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More Perspective on Aperture

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This is a follow up to my blog entry of few weeks ago on Aperture, Apple’s prosumer photography software, which I am now using in place of iPhoto to manage all of my digital photographs. In the process of moving from iPhoto to Aperture I have learned several important points that might be worth your knowing. This website does combine two of my hobbies: grilling & smoking plus photography. Every once in a while I write a blog about the photography or computer side of things. This entry is one of those times, so a fair warning to you - if you want to read about grilling or smoking, stop right here and use the recently added “Index of Blogs” link found in the masthead above. If you are an Apple Macintosh user looking for a possible alternative to iPhoto, then read on.

I have gone ahead and completely taken the plunge into Aperture. Sure iPhoto is a great program, particularly considering it is free when you buy a new Mac. I have been cooking more and taking more photos in the process and I was looking for something to help streamline my workflow. You see it was getting so I was spending all afternoon cooking and all evening importing and working with the photos, and getting them into iWeb. Normally I don’t do a whole lot with the photos - adjust the lighting, contrast, sharpness, get the white balance right, and sometime straighten or crop them for use on this site. Before Aperture this work was done using two programs: Aperture and Photoshop elements. One problem has been you can only bring photos from iPhoto into Photoshop Elements in batches of 5 at a time. Once I was in Elements I was doing what often amounted to the same set of adjustments one at a time. Then I would finish up in iPhoto where I would do the straightening and cropping. Next I would pick the photos to go up on this site. I’d export them out of iPhoto while reducing their size to 800 x 600 and saving them to a temporary folder in the Finder. Next I’d use a batch re namer to add information to the file name to help distinguish the downsized images from the full sized originals. Lastly I’d bring these reduced and renamed images back into iPhoto where they would become an event. I would then make an album out of the Event which, I would use for uploading the photos here and to my iPhone. While it wasn’t hard work, a lot of it was repetitious and in need of some automation. Some of this I described in the first blog, so what is it I have learned in the meantime?

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My migration from iPhoto to Aperture is complete all my photos are in Aperture and I have all of the photos required for this web site organized & key noted.

The first new item I have learned is that Aperture handles non-destructive photo editing much differently than iPhoto. Both programs use non-destructive editing, meaning you are always able to revert back to the original photo if you don’t like the results of you editing. Here is the difference: In iPhoto this is accomplished by you actually working on a duplicate copy of the photo. If you duplicate the photo again to try something different, then you are doing those edits on a copy of the duplicated photo. Now you are up to 4 versions of the image. So for the way I typically worked there were always at least 2 copies of the photo: The one you see in iPhoto and the unaltered original. Aperture handles things very differently. When you make edits, a duplicate copy of the photo is not created. Instead Aperture keeps a record of the changes that you have made in a database and that is what you see on screen. These changes are being applied on screen to the photograph. As a result there is one photograph and a list of changes tracked in a database. This change list takes up far less room than a second altered copy of the photo. If you make a second version of the photo to try other changes, there is still one photo (or Master as Aperture calls it) and two different versions which get tracked via the database. In a strange twist of logic the more copies of photos you make in Aperture the more space you save over iPhoto. With a small photo library the editing method really doesn’t matter too much. My iPhoto library had 25,000 photos in it and I was starting to run into space issues on the laptop that stores my library. I’ve picked up 3GB of space so far and I am only halfway through my migration process-more on that in a moment.

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There is more depth and flexibility to organization in Aperture. In iPhoto (left) the main item is an Event which is not listed separately in the sidebar. You must drag events around in the main window to organize. In Aperture (right) the main item is a Project which can be organized in the main window plus unlike iPhoto the sidebar. Also in Aperture you can do additional imports straight into a projects.

A second major difference between the programs is the internal file management within the program itself. In iPhoto you have “Events” and “Albums”. An Event represents a group of photos on your memory card taken at the same time and imported into iPhoto. If you had a memory card that had photos taken on several different days, say Christmas and New Years Eve, these photos could be automatically split into two Events. These Events are somewhat inflexible. Photos within an Event can not be manually sorted, if you wanted custom sorting you must use an Album. Every time you bring photos into iPhoto they initially have to create their own new event. Once an Event is created you can merge it with another Event to combine the photos, but there is no way to simply import new photos straight into an existing Event. Events can be reordered by dragging the Event to a new location on the main photo viewing screen, but not in the sidebar. iPhoto also uses Albums where you can add photos from one or more Events. Albums don’t actually contain original pictures, just references to the originals in an Event. The pictures in Albums can be reordered or deleted without effecting the original items in their respective events. Think of Albums like Playlists in iTunes and it is the same concept applied to pictures instead of your music. Lastly iPhoto has “Folders” which can be used to organized your Albums. Folders can contain either Albums or other Folders, but NOT Events which can not be nested in any way.
 

