Aperture 3 - Thoughts On Project Organization

A lot of my one on one help sessions are for photographers that are migrating their library to Aperture for the first time. They are typically migrating either from iPhoto or from a self organized library of file system folders. The thing that they all have in common is the primary organization has been by date. Something along the lines of folder for year, folder for month, folder for date, etc. This makes sense in a lot of ways. In fact it most likely mirrors what they did in the old days of physical filing of negatives.

Heck I still file my film physically by date and the file name of the scan links that image back to the physical negative file ordered by year, roll number/sheet number, and image number. When you have a physical thing it can only exist in one place so you must pick some one way to order and organize groups of those things - date makes sense.

Fast forward to the digital age and databases with metadata and tools like Aperture 3. Maybe just maybe organizing and ordering your projects in Aperture by date doesn't make the most sense any more. I have been of this mindset since I started using Aperture way back in the old days. I know that this topic is sometimes like a religious war but here me out before you decide.

In many ways the way you organize projects and folders of projects in Aperture is really just additional metadata. Not a whole lot different than any other metadata like EXIF info, keywords, GPS, etc. The only thing really different about it is that it has some built in views and shortcuts that don't exist for all meta data in the inspector. Since project names and folder names as well as their relationships are just some more metadata it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense mirroring metadata you already have in each and every image to group them together. This is already done for you automatically every time you press the shutter button.

Aperture 3 makes it easy to look at your images organized by date in numerous different ways no matter how you choose to name and organize your projects. If you Go to the all projects view you have a couple of controls and options at the top of the browser window that will do this….

The first drop down menu controls ordering the view by name, date, or like the library in the inspector is ordered. That's pretty self explanatory but a lot of people I have talked to never really noticed or used these controls before. They set them one way and leave it that way. The best way to use Aperture is to change the UI to suit what you are trying to do at the moment. The next group of icons to the right are much more interesting. They change the way the browser works completely for the all projects view.  The first one is the boring default view. The second one is great if you want a quick view partitioned by year. No matter what you choose in the drop down for ordering the second icon groups your projectsby year when you choose this the drop down controls the ordering inside the year grouping of projects. Last will group your projects by the folders you created.

Personally I organize my projects by broad genre - portrait, fashion, travel, family, etc. These are my top level folders. Underneath those I do whatever makes sense - folders for each client, folders for holidays, birthdays, etc. Finally I name my projects that has something to do with why I made the images and/or what is in the pictures. The practical reason for my deciding to do this was that ordering anything in any Aperture view by date is trivial but having the ability to restrict search context by genre for ad-hoc searches or smart albums has saved me a ton of time even without perfect metadata. Trust me nobody's metadata is perfect. Think searching for "Emma" where there are nine Emmas in my library - portrait clients, fashion models, my daughter… Having the ability to do a quick search for Emma in the context of my family folder or my birthdays sub-folder has proven to be amazingly effective for me.

I certainly am agnostic about any particular way a photographer chooses to organize their library if date is the best way for you great. My goal is to present an alternative since getting to anything in Aperture via date, date range, or ordering by date is so very easy why not use that folder/project naming metadata for something other than to duplicate information built into every image. My Organization e-book is chock full of thoughts that even experienced Aperture users will find interesting.


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