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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
Sun went down / lookin' like the eye of god / behind icy mist / and stark bare trees
— Bruce Cockburn, How I Spent My Fall Vacation
January 23, 2011
An Aperture Workflow that Works for Me

A while ago, even before I finally made the jump to a Canon 5d Mark II camera, I bought Apple’s Aperture. I had iPhoto, of course, and while I think that application is a fine choice for managing family snapshots I felt like I needed more.

Aperture is a big program, with a lot to learn. This includes not only the tools to process your images but also the tools it provides to manage your images. There are quite a few books, tutorials and guides to the various functions of the program and they’re worth reading. You can probably find the answer to a lot of technical questions on Apple’s support site, which has an entire section dedicated to Aperture.

What I couldn’t find, however, was a general answer what I thought was a simple question: How should I use Aperture? One of the great advantages of shooting digitally—especially in low light situations as I often to—is the ability to shoot a lot of photos. Of course that means when you get home you need to deal with a lot of photos, and that’s where the tricky part starts.

Given that, I thought I’d share a workflow that works for me. It may not work for anybody who reads this, but you never know. I’d suggest only considering it as a starting point. You’ll develop your own over time and it may serve your purposes better. Feel free to pass along any suggestions.

Decide What Project You’re Importing Into

While this may sound obvious it’s not always. If you’re shooting a wedding, you probably want to create a new project for every wedding. This makes sense given that it’s not likely that you’ll be shooting the same wedding again…though you never know these days.

I shoot a lot of live music and in a situation like this it may make more sense to have a project for each artist with an album for each show. For multi-day festivals I usually create a project for the festival with an album for each day and each artist. Photos can be stored in multiple projects and albums, but your life will be a lot easier if you plan carefully and import them into the correct project first.


Stacks are a great feature of Aperture. Basically they recognize the reality of modern digital shooting: you’re probably going to have more than one similar photo of any given magic moment. Whether it’s that first kiss or that perfect on stage moment, you probably pressed your shutter more than once. I typically take three shots when one of the special moments happens, though the moments can be fleeting enough the I often just take one.

You can put all of these similar photos in a Stack which is basically a collection of similar photos. You can choose one photo as the best and put it on “top” of the stack but you can still easily access the rest of them if you want too later.

Take a pass through your photos and create stacks of anything that looks the same by selecting them and pressing Command-K You’ll see the stack icon appear. Stacking photos can reduce the number you need to sort through by half somtimes.

Reject, Reject, Reject

For a typical concert I’ll shoot between 150 and 300 photos and send between 10 and 20 of them to an editor. Figuring out which 10 or 20 is the trickiest part.

Aperture has a photo rating system that includes an option of Rejected which you can assign by pressing 9 on the keyboard. Rejecting is your friend at this point. Flip through photos with a finger on the 9 key. If a photo has any blurring, a bad crop, anything at all that makes it obviously bad just reject it. Go with your gut. If there’s any doubt at this point, don’t reject it: you can always do that later.

Set Aperture to Show Photos that aren’t Rejected

In the upper right hand corner of your Aperture browser there’s a search panel. Click on the magnifying glass and you’ll see some pre-saved searches. Make sure it’s set to Unrated or Better. You should see all those rejected photos disappear. They’re still in your Aperture library, but you don’t have to worry about them for now.

Start Rating 2’s and 3’s

Aperture’s rating system allows you to rate photos on a scale of 1 to 5 by typing the number on the keyboard. There’s times when I wish it had a scale of ten, but generally the 1 to 5 system works fairly well.

Since three is the middle of the scale, I sort of treat is a fulcrum and work around it.

At this point I start working through the (now reduced) collection again and I rate. Any photo that I think I can use gets rated a 3. Anything that really stands out almost right away gets a 4. If it’s usable but I don’t like it I give it a 2.

Generally, I have very few photos rated as a 1 or a 5. If it’s 1, it probably should have been rejected in the first place. A 5? Well, that’s reserved for something pretty magical: an Ansel Adams moment, if you’d like. They happen, but you really want to save that 5 ranking.

Set Aperture to Show Photos Rated 3 or Better

Back to the search box and choose a new setting: you really want to look only at photos you’ve rated 3 and above at this point. In theory, this is the stuff you want to use.

From here the process is a bit more fluid: you have a sense of how many photos you have that are usable. Is it enough or do you need more? If you need more you can always reconsider some of those 2’s which might be fixable with a crop or some light processing. It’s best to avoid them, but they may be good enough depending on the context.

If you have enough photos change the search box to show photos rated 4 or better and see how many you see now. These photos should be your outstanding stuff. You may reconsider some of them at this point and drop them to a 3, or bump some 3’s to a 4.

If you need to do any post processing you can do it here on the subset of images that you actually like. This will save you a tonne of processing time.

Create an Album for your Editor

At this point I’d normally create an album for every editor and add the final choices you’ve made to that. You can create multiple albums if you’re using the photos for multiple purposes (e.g. Web Site or Brochure Photos) but you want to keep a record of which photos you sent to whom and an album is a great way of doing that.

You might also want to create smart albums showing the 3’s and 4’s. I find this a great way to keep get photos onto my iPad and my iPhone so I have the best of my work with me at all times. I certainly don’t want to carry around an iPhone full of the images I’ve rejected.

So that’s my basic routine. It’s not perfect: sometimes I reject before I stack though I prefer the order I’ve listed above. I’m not sure there’s a reason why, it just sort of happens that way. At the end of this process though I’m usually left with a nice, clean set of photos that makes everybody happy. I’m sort of a post processing minimalist so I don’t do much of it but if you are this workflow may not do the trick. I’d like to hear about alternatives if you have any suggestions.

I’ve never used Lightroom—largely due to the increasing perception of Adobe as a software villain and the extravagant cost of annual upgrades—so I’m not sure if a similar workflow would work there. From brief chats with a few friends it seems similar enough, but I’ll leave that up to others to outline.

If you find this helpful, let me know. If you don’t let me know where it fell short and I’ll try to improve or adjust it.

Posted by skooter at 7:37 PM This entry is filed under Camera, Technology.
This entry is tagged: Aperture, Apple, Photography, Software

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