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All of your Events are only shown as one line item in the Library portion of the Sidebar in iPhoto (left). Folders in iPhoto can contain Albums or other Folders. In Aperture (Right) Projects (The nearest equivalent to iPhoto Events) are individually listed and organized in the Sidebar. Folders can contain other Folders, Albums AND Projects. Seems like a small thing but it is a big difference.

Aperture on the other hand has “Projects “and “Albums” plus “Folders”. While albums work the same in both programs, “Projects” are similar to, but different than iPhoto “Events”. Events in iPhoto are more time based which is how a home user would work. You take pictures of the school play one day and your kids baseball game on the weekend. These are time based Events. Projects in Aperture are more work based where you are shooting photographs for one client over a series of days. As mentioned iPhoto always brings new photos you import into a new Event which later can be merged with other Events. Aperture by default creates a new Project for each import, but you can easily change that so newly imported photos can go straight into an existing Project. Plus moving Projects around is far easier because they are listed as separate line items in the side bar. There is only a single line item for all Events in Photo and you must move them in the main screen. Both programs have folders which can be used as an organizational tool, but they are more flexible in Aperture. In iPhoto Folders are used in the sidebar to help organize Albums only. Events can’t be arranged at all in the sidebar. In Aperture Folders can be used to organized Projects, Folders and Albums both separately or together. For example you can have a Folder for a particular year. Within that folder you can have a Folder for each client. Within the client Folder you can have Folders for several big jobs. In the job Folder you can have both Projects and Albums. The Project might be all of the photos you took and the Album holds the ones you presented to the client. This extra level of flexibility and organization really helps when your photos start numbering in the tens of thousands like I do.

 

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In Aperture photos which have been imported from the iPhoto library that you were edited in iPhoto come in as two photos in a “Stack”. Stacks in this case are two originals of the same photo. Stacks can be displayed open (top left) or collapsed (top right). Upon import into Aperture, the photos were keyworded by Aperture as “iPhoto Original” & “iPhoto Edited” which is easy to see by hovering your mouse over the photos. By deleting most of the “iPhoto Originals” and keeping my final edited versions I regained precious hard drive space.

Now to take advantage of this space savings with your imported iPhoto library you have a bit of work you must do. As I mentioned when you edit a photo within iPhoto, a copy is made that receives the edit. In iPhoto you see just the modified photo, but there are really two photos involved. When the iPhoto library comes into Aperture you get two photos. To gain back space I manually went through and deleted the iPhoto originals for images I felt I would have no need to revert back to the original. Aperture has a feature called stacks where multiple versions of the same photo are grouped together. The stacks can be displayed either open where you see all photos in the stack or closed where the top photo in the stack is displayed. You can also create your own stacks for similar photos with multiple masters - for example all of the pictures of the meat on the cutting board in one stack. Aperture lets you hover your mouse over a photo and it shows info about the photo. This includes keywords and Aperture had added keywords for “iPhoto Original and “iPhoto Modified” that made my task easier. I went into all of my former Events/current Projects and reviewed the pair of photos - the iPhone Original and iPhone Edited. As long as I felt I would not need to return to the original, I deleted it. Also because Aperture Projects can be organized into folders in the sidebar, unlike iPhoto Events, I no longer needed to use albums to accomplish this task for photos going onto my website. I deleted all of the old albums associated with my web site. By deleting 95% of the iPhoto original photos and keeping the modified versions, plus deleting all of the albums I no longer need - I have gained back 3GB of space. This is just for my food photos, I haven’t even touched my personal or work photos yet.

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Aperture is set up out of the box to easily switch between libraries. iPhoto requires the use of a 3rd party add-on or the use of a special key combination upon opening.

A third difference between the two programs is library management. Where iPhoto is intended for the ammeter home photographer it is intended to be used with one library. There are 3rd party utilities that let you switch between iPhoto libraries and there is a keyboard shortcut combination you can invoke to force iPhoto to load a new library at startup. But it is not the standard behavior and it always felt clunky. Aperture on the other hand, easily switches between multiple libraries. It has a “Switch to Library” menu command which allows you to link to a different library and stores a list of your recently used libraries. This will give me another way to save space. I plan to split my current library into 3 segments. My personal library will reside on my laptop, my business library will always remain on a drive on my home network and there will be a third library on my laptop for business use. It will be a temporary library where I move photos that I may want to bring with me to see a client. Splitting up the libraries like this will serve to fee up more space on my laptop.

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Files on the memory card can be renamed, keyworded, and adjusted upon import. Adjustments are Aperture speak for the edits I normally had to do in Photoshop Elements. The import process takes a bit longer, but the performing these tasks during import saves me 1-2 hours of time.

