Apple has announced that development of its professional photo tool Aperture has ceased, with the company starting to work on a new Photos app. The company claims this will take the place of both Aperture and the consumer tool iPhoto. While the consumer features of Photo have been trailed at Apple developer conferences, the lack of any professional features so far, as well as the uncertainty caused by the reboot/overhaul of Apple Final Cut Pro, has made many Aperture users uneasy. This uncertainty, coupled with the fact that their essential photo archives could depend on a product that has reached its End Of Life (EOL) phase, has made many start to look for an alternative photo management solution.

Released back in late 2005 and based on Apple's Core Image technology, Aperture offers digital file import, including RAW file support, extensive asset library management, printing, web and book publishing, and of course image adjustment tools, all in one package. While there are other tools out there that cover similar roles, Corel AfterShot Pro, for example, or CyberLink PhotoDirector or Phase One’s Capture One, we’re going to look at how you can migrate safely from Aperture to the market leader, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

However before you start to do anything, please make sure you have backed up both your referenced images and your Aperture library before reading any further. Remember this is just advice on one method to carry out the migration. Macworld can’t be held responsible if you lose all your work. So back it up.

There is a new photos app on the Mac: read about Photos for Mac here.

Read: How to set up Photos for OS X, tips for using Photos for Mac

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Sibling rivalry

Before moving anything, it’s worth looking at the differences and similarities between Aperture and Lightroom. Many of the functions and facilities developed over time are analogous, but the way each application handles assets is significantly different.

Every photo shoot or imported folder of images becomes a new Project within Aperture’s Library and this entity is used to store all original (managed) images, referenced images and versions.

Lightroom uses a Catalog(ue), a database that only store references to images and the actions applied to them. There is no such thing as managed images and you have to store your original images separately, often on an external hard disk.

Lightroom organises its form of referenced images in Collections, which are analogous to Aperture’s Albums. In Aperture, you can collect related images in Albums for specific tasks, such as for client approval. You do the same with photos in Collections. The same image can be referenced in many Albums or many Collections, without making duplicate copies. You can also gather related Collections into Collection Sets, so performing the same function as Aperture’s folders.

Like Aperture, Lightroom can streamline the workflow with automated methods. Smart Albums equate to Smart Collections, where Lightroom will automatically populate a collection based upon prescribed criteria – all images rated four stars and above for example. Flags, colour labels and star ratings are also common to both Lightroom and Aperture. Also useful are Badges, tiny overlay tags on thumbnails found in both applications.  In Aperture’s Browser or Filmstrip view and Lightroom’s Grid and Filmstrip they quickly identify that the image has metadata like develop settings, cropping or keywords associated with them.

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Backup!

Back up your Aperture libraries. As well as making sense from a data security standpoint, you might want to import them into Apple’s Photos application when it makes an appearance. Remember too that iPhoto can access Aperture libraries.

With Aperture libraries containing managed (or original) images, you can either use a Vault (File>Vault>Add Vault) or just copy the library files from your hard disk (those with an .aplibrary extension) to an external hard drive

This may take some time, so be sure to have a big enough target drive to fit all that data and just let it chug away.

The Vault will back up versions, previews and metadata associated with referenced images, but because the actual images are stored outside of the Library, you’ll have to make sure these files are backed up, using an application like Carbon Copy Cloner or ChronoSync.

Prepare the ground

First install Lightroom, if you haven’t already. You’ll need to sign up to some variant of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription plan. Currently the cheapest option for professionals is the Photography plan. For £8.78 a month (inc. VAT) you get Lightroom 5.5, Photoshop and Lightroom Mobile

Start using Lightroom to organise your new images on a regular basis – this will not only get you used to the interface and establish a location for the Lightroom Catalog, it will also get you into the habit of thinking of all your images as being referenced rather than stored in a Library.

When working only in Lightroom, our personal preference is to copy all images as originals during the import procedure, sending them to a specific external archive disk and have the Catalog reference that. When copying or moving new images, you can specify how to organise them using the Destination panel. Within a new subfolder on the target disk, you can either replicate the hierarchical structure of the original files, organise them by date taken or just collect them in a folder.  Lightroom will display these ingested files in Folders in the Library module, and from there you can begin to build Collections.

Adobe offers a number of online tutorials as part of the Lightroom subscription to get you up and running.

Get packing

Now you have backed up your Aperture library it’s time to start preparing to bring over your images. The good news is that most of the file types you use will be common to both applications, though Lightroom doesn’t support PDFs and some audio files.

The bad news is be prepared to lose any adjustments to photos made in Aperture. As they are just instructions applied to an image at export time, they’re not really part of the photo. A workaround is to export a Version of the file edits applied as an original-sized file (File>Export>Version) in JPEG, TIFF, or PSD format (specify which format using Aperture>Presets>Image Export).

Metadata, the information used to indicate original camera settings, photographer details and carry captions and copyright notices, is supported in both Lightroom and Aperture.

Metadata is written in XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) and can accompany the image in a separate XMP sidecar file when exported. You can also choose to burn it into your files within Aperture by using Metadata>Write IPTC Metadata to Original (this only works with specific file types).

Ratings can be embedded into file metadata in this way, and show up when opened in Lightroom, but you can forget pick Flags. Colour labels are also exported but only seem to show up in the Mac Finder

You can also export your keywords from Aperture. Just click on a photo in Aperture and use Shift-H to bring up the Keywords HUD. Click the export button and save the keywords as a list. In Lightroom, select Import Keywords from the Metadata menu and find the exported list. Do this before migrating any images, as it will keep things organised.

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Moving to Lightroom

Now comes the time to choose if you want to use the existing Lightroom Catalog, which you recently setup for your new, everyday workflow (see above), or if you want to create a new one especially for your old Aperture library. Let’s go with the latter.

In your Home>Pictures create a new folder for your imported images, or wherever you want to save your new master images (we normally use an external hard disk).

In Lightroom, create a new catalogue (File>New Catalog) and name it something memorable or significant.

Back in Aperture, choose a Project, select the images within and export them as original files (File>Export>Originals). Choose to include IPTC Metadata in the dialog box that comes up; choose the XMP sidecar creation option if your original photos haven’t had the metadata embedded in them. If you wish, you can choose to create a subfolder, either based on the Project or a number of date parameters, but you’ll be doing further organisation within Lightroom.

Back in Lightroom, select the Import button in the Library module (Lightroom’s tabbed workflow is based on modules and all the workflow tasks run in a left to right order.)

Under the ‘From’ column in the floating Import window, navigate to where you exported the Aperture photos. You’ll see the images appear in the central pane, each with a checkmark. Uncheck any you don’t wish to bring into Lightroom.

Above the main window are four choices: Copy as DNG, Copy, Move or Add. As we tend to use an external hard disk, we normally choose Copy, but if you imported your images to your Pictures folder, just choose Add. This works most like Aperture’s referenced images, and adds photos to the Catalog without moving them.

Don’t worry for now about applying Develop Settings or Metadata, but turn on Build Smart Previews. All that remains is for you to click Import and Lightroom does the rest.

Once your imported photos are displaying in Lightroom’s Library module, you can select them all and organise them into a collection (Library>New Collection).

Then just go back to Aperture and repeat the process for each Project you wish to migrate.

Conclusion

There's a reasonable fear that the focus of Apple's Photos for Mac will be elsewhere than on the professional market, but as with Final Cut Pro X, we might be surprised with something quite new and revolutionary. Using this process to migrate your library and workflow to Lightroom means that you’ll still be working in a professional photo management application, whatever Apple decides to do.

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