Accessing Your Image Files Outside of Aperture

by Josh Anon

Over the next few posts, I'm going to talk about some topics that might appear simple but can be a little bit confusing. Today's post will be about how to get to your image files, both converted and RAW, outside of Aperture. Before we dive in, I wanted to take a minute to mention a new export plug-in that I released last week, called Lightbox XMP. It allows you to export embedded or sidecar XMP metadata with your master and exported versions. We'll discuss why XMP is useful when we talk about metadata, but for now, check out Lightbox XMP here.

Getting back to files, the absolute simplest way to access your image file outside of Aperture is to select the image (or images) and choose Images > Open with External Editor. Assuming you've set an external editor in your preferences, Aperture will convert the image and open it in your external editor. Under Aperture's preferences, you can specify what format (TIFF or PSD) and what resolution to convert the master to. Unlike Adobe Camera RAW, there is no way to specify a different size (e.g. open an 8MP file at 11MP) to convert to directly. Your converted file will automatically appear in your Aperture library, stacked with the source.

Another way to create a converted file is to select an image (or images) and choose File > Export Version. By changing the Export Presets, or adding new ones, you have the ability to convert your image to everything from a 16 x 16 pixel jpeg to a 16-bit TIFF file at the original resolution. This file will not appear in your library, but you can import it.

Yet often, accessing a converted image isn't very interesting. Especially now that Photoshop CS 3 lets you quickly open RAW files as smart objects (see the upcoming Photoshop CS 3 for Nature Photographers by Anon and Grey, Wiley 2007 for more detail), it's often useful to access your RAW file outside of Aperture. The simplest way to do so is to select the image (or images) in Aperture and choose File > Export Master. The downside to Export Master is that you end up with two (or more) copies of the master file. What we often want to do is to access the same RAW file from within Aperture and an external program.

Aperture 1.5 provides a new feature that makes accessing your RAW files outside of Aperture easy--referenced masters. Before 1.5, whenever you imported an image, it was automatically copied into the Aperture Library and hidden from direct access because the Aperture Library is a bundle. A bundle is a special type of folder the appears as a file. For example, if you were to browse to where your Aperture library is in Photoshop's open panel (unless you switched to the older Adobe open panel within Photoshop) there is no way to browse into your library and to find your RAW file. However, referenced masters provide a way to say "put my master images in this directory and link them into Aperture--don't move them into the Aperture Library." Referenced masters also allow you to have offline images, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

When importing files, switch to using referenced masters by changing the "Store Images In" popup to not be the Aperture Library. Note that you will have to backup your images folder manually, as vaults don't pick up referenced files, and if you export a project, you'll want to check the "Consolidate Images" button so that your exported project contains your referenced images. Should you decide after the fact to that you want to use referenced masters, select the images you wish to reference, choose File > Relocate Masters, and select what folder Aperture should move the master files to.

Under the File menu, you'll find two other commands to help you manage referenced masters, Consolidate Master (which lets you move your masters back into the Aperture library) and Manage Referenced Files (which shows you lots of detail about where the referenced masters are). At any point in time, choosing File > Show in Finder will open a Finder window to where your selected images' master files are located.

However, once in a while, you will find it more convenient not to use referenced masters (perhaps you use vaults to backup your library), but you still want to access to your master file directly within the Aperture library, e.g. to drag and drop it into Photoshop. Here's how to do so:

  1. Take note of your master file name or what you're searching for (e.g. all files that end in .dng). An easy way to find a file name is by looking at the File Info metadata view within Aperture
  2. Switch to the Finder and browse to your Aperture Library
  3. Control-click on the library and choose Show Package Contents. If you have a small library or want to search across your entire library (e.g. you want to find all .dng files), skip to step 5.
  4. Find the project containing your image, control-click on it, and choose Show Package Contents
  5. In the search field in the top right, type in the file name or whatever you're looking for (e.g. ".dng") and make sure that the find window which appears is set to "Folder" and not "Computers," "Home, or "Servers."
  6. The file (or files) that appears in the window is the real file that Aperture is referencing. If you get multiple results that appear to be the same image, look at the individual image sizes--the smaller ones will most likely be preview images and thumbnails

One final warning--if you use this last method to locate your files, do not delete, rename, move, etc. them yourself outside of Aperture. If you do so, bad things might happen to your Aperture library that could cause you to lose data!


Hopefully this has helped you understand how to access your image files outside of Aperture!


2007-05-11 09:41:32
Lets say I have referenced files and I use Aperture to organize and rate my files but want to use Adobe Camera Raw for processing. So, I open the raw file in its location, process it with ACR and open it into Photoshop where I go through my usual retouch routine. Now, I have my PSD file outside Aperture. I want it imported and stacked/grouped with my Master just like I would have send the file to Photoshop from inside Aperture as a version. How do I do this? Can you make a plugin for this?
basically import and stack with correct master raw. Or even better recognizing psd files with the same name as my master and group those inside aperture...
Josh Anon
2007-05-11 12:52:08
You could write an Automator script yourself to do some of this, but there is no absolute answer here. As much as the export API provides, it is just that--an export API and not an import/organize API.