It's 2013 - Why Aperture 3

This might have been a bad title as it's not really and completely about Apple Aperture 3. It's more about deciding things related to your photography in general. I just happened to feel like putting it in the context of Aperture 3, a tool that I grow to appreciate more just about every time I use it. Especially when I spend time away from it using some other RAW processor and work-flow tool.

You might find this a bit hard to believe but I work way more by feel than I do to any particular set of "specs" or route procedure. I also enjoy working in the method that feels most natural and tactile to me. If something feels wrong it puts me off kilter - no matter how "good" it's supposed to be. This counts a lot in my book. I really don't care about what something is "supposed" to be or how "superior" some group of people proclaim something to be. I care how it feels to me and more importantly how I feel when I use it.

I do need to get a little terminology nit out of the way. What do you think of when you hear the term edit in the context of photography? Me? I think of culling and arranging and selecting and comparing and pondering juxtapositions etc etc. I don't think image manipulation, adjustment, correction, composting or other image modification. Somehow the first sense of the term was far more prevalent prior to digital image capture. Now it's more likely that when people say "edit" what they really mean is more in the sense of image manipulation - even more so than correction in most cases. For the sake of this discussion let's use my sense of edit.

Editing in my opinion is the absolute most important part of the game apart from the work done behind the camera while shooting. Aperture more than anything else that came before and any current competition helps me do that. I actually enjoy that part of the process as much as I used to when I shot film. Other stuff? Hmmmm. Not so much from a relative point of view. Other products including Adobe Lightroom just cause me to feel hemmed in - they make me claustrophobic. They are ugly, inflexible, and I hate being inside them.

Way back when I shot all film my edit process was a combination of contact sheets, various colors of grease pencil, and proof prints with all sorts of notes, thoughts, and tech data scribbled on the back. I started with the grease pencils and contact sheets. I then moved on to the larger proof prints, spreading them out and piling them up and juxtapositioning them in various ways on a large table. Every once in a while I grabbed one of a few Schneider loupes and took a closer look.

This process was very productive creatively and extremely fluid. It was freeform. Aperture gives me the same feeling. In fact I go about it much the same way virtually with Aperture. In many cases I also use a hybrid of sorts where I actually print stuff out as well. Usually not shitloads of proof prints but various comps to ponder, etc.

The quick snap at the top is a picture of a print. It's the sort of thing I print all the time in various shapes and sizes while working on a project. No big deal. Could make that in anything right? Sure you can but how you do and the work-flow imposed when doing so is so so so far different. Here's where that particular layout came from. I did it just for this post.

For those that don't recognize this, it's an Aperture light table. It's just like an album (so is everything in Aperture) except it's associated viewer has different functionality than other types of Aperture albums. It works like a giant table where you can spread out proofs all over the place with a little auto-magic help to size and align things if so you choose. Light tables can be of arbitrary size and you can look at any part of the table you want or get an overview of the whole thing. I have some huge light tables for large ongoing projects. Heck I have a bunch of them in various flavors for each project. They're free, just like albums. Wanna try something a little different? Duplicate it and go to town. This particular one I have shown with the magnificent, flexible, and customizable Aperture loupe tool. I also show a film strip on the side. You don't have to. Want it on the top or the bottom or the other side or gone? No problem. It's one key away for all those things.

Here's where it gets interesting and what is so very different about Aperture vs it's competitors (I don't want to say peers as I don't believe there are any). Let's take a look at that same light table with a couple of different tools, again all one key click away.

This time I am showing the inspector HUD and the tooltips metadata display. In the HUD I can do anything - tweak an adjustment or color treatment, edit any metadata I choose, anything. The little tooltip metadata display happens to show just one of my metadata views - make as many as you like. Switch them in and out for the task at hand. They can contain as much or as little as you like. They display the associated metadata to the image where you are hovering the mouse. Doesn't matter where - thumbnails, big ones, little ones. If you can see the image it works anywhere. Same with the HUD. Same with everything in Aperture. A big box of tools - do what you will anywhere, anytime, in any order. Other tools seem to me like a phillips screw driver permanently attached to a garage on one side of your house while a wrench is attached to a different garage down the street. Oooops now I need the wrench better move the car down the street to the other garage - oh shit - I have to sort of put the screws back in first so I can use the wrench - makes no sense.

So let's translate this to my process very briefly. Say I would like to make a note on one of these images. I click it and just make the friggin note in the HUD in whatever field I choose. Hold on to your hats… no matter where I am or what I happen to be doing - like making a comp in a light table. Yes you can have dozens of metadata views setup in the HUD. When I am done I hit a key and it goes away. Want the grease pencil notes (for me that's color labels) hit shift-G shows me all sorts of stuff right on top of the images on the light table.

What about tweaking one or a couple of the image adjustment treatments - this is the bonus part compared to my old paper/proof print way - just do it right there. Oooops what if you really need the original color treatment. One key to duplicate the version and tweak that one. Don't worry Aperture will keep track of which version should "show up" in this album/light table. Awesome. Albums and stacks have amazing functionality that actually helps in the creative process (no names mentioned but the other guy's albums and stacks really don't do anything - well not much they sorta sit just sit there).

