Aperture 3: Overview And New Features

Aperture 3 Library view
Aperture's library view. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Aperture 3 is a workflow tool for amateurs and professional photographers. It allows them to organize images, retouch and enhance images, share images with others, and manage the photo printing process.

That's quite an undertaking, but after working with Aperture 3 for a week or so, I can say it more than lives up to its billing as one of the easiest image organizers and editors available for the Mac.

Update: Aperture was removed from the Mac App Store once Photos and OS X Yosemite 10.10.3 is released in the spring of 2015.

Aperture 3 offers over 200 new features, more than we can cover here, but suffice it to say Aperture 3 now offers the fun tools found in iPhoto while keeping the professional quality Aperture users have come to expect.

Aperture 3: Working With Image Libraries

Aperture started life as an image management application, and Aperture 3 keeps this key aspect at its heart. It also makes cataloging pictures easier and more fun, with the new Faces and Places features. We will go into these two features in detail a bit later. For now, Faces is similar to iPhoto '09's ability to recognize faces in an image, while Places lets you assign a location to an image, either using the GPS coordinates embedded in the image's metadata or by manually selecting the location on a map.

Aperture 3's library system gives you a great deal of freedom, not only in how you wish to organize your images but also in where the image libraries are located. Aperture uses a master file concept. Masters are your original images; they can be stored anywhere on your Mac's hard drive, or you can let Aperture manage them for you, within its own folders and databases. No matter which method you choose, Masters are never altered. Instead, Aperture keeps track of changes you make to an image in its database, creating and maintaining various versions of that image.

You can organize libraries by Project, Folder, and Album. For example, you may have a wedding project that contains folders for various parts of the shoot: the rehearsal, the wedding, and the reception. Albums can contain versions of the images you plan to use, such as an album for the bride and groom, an album of the serious moments, and an album of the lighthearted ones. How you organize a project is up to you.

Aperture 3: Importing Images

Unless you only want to work with the supplied sample image libraries, you're going to want to import images from your Mac or your camera.

Aperture 3's import feature is actually a pleasure to use. When you connect a camera or memory card or manually select the Import function, Aperture displays the Import pane, which provides a thumbnail or list view of the images on the camera or memory card, or in the selected folder on your Mac.

Importing images is a matter of either selecting an existing project or projects to import the images into, or creating a new project as the destination. You can rename the images as they're being imported, into something more appealing than CRW_1062.CRW, or whatever names your camera assigned them. The automatic renaming can be based on a core name plus many optional indexing schemes.

Besides renaming, you can also add metadata content (in addition to the metadata info already embedded in the image) from a wide range of IPTC metadata fields. You can also apply any number of adjustment presets, including ones you create, to adjust white balance, color, exposure, etc. You can also run AppleScripts and specify backup locations for the images.

Importing isn't limited to still images. Aperture 3 can also import video and audio from your camera. You can use the video and audio from within Aperture, without launching QuickTime or some other helper application. Aperture 3 can take care of your multimedia libraries as well.

Aperture 3: Image Organizing

Now that you have all your images in Aperture 3, it's time to do a little organizing. We already mentioned how Aperture organizes your library by Project, Folder, and Album. But even with Aperture 3's library organization, you can still have tons of images to look through, rate, compare, and identify with keywords.

Aperture makes this process easier by letting you create Stacks of related images. Stacks use a single image called the Pick to represent all of the images contained within the Stack. Click the Pick image and the Stack will reveal all of the images it contains. Stacks are a great way to organize images you would want to look at together, such as those half dozen pictures of your daughter taking her turn at bat, or the landscapes you shot using multiple exposures. Stacks are a great way to collapse related images into a single picture, which takes up much less room in the image browser, and then expand them again when you want to view the individual images in the Stack.

Smart Albums are another key concept to keep you organized. Smart Albums are similar to the Smart Folders in your Mac's Finder. Smart Albums hold references to images that match specific search criteria. The search criteria can be as simple as all images with a 4-star rating or higher, or as complex as all images that match specific ratings, face names, places, metadata, text, or file types. You can even use image adjustments as search criteria. For example, only images you applied the Dodge brush to will be displayed.

