Dreams of the Zen Archive

by Steve Simon


I think most of us agree: digital photography is where we need it to be, and it's getting better. Issues of quality, speed, storage, ease of use and affordability are all working. And now Aperture fills in the one missing link in my workflow. With this new version, I have a tool that can manage my entire photographic life, from ingest to archive to print and publish.

For whatever the reason or excuse, I have resisted using a cataloging software until now. Lucky for me, Aperture has come along to put my image affairs in order. Like many busy photographers, cataloging and archiving was something I knew I would confront sometime soon, but the task seemed overwhelming. So in the meantime, I have kept a simple system of storing files in a logical hierarchy of folders I could access. But my system has holes and there is a lot of redundancy in my archive. Aperture is about to fix all that.

Now that I've been using Aperture and loving it, coupled with the fact that in 1.5.1--the Aperture library can access my images from a variety of sources; (and in his last post, Ben Long has assured us that there is no down side to embracing Aperture; nothing to be afraid of) I'm planning the transfer of my entire archive on several hard drives as referenced files into Aperture, which will serve as the electronic brain for my warehouse of imagery. I'm really excited about this and I'm formulating archiving strategies.


In the big picture, my work is divided into two distinct categories, Commercial and Personal Projects. In planning my import strategies, I am trying to jump ahead and see what my archive will look like in the future. All I know for sure is: it's going to get much bigger.

So I'm planning a computer house cleaning to rid myself of redundancy before I take the forklift to my thousands of photographs and bring them into the Aperture warehouse. I expect this "purging all duplicate and unnecessary data" process to be liberating-- and once things are organized and imported into Aperture, I pledge to keep my archive clean and neat, clutter free and backed up religiously. Really.

Because my operating system drive is only 160gbs, I will choose to reference my Aperture files to larger external firewire drives but maybe keep one smaller Retrospective Project with only 5-Star images in the library itself. My plan is to keep my master images on two separate drives for now, one for commercial work and the other for my personal projects. This will be backed up to one larger off-site drive.

Of course, once files are safely within Aperture, I can move them around, but there's a lot to be said for organizing everything right from the start.

I was curious what strategies you have employed to keep and maintain your ever-growing archive of images in Aperture. Do you keep everything you shoot or are you selective on import? Where do you store things? How do CDs and DVDs fit into your archiving plan? By seeing how others are doing things, I'm thinking we can find easier and more efficient ways to work with our own growing storehouse of visuals; and plan for a future body of work that will only grow bigger and better.

A new book: Heroines & Heroes: Hope, HIV and Africa by Steve Simon
(Designed in Aperture)


Jan Steinman
2006-12-08 14:45:38
I'm not totally sold on Aperture just yet.
I *do* "keep everything," but in the manner of keeping the entire roll of negatives or box of slides. I roll them off onto DVDs.

I was using Portfolio, and loved the way it dealt with metadata. I don't think Aperture, with its fixed fields, is up to that yet.

In Portfolio, you can define any number of new fields as you like. Some things (like "Location" or "Persons") are, in my opinion, separate from keywords. Keywords should be general, and I don't want to clutter them up with a gazillion proper nouns. I've exported all my Portfolio metadata, and was planning to write a script to import it into Aperture, but I hate the entropy of losing the semantics of the special fields I've set up when I dump them all into keywords.

I'm also struggling with previews. Common wisdom is to not use them, but with off-line storage, it seems you really need them. My library is up to 50GB with some 20,000 images. Do I dump the previews, and then have only fuzzy, pixellated images to evaluate whether or not it's worth it to go dig up the proper DVD? Previews are currently controlled on a project basis -- it would be nice to be able to control previews for individual images. In that case, the existence of a preview would be sorta like "one star or better." (Hmmm... perhaps I can turn previews on for Smart Project?)

Also, I would like off-line storage to be better supported. It's a pain at present to find out what DVD any given image is on. And concurrency control -- it would be good to be able to have multiple users on a library at one time.

2006-12-08 18:43:47
You and I are in very much the same position re. our Aperture libraries, so I'm keenly interested in the feedback you get, and on how you decide to proceed.

I'm especially interested to hear what people have done with their *processed* images. I mean, it's one thing to organize all your RAW images into a meaningful set of folders and albums. But over the years I've used various applications to convert & process images (e.g. ACR, Capture One, Photoshop) and I have many instances of some images. Right now they mostly live in folders that are away from the RAW images, but what are people doing with Aperture to bring order to this "mess" of RAW + processed images?

2006-12-10 14:19:33
External harddrive memory is gettin so cheap today I can't justify burning CD's and DVD's for back-ups. I realized within the first week of using Aperture that my iMac HD was not the place to store the Masters. I moved it to a 1TB Maxtor Turbo and then bought a second one for "The Vault ". I have $1,100.00 in my Lbrary and Archive system ( roughly $1.00 per GB ). My shooting volume will fill this system up in about 2-3 years. Think of the tme we sit around and wait for 8x or 16x CD burns or even longer waits for DVD's. I'm told that harddrive memory is going to grow exponentially in the near term. An Apple Engineer told me recently that sometime next year harddrive capacity will expand 7-8 fold. Another technology involved is" Solid State " memory. I think they mean Flash memory but I'm not positive.
Not real sure about the architecture of relating "processed images" back to a Aperture held Master that was done some time ago but I would gamble that it can be done. I know when using Photoshop for my editing all I have to do is "Save" the edit and it gues back into Aperture as a Version. Surely previously processed images with other Apps can be related back to to originals in Aperture.
The editing functions of Aperture are very good. Patch and Stamp tool took a little getting used to and I have sent Apple feedback asking for a dodge and burn tool.
I can't wait to see future generations of this app.
2006-12-10 15:13:08
Why not use the Stack feature to relate previously processed versions?
Steve Simon
2006-12-10 22:01:04
Jim, I plan to go through my existing archive, a little at a time to weed out those versions of files that I won't keep. I have a Western Digital 1TB drive, where I'm starting to copy the trimmed down archive for later import into Aperture (I wish I had known how loud the fan was on this thing before I bought it-it sounds like a hair-dryer) Going forward with Aperture, I expect the problem of rudundency to be all but eliminated.
Stephen Watson
2006-12-17 14:57:13
I'm only an amateur coming from iPhoto ...

I left my images organised just as Aperture left them for a while whilst I worked out how Aperture could let me organise things, and whilst I got iPhoto's ways out of my head! After about 2 months I sat down one day and just created new folders, albums and projects and started moving things into what seemed natural. Once I'd got into the swing of it I started to really understand the potential for organised filing in Aperture that's way ahead of what I had in iPhoto. One thing for example is that iPhoto 'rolls' come in as separate projects. So I had for example rolls/projects called 'Amsterdam 1' and 'Amsterdam 2'. They were always separate in iPhoto - I could have put them into a new roll but it sort of goes against the grain in iPhoto. In Aperture I just removed the '1' from the first name, moved in the photos from '2' then deleted '2'. Nice and straightforward.

My images are now organised far more conveniently than they ever were in iPhoto because there it was really by Roll or in Albums whereas Aperture is so much more flexible.

BTW, my backups (Vault) is all on an external drive at present and none on DVD. If my flat burnt down then they'd all go, so I maybe should consider some off-site storage. But then that applies to all my backups, not just my Vault.