How Do You Organize Your Aperture?

by Micah Walter

One of the most common questions I hear Aperture users asking is "how should I organize my library?" At first Aperture seems pretty straight forward as far as organization goes. You create Projects which contain the images from a single shoot, and then you can create Albums, Web Galleries, and Light Tables below each project as you wish. You can use Queries to create Smart Albums within your Projects and so on and so forth.

Well, this all works just fine until you have amassed a few hundred Projects or more. And, if you are one of those photographers out there who is adopting Aperture midstream in your digital lifespan, you probably already have a pile of "Projects" waiting to be imported.

So, I have talked with numerous Aperture users and everyone seems to have a different way of managing their Library. Some prefer to keep things simple and just create a running list of Projects. They tell me things like "it is so easy to just scroll down the list and find the project you are looking for alphabetically." Okay, well that works just fine if you always name your projects with some consistency.

Then there are the photographers who opt for the chronological approach. By using a hierarchy of "blue" folders these photographers arrange their Projects according to the date they were shot. Seems pretty simple, but finding projects based on your memory of when it was shot can be pretty tough, especially if you shoot a few times a week throughout the year. "What year did I go on that trip to Peru again?"

The truth is, Aperture allows you, the user, to organize your images just about any way you wish, with a few caveats. The main caveat being that an image must reside in a single Project. You can move images from Project to Project at any time, but a single image can never reside in more than one project.

So, I thought I would share a few tips that I find useful for organizing an extensive Aperture library. Of course, these are just tips and suggestions, so please don't forget that each Aperture user (including yourself) will have a somewhat different approach to organization that works better.

Tip Number 1 - Use Favorites

At the top of the Projects pane you will see a few drop down menus. One of them says "All Projects" and the two on the right look like a plus sign and a star shape. You can mark any Project as a favorite. Just click the star shape drop down and click "Add to Favorites." Whenever you want to view your favorite projects simply click the All Projects drop down and click Show Favorites. You can mark Albums, Smart Albums and everything else that you can see in the Projects pane as a favorite, and it's a pretty handy way to filter your projects.

Tip Number 2 - Use Folders

Aperture offers the ability to organize your projects within folders. At first folders can seems a little strange in Aperture. Sometimes they are blue, sometimes they are sort of yellow. Well, it is pretty simple. If your folder exists at the top level above any projects, it will be blue, and in fact is an actual folder inside the Aperture library file. If the folder is beneath a Project in the hierarchy it will be yellow. So, blue folders can contain multiple projects, and yellow folders are folders within a single project.

Tip Number 3 - Use Albums and Smart Albums

Albums are a great way to add a more complex level of organization to your projects pane. Unlike Aperture's Projects, Albums can contain images from any project, regardless of where they reside in the hierarchy. And, an album can even reside at the top level, outside the scope of a Project. So, albums offer a great way to group images from multiple projects together, or to separate images from within a project into subgroups. Lets say for instance you have shot five basketball games for your home team over the past few weeks. You probably imported each game as a separate project. Within each project you can create an album for your selects, and then, later, you could create a top level album containing a tighter edit from those selects spanning all five games for a portfolio. You could also do this with Smart Albums, they work the same way in the hierarchy, only they use a query to fill themselves with images.

Tip Number 4 - Use Folders To Organize Albums

One thing you might notice if you begin to create top level Albums or Smart Albums is that they get thrown into the list of projects alphabetically. If this seems to disorganized for you, simply make a top level blue folder and move your Albums or Smart Albums inside. Following the above basketball example you could make a blue folder at the top of the hierarchy called Best Basketball Shots. Within this folder you could have multiple albums or smart albums drawing on images from your entire catalog. You could even create a smart album that is a query search of this blue folder and contains only the 5 star images. The possibilities are pretty much endless!

Tip Number 5 - Decide What a Project Means to You

My final word of advice would be to decide what a Project means to you. For many a Project is probably a "shoot." But, a Project can be just about anything. So be sure to come up with some type of standard. Some people prefer to think of a Project as "everything I shot in 2004." Within the Project 2004 they might have numerous albums for each month. This is fine, but just remember the one rule in Aperture that is a Project can contain no more than 10,000 images. If you plan to take more than 10,000 images in a year, this approach might not work for you. Also, it pays to keep Projects fairly small in size as they can be easily exported and transfered to other Aperture libraries. Personally, I like to think of a Project as a shoot or an assignment. Sometimes an assignment will span multiple days and consist of a long list of "shoots." At some point I have to decide if I want to organize the entire assignment as a single project, or perhaps as numerous projects within a single top level blue folder.

Luckily, Aperture is pretty flexible, I can always change my mind later, and reorganize things as I wish. I am always interested to hear how others organize their libraries, so please reply in the comments section.


Michael Ball
2007-07-24 08:59:49
hmm, interesting. I have always tried to keep the projects pane as clean as possible. I will generally group projects by the place/activity. If something take a week long then I will use blue folders the organize it.

