Library Cards

by Steve Simon

Before Aperture, the missing piece of my workflow puzzle was a cataloging-archive system. Now that I'm transferring my archive into Aperture, I'm making important decisions about Aperture's Library system, and how best to use it. The good news is that whatever you decide now can be changed down the road. But if you're just getting started with Aperture, why not import your archive in a way that works best for you.

In Aperture, photos can be imported into your library as either "managed" or "referenced" images.
Both provide previews that can be used in a variety of exciting and practical ways. The difference? Managed master images are all located inside the Aperture Library package, which is located on the drive you designate to hold your library. (The drive needs to be big enough to accommodate your entire collection). A managed system means you have access to the "Vault" feature for easy one-click back ups. This is a good choice for those with smaller archives, especially when working with just one computer.


Importing Photos as "Managed" above; or "referenced", below.


Referenced images can be anywhere, on any drive, CD or DVD. With referenced images, the masters can live in a variety of different drives or on just one. Though Aperture keeps track of them, only the versions are backed up--not the masters--which you need to back up manually (with an easy drag and drop). You are not limited to a library with just one or the other, a system of both referenced and managed files may work for you, and I'll give an example later.

At first, I thought the managed system was a good idea for me, since I liked the idea of a one-click "Vault" back up. But in the end, I chose to reference my library for the flexibility it offers. A referenced system works best for my high volume shooting and my large and growing archive.

Managed and Referenced Images

Because Aperture previews are actually full-res JPEGs, they provide a big enough view that you can use them in a variety of ways: for slide shows, emailing, key-wording and adding detailed metadata for captioning, rating etc. With referenced files, you can perform all of these tasks even if the drive containing the masters is not connected. By making a copy of your Aperture Library for your laptop, you can take your entire library with you and do work on the images, yet take up very little room in your drive.

When you get back home, you can then replace the library on your desktop with the one from your laptop, and you're back in sync. This is a workflow that works for those who are often on the road with a laptop.

What you can't do with previews however, are most editing adjustments, (exposure, levels color etc.). This is because you need the master images to make these adjustments. The drive with the masters needs to be connected to do this work. This is one of the most important things to understand about Aperture's preview scheme. You can't do any image editing, only metadata changes.

In the preferences panel, If you plan on working with referenced images, it's a good idea to check "New projects automatically generate previews" so previews are always created, and save previews at a quality of 9 or higher, which give big enough jpeg previews to be used in high quality slideshows or when emailing proofs. If you have a particularly huge library, you may need to choose a lower-quality JPEG setting to fit all of the images onto your laptop.

Library Preference1.jpg


Library Preview.jpg

With my referenced library, I don't have the luxury of the one-click back up into a vault, but I can still keep my masters on one drive for easy back-up. I make sure I regularly back up my archive manually onto two big drives, one kept off-site. Time Machine, the backup system included in the next version of the Mac OS, will make this chore much easier.

What I can do that a library of mostlly managed files won't allow (it's just too big), is to make a copy of my Aperture Library to take my entire collection with me on the road in a MacBook, MacBook Pro or small bus-powered drive, since the previews take up relatively little space and fit comfortably in the built-in drive.

If you only use one computer and love the idea of one-touch back up using Aperture's vault system, then importing "managed" images into your Aperture library may work best for you. Or you may want to have a combination of mostly referenced images, with managed copies of only your five star portfolio images, backed up using the vault system in Aperture. Nothing is carved in stone, and you can change your mind and system later on--it will just take an investment of time.

I'm going to talk more about how best to approach Managed & Referenced Libraries and Vaults, including importing large archives in a single step--in my next post. In the meantime, let us know how you use Aperture Libraries. Do you keep more than one? Do you like your images managed, referenced or a combo of both? Dealing with our archives is crucial for the long term, and understanding how libraries function is important for strategizing how grow your library in a way that works for you best.

Kodak Moment

I found the You Tube video linked below at the website. This movie was first used internally within Kodak, but became so popular with employees that Kodak execs decided to let you and me see it. Frankly, it's refreshing to see a company as big as Kodak, have a sense of humor about itself while telling the world they are still a photographic force to be reckoned with.

See the video


2007-01-03 08:24:47
Interesting start, I'm looking at ways of using the new referenced Libraries within our design studio so we have a single point to look at all the images on our server. Have you any knowledge of this as to how to go about such a setup or the pitfalls that it will cause?
Steve Robertson
2007-01-03 14:23:32
I think I prefer to have a reference library at my home office and a managed library in the field on my MacBook Pro. In addition, I use 2 LaCie Mobile hard drives as vaults. The LaCie hard drives are small enough that I always keep one on my person in my camera bag and the other one in my other carryied-on bag. This way, I still have a copy of all my photos taken on the road if my laptop or one of my bags is stolen. I am also able to edit my photos taken on the road while still traveling and potentially work on metadata of my other photos that are referenced.