A Talented Amateur Finds Aperture

by Tom Bridge

Related link: http://homepage.mac.com/tom_bridge/Cat/

I have no illusions about what sort of photographer I am. I am, on my best day, a talented amateur with delusions of photographer-hood. Most of the time, I snap pictures with my PowerShot S410 because it's simple and easy, but I do have a Canon 10D that serves my desire to become a better snapshot artist. But, since I can swing an educational discount for Aperture, I ordered it anyhow. It arrived Friday and I have spent most of the weekend tinkering with it. There's a steep learning curve, but Apple's come through with some great training videos that are included with the package.

Import Dialog
The new import dialogue in Aperture

This is what the metadata inspector sees.The first thing that Aperture needs is images. I decided to leave my iPhoto Library untouched (though, import from iPhoto is prominently mentioned), and work from new images. I imported a card's worth of photos (around 40-50 shots) fairly quickly, and set to work. The interface for working with photos is very elegant, both in its use of space and its effective tools. While there's just one interface for everything in iPhoto, the Aperture interface is far more nuanced for specific tasks. Rating your new photos? There's a layout for doing just that. Working on Adjustments? There's another layout better geared toward doing adjustments. Shuffling the latests photos out to projects, folders and albums? Still another.

Aperture is designed to be both workflow manager and editor, though, and it shows. If iPhoto is meant to be your digital shoebox, Aperture truly is a working photographer's office: full of space, a light table, boxes of slides and all manner of accoutrements. Immediately, I prefer Aperture. iPhoto may run better on my 1.5Ghz Powerbook G4, but when I attach an external display, it's like iPhoto's speed no longer matters, as Aperture was designed from the bottom up to be more useful in a larger space.

Once I had my first batch or four of photos imported, I began to tinker with the project management view. I had taken a few "rolls" of my cats who had nicely decided to pose for the camera, and so sorting them out by cat was a fairly straightforward process. Aperture's basic unit for photo storage is the Project. Every photo gets a project. Now, from there, you can place instances of the photo in albums, smart albums, books, light tables or web albums, but the Project is its home.
Aperture's new toolbar icons
Apple's got a new icon for this which looks something like a filing box with a label on the front. Once safely ensconced, you can play with copies of the original. Aperture's design to leave your original alone, which is fantastic. This makes for a truly archival system that you don't have to worry about getting screwed up. Of course, this does mean you're going to want to have some serious disk space hanging around. The more volume, the larger the space. Some folks are going to need a firewire disk, some folks aren't, and some folks are really going to need a fully outfitted Xserve RAID. For now, I've cleared my iPhoto library out to disk, so I am working within a 20GB space on my internal PowerBook Hard Drive.

Spot and Patch
The Spot and Patch Tool in Aperture, which allows you to perform patching operations to remove defects from your photos
Once I had a set of photos that I could work with, I set to work with Aperture's basic tools: crop, adjust, patch and red-eye. Crop works just like it ought to: click and drag, then alter the box based on any of the eight points on the bounding box. Adjust is a joy to work with. It's the Adjustments panel from iPhoto, only significantly improved. Setting white balances is very easy, just a few eye-dropper clicks from a corrected image. The real star of the show, though, is the Spot and Patch tool that iPhoto had sorely lacked. I grabbed my camera in a hurry and snapped a quick photo of Jack as he sat on the brick wall outside my office. But, because it's bloody cold here today, I didn't open the door and got the glare of one of my fluorescent spotlights in the image. I used the Spot and Patch tool to obscure it in the final. Of course, this was just my first attempt at using the tool, so it's far from completely perfect, but it's good enough that on a small thumbnail you won't see the difference in the slightest. This tool has serious potential for me as a user, and that's what really excites me.

From there, I felt I should produce something in Aperture's new Album tool. The Album tool has just six themes as it stands today, but the themes they've provided are quite good. Each theme allows you to edit any piece of Text on the screen, as well as populate the captions based on the metadata tags that Aperture stores. I ended up making this gallery on my first trip out of the barn. I'm betting that someone like Jeff Harrell could add some serious cachet to these galleries, adding something like his CSS & JS Shadow Technique to make these galleries really shine.

I'm really looking forward to getting to use more of the features here, including the Light Table and more of the adjustment features. Overall, though, I think Aperture has me really excited for the delivery of my iMac G5 week after next, which should do much of what Aperture can throw it all the while singing a snappy tune and dancing the hula.

What do you make of Aperture?