Aperture Tricks – All About Apple Aperture

December 16, 2005

What Is Aperture?

Filed under: Announcements — Scott @ 3:50 pm

What’s is Aperture? (Written Pre-Launch)

Apple’s recent announcement of a new software program for photographers has the photo industry buzzing. In fact, between the e-mail I have received at Dukeofdigital.com and Photofocus.com, more than 500 people have contacted me regarding this new program.

So what is it? We’ve seen the press releases and the demos at http://www.apple.com/aperture. But they only tell part of the story. For the real scoop, I spent 45 minutes on the phone yesterday with the guy who really knows what’s going on.

Joe Schorr, Product Manager for Aperture did a great job of explaining how he and Apple see the product. And in this post, I will try to summarize our wide-ranging conversation.


Let’s get the main question answered first. Is Aperture a Photoshop replacement? Well yes and no. . . mostly no. Joe says Aperture is “An overlapping product that focuses on workflow.” In other words, Aperture is NOT a Photoshop replacement.

Apple decided to start Aperture from scratch. Not one single line of code was brought over to build the program. Apple’s developers leveraged Apple’s core image technology to make Aperture a unique program.

To decide how to make Aperture most valuable, the engineers watched over the shoulders of working professional photographers. Joe says, “We asked the question; ‘If you didn’t already have software what would you create?’”

Apple decided that the real bottleneck in digital workflow came during the RAW conversion and the compare and select process. So that’s where they focused most of their efforts. Mainstream photographers might spend two hours shooting and eight hours editing/selecting. Aperture is designed to greatly speed up the latter.

So you still probably need Photoshop.


In Aperture, you import images from your memory card into the program. You can immediately start ranking, sorting and editing them, WITHOUT converting the RAW file. I know that this seems hard to get your mind around if you are used to a traditional RAW workflow, but once you see how it works, you won’t want to go back. When you EXPORT (i.e., make a web page, a JPEG, TIFF for printing, etc.,) Aperture does the RAW decoding on the fly. Your original is never touched and all of your edits are non-destructive. There’s no SAVE AS command.

People who are used to non-linear video or audio editing will have an easier time of grasping this. Think of an EDL (Edit Display List.) This means a text file is created storing all your changes and applied during the rendering (or exporting) process.

The basic Aperture workflow goes something like this.

1) Import RAW image
2) Compare and select
3) Employ non-destructive image processing
4) Utilize sophisticated EXIF and IPTC data encoding tools
5) Print and/or publish
6) Manage and backup data


Where Aperture differs from Photoshop is that it is not designed for compositing or heavy duty editing. You can do a small amount of pixel tweaking. You can perform white balance, red-eye reduction, straighten, spot, patch, highlight recovery, exposure correction, color correction, color density correction, black and white conversions, noise reduction and image sharpening and you can do all of it at 16 bit or above. Aperture uses sophisticated floating-point calculations to make all this work. And Apple promises us that it will work very quickly.

What you can’t do in Aperture is anything that involves layers or masks. This means that if you’re the kind of photographer who owns Aperture and gets it right the first time, in the camera, you probably won’t need Photoshop. But if you need to do anything that involves compositing, you will still need to pay your tithes and offerings to Adobe.

Recognizing that most professional photographers will already have Photoshop, Apple has built in a hot-key arrangement that lets you take your images directly from Aperture, into Photoshop with one keystroke. There you can do more editing and then move the image back to Aperture – all in a seamless manner.

Many in the industry are concerned that Apple’s announcement of Aperture will cause Adobe to abandon the Mac platform as they did with their top-level video editing software, Premiere. So I asked Joe if the decision to keep Aperture from working as a direct Photoshop replacement was designed to protect the company’s relationship with Adobe. He replied that it was not a political decision but reflects the workflow issues that Apple wants to solve with Aperture.

It’s important to note that while Aperture allows for minimal image processing, i.e., the essential corrections described above, Apple claims that what Aperture does do, it does on a par with Photoshop.

Aperture’s focus is on fast and powerful RAW conversion at the BACK END, not front end of the process. And the way Aperture handles RAW files is impressive. For instance, Aperture is the only program I am aware of that lets you work with any format (INCLUDING ADOBE’S DNG!) and view the image at 100%


Aperture allows you to search and locate images easily. You can use projects, folders and albums to organize images by year, client or category. You can build Aperture “libraries” to suit your own style. You can modify metadata in almost any way conceivable. Pretty much anything you could do with iViewMultimedia Pro, Bridge or Extensis Portfolio, you can do with Aperture.

Key wording is a breeze in Aperture. You can add keywords with the click of a single key. You can search and retrieve images using smart galleries. These are automated batch processes that make finding images easier than anything I have ever seen.

And using “Vault Drives” you can use backup tools that are actually designed for use by photographers. Automatic backups are seamless and allow for the best backup solution offered in any photographic software.


What strikes me about Aperture is that it changes the rules. It means there is no longer any workflow penalty for shooting RAW. With Aperture – RAW is as easy as jpeg. It’s very forward thinking not to require the photographer to decode the RAW file as a first step. When you start making corrections in Aperture, you are working on a RAW file in a completely non-destructive way.

The program really does offer a total workflow solution with an interface designed just for photographers, and a good one at that. And while you still may need Photoshop or other image processing software, you will probably find yourself spending less time selecting, converting, editing, sharing and storing your images, no matter what tools you use, as long as you also use Aperture as well.

Apple’s target audience for Aperture is the professional photographer or aspiring pro. They admit that Aperture is not aimed at the iPhoto crowd, although, they promise educational pricing to help those who still haven’t had the ability to go pro.

At $499, the price seems high. But given the radical way in which Aperture redefines digital workflow, it just may be worth it.

This thread is just a teaser. There’s far too much to talk about in one story. Before the end of the month, I will have a more in-depth review of the product available at Photofocus.com.

Until then, it looks like Aperture might be worth the wait.

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