What does something so simple as I just described turn into in Lightroom? I mean you can do all that stuff right? Sure but go through all the 53 steps. Okay I want to jamb a bunch of images together in some sort of layout so I can see how they play together… Guess I will use the book tool or the print module either way ummm not so easy I kinda want it more free form. Whatever, okay where are my notes… hmmm back to the library module… okay back to the tool I chose to do this friggin layout, mess around a bit, oh I have an idea - let me note that on this image - ummm back to the library module, back to the module where I am laying this out… Oh let's put this up there and this over - oh shit not enough room because I didn't plan ahead for the thing that I am using to actually figure out what my plan is. Umm okay whatever. Let me at least tweak this image a bit as it looks a little off next to this other one… back to the develop module ummm now how do I look at those two side by side. WTF they were just right next to each other. Where the hell is the other one. Oh here it is. Shit why can't I just look at both while I adjust this one. As a consolation I can sort of look at them in the Library module if I flip back and forth while I am trying to do this. Ummm this sucks. Fuck it.

I am actually not exaggerating. It's pretty much just like that. Don't even tell me how to do it slightly better with a few MORE steps please… I know. It sucks anyway you slice it if you are used to having your way in Aperture. Sure ACR has lens profiles ooooooooh. Who cares. For me that's like the last thing that's so far down the road on a project it's not funny. Wow those 1000 images I don't give a rats ass about were automatically distortion corrected. Ohhh look ma I don't care because I don't bother except for rare special cases anyway but the box is checked, distortion correction done. Yep gotta check all the boxes the more boxes checked the better… Got a library module, check, got a develop module check, got a book module, check, supports cameras I don't use, check… all checked off there you have it done. Photography is not about features and checking boxes. WTF.

You may be different than me - you may not want or need to do "my" kind of editing or other things in terms of looking at your projects and playing what-if's. Heck you may actually do all your metadata, captions, and notes in the Library, then you might dutifully move to develop module as Adobe endorses and enforces, it's next in line,must do develop in dev module, must do metadata in library module, metadata in develop module does not compute, and do all the things you ever want to do, and then move to one of the output tools and not need any of the other shit EVER in combination… Me - my creative process is not nearly that linear and when force fit into that lame "you have to be over there to do this thing and over here to do this other thing" I just don't even bother. It's certainly not enjoyable for me and certainly not something that encourages me to do anything other than the absolute minimum.

When it comes to "IQ"… meh ACR has a bunch of convenience tools that are okay. It's core RAW processing is really not "better" for my purposes. It's tools are not really better. It's a toss up for the biggies. The images in the screen shots above look exactly like my LR5 VSCO 800Z with the fuji profile, only it's my D600. I just had to modify that particular preset for my desire. No big deal really.

The little "my world" comparison I just went through is a tiny little tip of the iceberg. In real and varied use there is no comparison. Everything from the search functionality that feels like you are being forced down some insurance company voice mail sub menu hell, to the fact that you have to scroll up/down a huge list of folders to see collections, to not being able to organize anything in any way that doesn't mirror the way your files are on disk, to the fact that you can't just type a couple of letters and instantly get to a project, it all adds up. While we are talking math - it's actually more exponential because every friggin thing can only be use in one place, one way. As an application goes LR (and similarly designed) apps belong in the garbage pile of history. Even bridge is more flexible in how you can look at your stuff. It's sort of like a very old windows kind of app only it has options of decorations in the stupid ass scrolly panels (that might have gone away - haven't checked lately). Oh but I can plaster a logo up at the top. Maybe my clients will think Adobe wrote it just for me - yea right.

Okay - enough. Honestly this is not really about Aperture. It's about how you select your particular tools. "Common wisdom", Internet mob think? FUD? Oh dear the sky is falling version numbers haven't changed lately - I am going to get left behind… oh no… I mean really - I just LOVE how they made the F key do ummm what appears to be nothing and moved F to shift F. Hey isn't F really sort like the L key now. How innovative. How about a friggin key for new virtual copy? How about that. Follow the lemmings? Do what Kelby says? Whatever. My suggestion - choose tools that you really really like based on what you really want to do and how they make you feel. Maybe $500 later in "major upgrades" we'll get keyboard shortcuts for all this stuff in Lightroom 8. Maybe we'll get something like the keyboard customizer like Aperture's in Lightroom 32.5 - the cloud strikes back remastered. What? Aperture does shit that Lightroom doesn't? How can that be, it's been at version 3 for ummm like everrrrrr… Well Lightroom 5 is sort of really more like Lightroom 2.4 really it's just they had to change the big numbers so that you didn't feel so bad paying for incremental changes.

I cannot wait to see what Apple does with the next big version of Aperture. Yes I am absolutely certain there will be one. Probably soon. I feel it in my bones. I just hope they give my light table some love along with some other stuff maybe. Will there be some stuff I don't care about in it? Probably. Will it be fantastic - no doubt. I just hope they don't dumb it down to be "more like lightroom". I don't think they will, they don't need to and they certainly didn't do that with FCP X nor Logic X.


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