its export function to Elements. I am happy to report after a few short months of using Aperture I am able to use a single program to replace iPhoto and Elements for my workflow. The only time I have had to use Elements was when I wanted to add text to a photo. There is no text tool I can find. Meanwhile Aperture does many things better than the other two programs and has tools or capabilities they lack.

Aperture is a very deep program and I just had to dive in with both feet and get started. I am going to describe what I like about it, but if you are really interested go to Apple’s website where you can read up about it and watch videos that will do a far better job of describing it than I will here. The first thing I did was import my iPhoto library of 25,000 pictures. I started this around 4PM and it was still going strong when I went to bed around 11:00PM and was done at 6:00AM when I got up the next day. You are given a choice of leaving the photos in place in the iPhoto library or having copies moved into the native Aperture library. I elected to keep the current iPhoto library intact. Anything new I import into Aperture will go into the current Aperture library, but the photos in the existing iPhoto library can still be accessed via iPhoto. The first thing you will notice about Aperture is it has more robust Library management. You can easily switch between multiple libraries on both local and remote drives. You can also make something called a vault to back up your work and Aperture 3 plays nicely with the Time Machine backup software. The latter wasn’t always the case.

Aperture often has ways to save you time and effort doing the repetitive mundane tasks. When importing photos off a media card you can preset the keywords you’d like added, set up a naming and numbering system and pick where in the library they are placed. It is similar on export as well. For me I easily export photos from a food shoot for use on my website. Before it required iPhoto plus a batch rename software. Now I flag the photos I want to export for my website, and then have Aperture show me just the flagged photos from that set. Then in one step I can export the files, resize all of them, and give them a new name with the use and the image size tacked onto the end. When the export is done I can click a button and Aperture shows me their location in the Finder. Just the import and export functions alone are saving me a ton of time.

In terms of managing your photos Aperture now has the facial identifying feature called Faces just like iPhoto and the Places location feature as well. It adds some nice wrinkle to them above and beyond what iPhoto does. Faces for example allow you to have faces which either belong to your entire library or are project specific. This is great for wedding photographers who have different people for each project and now don’t have to sift through a list of hundreds of people who were in one wedding each. The other features enhanced from iPhoto are the slideshows and books and other publishing items. There are a lot more options to chose from and you can do a lot more customization. For example in iPhoto you chose a book page layout with a certain number of photos say four you are stuck with it. In Aperture you can enlarge on of the photos and change the layout of the page on the fly.

The next place where Aperture really shines are adjustments. Aperture has a wealth of adjustments, some of which I will probably never know I need. It has the usual controls over exposure and white balance and contrast etc. Many of these adjustments also have advanced settings you can activate that give you far more control than I need. Many of these adjustments can be either global or applied using brushes, where you brush the changes onto one or more areas of the photo. The brushes can also be set to detect hard edges so the brush strokes don’t spill onto adjacent areas. An example where this proved extremely helpful were some computer generated renderings where I couldn’t get the color of the grass right in the CAD software. I could either get natural looking grass and an under lit building or get the building looking good but the grass was this sort of lime green color. This was a quick fix in Aperture. I set a color correction brush to the color of green I wanted and set the brush to detect edges. I also turned on a feature where it displays the brush strokes you are doing in a bright red making it easy to see where you have missed. It was then a simple matter to brush the new color into all of the grass. It actually took less time to do than describe. One of the best features of these adjustments is they are transferrable to other similar images. You use a feature called lift and stamp where you can set up the adjustments you want in one image and then stamp them onto other similar images. This feature in particular saves me a ton of time. I will often have a series of images such as my prep process in the kitchen or the final results on the dining room table, where the images are often very similar in terms of exposure and lighting. Being able to correct the image once and apply it to all of other similar images all at once is wonderful. Plus you can save these settings to use again in the future.

Let me just say that Aperture has really improved my workflow in a very short time. With a little practice it has taken some of the more mundane aspects of my typical process and streamlined them and eliminated much of the repetitive work. Right now I know enough about Aperture to be dangerous, but I have picked up some eBooks to get myself formally trained. While I may not ever use even half of the features in Aperture, it will be nice to know what is available to me. After only 3 months I am happier and working faster. I don’t need to use iPhoto or my batch rename software at all and the only time I needed to use Elements was when I needed to add some text to a photo. Once again if any of this sounds interesting, I encourage you to visit Apple’s web site to look at some of the Aperture videos. They do a far better job of explaining some of the great features found in Aperture than I have. Hopefully I have at least piqued your interest. While Aperture retails for $200 and is not a casual purchase, Apple offers a 30 day demo version. It is a fully functional version of the program that ceases working after 30 days if you don’t enter a license code. This allows you to try Aperture to see if it suits your personal workflow.


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