Apple Aperture Features Explained For Non-Photographers

The RAW format pictures produced by my Canon XTi are often in excess of 10MB. Couple this with “continuous shooting” and a fast CompactFlash card, and I can easily fill a 4GB’er in a couple days. I’ve used Apple’s Aperture for about a month now through the holidays and a friends wedding, and have been very pleased with the product.

Aperture is more like ACDSee or Picasa than Photoshop. It’s about fine-tuning, managing projects, browsing, searching, sorting, packaging and publishing, and does neither layering nor psychedelic effects typically associated with digital picture manipulation. It’s iPhoto on crack. Here are a few features which I like.

  1. Full-screen mode. This is similar to iPhoto’s full-screen mode, but with much better tools. The “adjustments” overlay provides typical white-balance and exposure controls, as well as a slick RAW-only section and easy-to-use tools for tweaking specific color ranges. All adjustments are non-destructive, so you can freely experiment with tools without worrying about being able to revert to the original. There is literally no “Save” button. The transport at the bottom is nice, too.
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  2. Versioning & Stacking. Rather than copy/pasting files to make small adjustments while preserving the original, the versioning mechanism provides a great way to have many different versions of the same file, such as for different cropping ratios and color/sepia prints. Stacking allows you to make good use of continuous shooting on your camera by allowing you to select the best shot from a series and hide all others in the browser. The loop tool (see image) is a pin-point zoom pointer which works in both the browsing and viewing areas.
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  3. Management. Understanding the various types of containers admittedly took me a few days to truly “get”. Once I did, however, it’s nice how Aperture combines typical concepts such as “Folders” and “Projects” with “Albums”, “Smart Albums” (search-based albums), “Light Tables”, “Books” etc. It’s easy to keep things organized while simultaneously being able to find things.
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  4. Meta-data. In addition to handling EXIF/IPTC information and allowing changes at import time, making changing to images en mass is easy with the “lift and stamp” tools. Adjustments such as camera settings, tagged keywords and exposure changes are easily “lifted” off a select image and “stamped” onto others. This is especially useful when working with stacks.
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  5. Backup. Aperture vaults are basically files on backup volumes (such as removable firewire drives) which can be sync’d to when plugged in, kinda like having rsync built into the application.
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  6. Offline. When each photo is 10MB, you can’t keep every photo with you. You can, however, store the “master” on an external volume and keep a high-resolution preview and all meta-data with you at a fraction of the data size.
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If you’re using OS X and are somewhat interested in photography, I’m sorry, but you’ll probably want to bite the $279 bullet and buy Aperture, though I got my copy for about half that as a bundle deal with my camera body.