The fourth big difference is in workflow time savings. I know I covered this in my first blog but it is so significant it bears repeating here. My old iPhoto workflow was:

  • Bring my photos into iPhoto where they would go into an Event - no choice in the matter.
  • Then I would open the photos into Photoshop Elements in batches of 5 where I would adjust the exposure, contrast, sharpness and white balance. This was typically done using the auto settings but sometimes manually.
  • I would then need to save them back into the iPhoto library.
  • Back in iPhoto I would straighten and crop them.
  • Next I would pick the photos that would be used on this website and export them from iPhoto to the Finder.
  • Once the photos were exported to the Finder I would use a batch renaming tool to give them a name ending in “-Photo-800x600” or “-Blog-400x300”.
  • Then I would import them back into iPhoto.
  • I wanted to keep all of the website photos together in case I had to ever make major repairs to the site, but since you can put events in folders I had to make an album for these new photos. I could then group this album with the other albums for my site

The workflow in Aperture is much simpler.
  • On import I can have Aperture apply all of my typical adjustments as part of the import process. I can have it modify the file name or add keywords on the way in. Once the photos are imported most of my editing work is done for me.
  • I just need to look at the photos quickly to see if I need to adjust any photos individually. Sometimes my default adjustments aren’t quite right for one or two photos. So I have entirely skipped the Photoshop Elements phase in iPhoto above.
  • Next just like when working in iPhoto I export the photos to resize them. But with Aperture I can also apply the file name changes I want to make as part of the export process. I no longer have to rename the photos in the Finder eliminating iPhoto Step 6 above. Aperture also takes me right to the photos in the Finder when the export is done.
  • At this point I drag one set into iWeb and one set back into Aperture where it becomes a Project.
  • Because Aperture lets you organize Projects into Folders (unlike iPhoto Events) there is no need to create an Album for organizational purposes. This eliminates half of the last iPhoto step above.

With this new streamlined work flow I estimate I save between 1-2 hours on my typical photo import. The other thing that is nice is the mundane repetitious work has been done for me by Aperture. I am nice and sharp for the photos I do have to do additional work on because I haven’t spent the last hour doing the same repetitious set of adjustments manually one by one times 50, 75 or 100 photos. Aperture has done that and I just need to focus on the ones that need special attention.

The last area where I am just now dipping my toes into the water, is using Camera RAW for saving my photos onto the memory card instead of JPEG. Up until now I have always saved my photos out as JPEG which is a compressed file format. The processor chip in the camera analyzes the image and throws out data that is in theory not essential to viewing the image. The remaining information is written to the media card in your camera. You save space and can fit more images on your card and your hard drive. This type of editing is considered destructive in that the information you throw out is not recoverable. Also if you do too much compression on the image the effects become quite noticeable in the form of pixelization or blotchy colors. RAW on the other hand saves out all of the information that was captured by the image sensor on your camera. Some of this info may actually be out of visible range, but it can actually be used to help recover information on a over or under exposed photos. The resulting photos are bigger, but I figure I am also saving space because Aperture unlike iPhoto does not create 2 photos when you edit. I was using the least amount of JPEG compression so my photos were coming in at around 4MB per image. Using RAW they are around 5MB, so I am still saving 3MB per image (no second copy required for editing) and getting the benefits of RAW. iPhoto could handle RAW images but it didn’t do a whole lot of extra things with them. Aperture on the other hand is for pros, who typically use RAW to get the best quality. At this point I plan to shoot in RAW format from now on, but it will take me a while to learn how to take advantage of it. But looking at some of the demos and seeing some of the additional tools or techniques available to you I think it is a WIN-WIN using RAW in Aperture. I am saving 3MB of space with every import and once I learn to harness the power of RAW images my pictures will be better too.

So there you have what I have learned thus far about Aperture after using if for a month. My own situation may not mirror yours. In my case I am trying to save both time and space. I am saving time because Aperture can automate certain repetitive tasks. I am saving space because of the method Aperture uses to track edits in your photos. Once again it this savings is because Aperture doesn’t make copies of the original, it just tracks the changes it needs to apply to display on screen or export. I am also going in to the photos that came in from the iPhoto library and was able to get rid of 95% of the duplicate iPhoto originals to free up disk space which was getting tight on my laptop. Aperture also allows me to split my libraries up and move some of the libraries off of my laptop. Some of this library management stuff is time consuming, but it is worth it to me because when I am done I will have more room to work and will be better organized. But if you just want to improve your workflow and photo management you can simply install Aperture and move forward and not look back. I am saving 1 to 2 hours in my workflow for my typical import and that is nothing to sneeze at.

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SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here is the link for the earlier Blog Entries on Aperture.

  APERTURE Blog Entry


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