Learning to Respect the Light Table

by Ben Long

Most Aperture users I know don't pay a lot of attention to the Light Table. I was this way once. I thought it was a silly feature for Apple to have devoted engineering resources to, when they could have been building me localized editing tools, or vignette correction, or a plug-in architecture. I still want those things, of course, but I'm now realizing that the Light Table is a very flexible tool that more Aperture users might consider trying.

Most of us see the Light Table and think "oh, I get it, it's a way that I can shuffle images around more interactively, so that I can find a flow or narrative in my shoot." It can definitely do that, and it's an excellent tool for those tasks. Similarly, it's great for roughing out page layouts, book designs, or gallery layouts, or any other type of presentation where you need to do more than simply sequence images. For times when size and position matters, the Light Table is very handy.

But there's another use for the Light Table, one made possible by Aperture's non-modal architecture: the Light Table is a great replacement for the Browser pane.

Most of us organize our images in the Browser pane - sometimes referred to as the Grid view. We change image order and use the Browser pane to select the images that we want to edit. But you can just as easily perform these same tasks with a Light Table, but with more free-form flexibility.

For example, while the Browser pane makes me view all of my images as a grid, the Light Table gives me more flxible options. For example, let's say I want to sort through a bunch of Death Valley images, to find the ones I like. In this case, I might take all my sand dune images and heap them into a pile ont the Light Table, and throw all of the stormy images into another pile. As I work, sorting images here and there, I get a much more "organic" organization scheme.


With my images roughly organized into piles, I can now go work through each pile. Let's start with the sand dune images. I select all of the sand dune pictures, and right click to get a context menu:


I select Arrange, and Aperture automatically arranges the images into a neat grid on the Light Table, so that I can easily see each one.


Now I can zoom in on those images, resize them, re-arrange them, and work with them in the normal Light Table manner.

But I can also do all of the normal operations that I would perform in the Browser. I can activate the Loupe to view close-ups of my images, I can add ratings and metadata, and I can do all of this while also moving my images around with all of the freeform flexibility of the Light Table. If I want to edit an image, I have two options: I can hit F to go into Full Screen mode, or I can click the Show Viewer for This Browser button, (located at the top of the Browser pane) which swaps out the Light Table view with a normal Viewer pane.


In addition to all of the normal rating and keywording tools, the Light Table provides you with an additional way of sorting your images while you look for your selects. As you sort through the images on the table, you can remove images that you don't like by selecting them and clicking the Put Back button, or pressing Shift-P. This removes the image from the Light Table, allowing you to easily filter your images down to just your selects.

So, even if you have no need for the layout and sizing options provided by the Light Table, give it a try as a Browser replacement. You may find that the more flexible organizing options it provides are a better alternative to the rigidity of the Browser pane.


Michael Jensen
2007-06-12 07:02:38
There are certain projects whereby the Light Table is more conducive to workflow than the Browser Pane. I can only add that I use the Light Table to layout stories/slideshows to insure that a particular sequence is correct; but for those of us that teach photography to high school students the Light Table allows my students to do storyboards, comparison, and critiques. Thanks Ben for highlighting an Aperture feature that I think is a powerful tool.