Aperture 3: Faces and Places

Aperture 3 has caught up with two of the most popular features of iPhoto '09: Faces and Places. Aperture can now not only recognize faces in images, but also pick them out from a crowd. You may not be able to successfully find Waldo in a crowded scene, but if you're looking for images of your favorite aunt, Aperture may very well be able to find her in some forgotten wedding shots from last year. If you work with models, Faces is a particularly attractive feature, because you can quickly create albums based on each model you use, no matter which shoots they were involved in.

Places also has its place (pun intended). By using the GPS coordinates embedded in an image's metadata, Aperture can map the location of where the image was taken. Additionally, if your camera doesn’t happen to have GPS capabilities, you can manually add the coordinates to the metadata, or use the Places map to set a pin marking the location where the image was taken. Aperture uses mapping applications from Google, so if you're used to working with Google Maps, you'll feel right at home with Places.

Like Faces, Places can be used as criteria in searches and Smart Albums. Together Faces and Places provide terrific ways to search and organize image libraries.

Aperture 3: Adjusting Images

Aperture 3 has newly expanded abilities to edit images. Its new Brushes feature lets you apply specific effects by simply painting the area where you want to apply an effect. Aperture 3 comes equipped with 14 Quick Brushes that allow you to apply Dodging, Burning, Skin Smoothing, Polarizing, and 10 other effects at the stroke of a brush. There are more than 20 additional adjustments you can perform on images, including the old standbys, such as white balance, exposure, color, levels, and sharpen. The nice thing about the new Brushes tools is that they don’t require you to first create multiple layers and masks to apply them. Their intuitive use makes retouching images much simpler than with some competing editing applications.

You can apply predefined adjustments to images, including Auto Exposure, +1 or +2 Exposure, and Color Effects, as well as create your own presets. Presets make routine adjustments easy. You can also use them to automatically perform a basic clean up when importing images.

All of the Adjustment tools are non-destructive, letting you back out changes at any time. In fact, the only time you commit to an image version is when you export, print, or upload it to another service.

Aperture 3: Sharing and Slideshows

Aperture 3 also has had its slideshow system revamped. At first glance, the new slideshow system seems to be borrowed from the iLife suite, specifically iPhoto, iDVD, and iMovie. Just as in those iLife applications, you select an overall theme, add your photos, and add an audio track, if you wish. You can define transitions as well as slide durations. You can also include videos as well as add text to your slideshow.

Of course, once you create a slideshow or an album of images, you're going to want to share it with others. Aperture 3 has a built-in ability to upload selected images, albums, and slideshows to popular online services such as MobileMe, Facebook, and Flickr. You will need to run through a setup routine once for each of the online services, but once that's done, you can simply select images and publish them to the online account.

Aperture 3: Aperture Books

Aperture Books is another way of sharing your photos. With Aperture Books, you can design and layout a photo book, which is then professionally printed. You can print one copy for yourself or a friend, or multiple copies for resale. Aperture Books uses a multi-master layout design. You specify one or more master pages, such as introduction, table of contents, and chapters, that define the layout's look, then add your photos and text as appropriate.

Aperture Books can be published as hard or soft cover, with prices ranging from $49.99 for a 20-page, 13"x10" hardcover, to a 3-pack of a 20-page, 3.5"x2.6" soft cover for $11.97.

Besides photo books, you can use the Aperture Books layout system to create calendars, greeting cards, postcards, and more. You can see a video about how photo books are made in Aperture 3 at Apple's website.

Aperture 3: Final Take

I spent a week using Aperture 3 and came away impressed with its capabilities. Its library management is second to none, and it gives you the choice of Aperture managing your master images within its own database, or you control where they will be stored on your Mac.

Along with the library, Aperture also provides a great deal of control over image importing, from a camera, a memory card, or one or more locations on your Mac. I felt like I had control over the import process from start to finish, unlike some other applications, where the import process seems more of a hold-your-breath-and-see-what-happens affair.

I expected Aperture 3 to meet my needs when it comes to editing photos. I didn't expect a full-fledged image editing application like Photoshop, but something I can use to make basic adjustments to the RAW files (or JPEGs) from my camera. I wasn't disappointed. Aperture 3 has all of the basic tools I need, and they are easy to use, either individually or as batch processes.

The big surprise was how well the new Brushes feature works. The brushes let me do complex editing that I normally reserve for Photoshop. Aperture is no replacement for Photoshop, but I can now do a lot more of my editing in Aperture and reduce the number of trips I need to make to Photoshop to complete a project.

The sharing, slideshow, and Aperture Books features are a nice touch, though not something I personally will use often.