Also I like to have smart albums for my ratings, cameras and All Photos. I use spaces to keep the all shots smart album right below the Library one (which I dont like because of all the different preset albums it has that I never use - and when open just wastes space) For instance my Rejects Album would look like this " Rejects" It has 4 spaces before the R to keep is right below the All Shots, but above the smart folders for 30D and LX1, which have 3 spaces.

Matthew London
2007-07-24 09:17:06
Glad you addressed this. I'm still trying to figure out the 'best' way as I add more and more images to Aperture (25k and growing...)
Currently using:
and then putting smart folders one level above the year folders to organize particular subject by keywords.

Sometimes I'll make notes on the individual day project
ie: Project-20070725-Gpa in park

Advantages seem to be that the projects stay nice and small, and it uses Apertures strengths in keywording to organize longer term project using smart folders.But it is still taking some getting used to moving away from the previous structure of organizing the project by subject.

I'm VERY curious how others are dealing with this.

Rico San
2007-07-24 09:34:54
Quite the interesting article. For my own usage, I make Projects for each season, e.g., Summer 2007, Spring 2007, Winter 2006, etc. Inside each season, I'll have Albums for special events or individual shoots, and I have a Smart Album at the top for all my 4-star and above selects. That's the deal for most photos I shoot. For bigger shoots, I make a Project for them, like weddings or sporting events. Every photo gets batch keyworded, and the selects get captioned and titled, and most likely end up getting exported to Flickr/Facebook.

It works for me, and I like the system. I'd like to see how everyone else organizes their shots.

Jeff Hargrove
2007-07-24 10:48:14
This is a great topic that I have never really seen addressed in detail. More concret examples of how libraries are organized would be very useful! I organize mine first by category of shoot using folders: advertising, corporate, editorial, personal work. Then I divide each category into clients using folders and projects (for advertising I would have folder names like, Nike, HSBC, Visa, Ford, etc.) (Folders for clients with more than one shoot and projects for a client for whom I have only shot once.)

Client folders are divided into job names that describe the shoot. I will use albums to divide a project into different sections or parts of a shoot.

Looking forward to seeing more posts and methods of organizing libraries!

Jose Vazquez
2007-07-24 10:55:19
I am an amatuer who is starting to outgrow iPhoto. I just ordered a new MBPro with aperture installed. My first step was to migrate my existing structure to Aperture. I guess I view a project as a shoot, although in my head I think of "roll" instead of "shoot". Once I have moved everything I can start breaking some of my old rolls into separate shoots (something I could not do with iPhoto). Sometimes I would have unrelated pictures piled up in a single roll and I could not break them apart. I guess now I will be able to separate them. I plan on having top folders for years and projects(shoots, rolls) underneath that. The other possiblity is having folders on top of the year for owner... When my father comes and visits he shoots tons of pictures of my babies (its a grandparent thing). So withing a few weeks he will produce hundreds of pictures and inevitably I fall behing tagging all of those pictures and it takes me months to get back into my normal workflow. (tag, rate, ship to flickr, print book at the end of the year) I would like to sort of banish his pictures (or some of my friends) to a separate top level folder. Would it even make sense to push these pictures to a different library altogether? can you view two libraries at the same time? can you move pictures back and forth between libraries?? ARGHHH I have so much to learn yet!
2007-07-24 11:01:00
Joe Schorr has a great tutorial on how to migrate from iPhoto to Aperture. Check it out on the Apple Training Seminars. They are free, but you have to register. Just follow this link:

As for libraries, you can only view one library file at a time, but it is very easy to push whole Projects from one library to the other. just drag the Project to your desktop, or use the Export Projects function in the File menu, and then drag in or import the project into the new library. Using a blue folder to separate your feather's pics would be a great way of handling this on a single library, however....


2007-07-24 12:56:38
See now THIS is the kind of topic this blog is famous for!

As a commercial shooter, Projects tend to be shoot specific Clients with severals project running simultaneously get a blue folder. Projects like Annual reports are contained within one project file and are sorted by smart Albums.

When a project is done, billed and paid for, I export it to external storage and the remove it from my library.

2007-07-25 00:55:30
The idea of 'Projects' was confusing when I first moved to Aperture, since iPhoto just stuck all my photos in one giant container. So, initially, I created a Project named 'All Images' and dumped everything in there.

Which was slow and sluggish to search (several thousand images in one Project). Today, I have a pretty simple yet effective file structure to keep things organized, though not bloated:

All Projects [Folder]
..2004 [Folder]
....03 March [Project]
.......(2006-03-04) Barcelona [Album]
.......(2006-03-23) Rome [Album]

Basically, Projects are months and, within these, I have albums for specific events like travel, live music, parties, events, etc etc. The only real problem I find with this, is trips that span over 2 different months (ie, Hong Kong trip - from late July to early August). But I just stick the July photos in the July Projects, and the same with the August ones.

Oh, and I reaaaaly dislike how Aperture doesn't allow me to manually arrange my albums :}