Using Smart Albums for Wedding Photography Projects

by Bakari Chavanu

Since this is my first blog entry for Inside Aperture, I thought I'd use a couple of paragraphs to introduce myself to readers of this site, and to also share a little about how I'm using Aperture's Smart Album feature.

I was elated when Derrick Story invited me to blog for Inside Apertue--after he read and accepted an Aperture product review I wrote. Though I've been blogging and writing reviews for for the last couple of years, I especially look forward to writing for Inside Aperture mainly because of what I'm learning as a digital wedding photographer who is developing his workflow using Aperture.

I just started my wedding and event photography business last Summer. Getting into this business at this time seems just about right simply because of the ways digital photography has enhanced and seems to be reshaping the entire direction of the professional photography industry. I'm no where near where I would like to be as a photographer, but I'm so inspired and jazzed about all that I'm learning in this era of digital photography.

Like some of you, I've been working with both Adobe's Lightroom and Apple's Aperture, but choosing to make Aperture my primary digital photo management and processing work horse was easy. For one, I've been a die hard Mac user for over 20 years; and two, I just find Aperture's features and interface so much better for wedding photography.

Using Smart Albums in Wedding Photography
Being an avid user of Apple's iPhoto since it was introduced (I still have my dog eared copy of the first edition of Derrick Stories Missing Manual book for iPhoto which introduced me to digital photo management) is where I first started using the Smart Albums feature. I now make the same Smart Album feature the center of my workflow in Aperture. Lightroom lacks this feature, and to me it's one of several reasons I mostly use Aperture.

I set up Smart Albums primarily based on the keywords I use for my wedding projects. Apple had wedding photographers in mind when it built the program because a full list of keywords for wedding projects comes installed with the software. So it was simple for me to add and delete what I needed to the list and get rolling.

Duplicating Smart Albums
Using keywords to set up Smart Albums can take a little time, but the trick to creating several of them is to control click on the first Smart Album you make and set up for a project and select Duplicate Smart Album. From there, you just change the parameters for each duplicated Smart Album and give each of them a title.

It would be useful to me if the next version of Aperture included a way to configure a set of prefigured Smart Albums for each project so they don't have to be newly created each time.

But nevertheless, Smart Albums are big time savers. In my workflow, I can change the keywords and ratings for various digital files, and the Smart Albums automatically update based on those changes. So my 5 star Smart Album for each project constantly gets updated without me having to drag new files into it.

With Smart Albums, I can make sure I don't have a bunch of duplicate files being exported out the program. Additionally, I can use the Smart Albums to study the types of photos I'm taking. If want to see, for example, what kinds of photos I'm getting with my favorite Canon 85mm lens, I just check the Smart Album I created to reflect photos taken with that lens. I can also study how my photos are looking based on say that ISO I was using.

Tucking away a project collection of Smart Albums in a folder keeps my Project Panel less crowded and easier to access.

In future entries I will share more from what I'm learning, but I'm also looking forward to exchanges with other photographers and hearing about your workflow and challenges with Aperture.


2007-05-24 01:35:34
"For one, I've been a die hard Mac user for over 20 years;"
Hm, that's one of the weakest reasons for choosing the program. But hey, I won't touch anything written by people from Liverpool....

"and two, I just find Aperture's features and interface so much better for wedding photography."
I think you overstate the case of Aperture being better for wedding work. For instance, the lack of background processing makes it slower to send hundreds of images to print/export and then carry on with the next task, eg preparing b&w versions of the whole shoot.

However, smart albums are a very valuable feature for smart users. Their absence dumbs down Lightroom.

2007-05-24 06:56:27
Welcome to Inside Aperture. You have some great shots on your web site...

Quick question - how do you set up a smart album for a lens? I thought Aperture didn't collect that EXIF data yet.

2007-05-24 07:56:14
galactusofmyth, pull up the settings for a Smart Album and click on the + button. In the drop down menu, select EXIF. You will get another drop down button that includes settings for lens choices.
2007-05-24 08:06:23
Hey Gio, what can I say. I'm pretty simple guy when it comes to computers and software. So many of Apertures settings and features of course work like Apple's other programs that I just feel right at home with the program.

I'm not yet printing my own photos from Aperture, and I'm still developing my understanding of the whole printing process, but other than that I just find that the more non-linear approach of Aperture is better than what you find in Lightroom.

I really like the design and preset features of LR, but my workflow slows down in that program because I feel like I have to work in a linear fashion--from Browser to Developer, back to Browswer. And again, the folder/album structure in LR is simply archaic. Photoshop CS3 seems to rock, and I even Adobe Camera Raw is well improved, but for just churning out a thousand+ wedding photos, Aperture gets the job done.

2007-05-24 23:55:56
Linear's great when you're trying to get a job done and not jumping round and tweaking whatever catches your eye. After all, you wouldn't expect the guy at McDonalds to swap role whenever he feels like a change, would you? One guy prepares, another flips the burgers, a third takes the cash. Combine linear with background processing and you've got a much faster workflow and throughput.

As for the "archaic" (see * below) folder/album structure, exposing the folders is Adobe listening to its customers' demands during the beta period. This new paradigm stuff, which Adobe also spouted, fools those who've only come from folder-oriented raw processing programs and haven't had any DAM experience. If you have that discipline, then you always plan for things possibly going belly up, and for the inevitable day when you switch your DAM program - solid folder structure and filenaming conventions are going to get you out of trouble. It is inexcusable that LR has no smart albums (its Collections are flexible enough to function as Aperture's projects, unsmart albums or unsmart web albums), and some weak-minded LR users will go on using folders when they would be better off using metadata properly, but Adobe's exposure of folders lets people work the way they want. I never let Apple believers get away with jam-tomorrow arguments, but Adobe will add smart albums - it's a no brainer. And don't defend Apple too much either. Just like 1.5 abandoned only-managed import, Apple will backflip and expose folders. Import folders as projects is a clue. Just watch.


* When you consider how Aperture handles XMP metadata, don't be too liberal spraying around the word "archaic"

2007-05-25 09:15:29
Thanks for the response. I am still not seeing it though. Maybe you could walk us through an example using a 70-200 f2.8 as an example? I can see how to set it up for a prime lens (searching by, say, 85mm focal length), but even that would give back "errors" if I used a zoom at a 85mm focal length. In the Aperture forums, one of the big requests is for something akin to what is in Lightroom, as outlined in the Inside Lightroom blog (look at the diagram):

That gets you EXIF data for a specific lens, such as a 70-200, or a 85mm 1.8. I only see Lens minimum (mm) and Lens maximum (mm) as search queries for Aperture. Am I missing something still?

2007-05-25 09:17:13
Gio, I think it's important to remember that programs like Aperture have to be flexiable enough to address the needs of many types of users. It's not that I'm a diehard Apple fan, but I just know what works for me at a particular time. I'm not afraid to explore other options and learn what's out there. But for me right now, Aperture is doing the job I need. I like working in a non-linear fashion with my photos. And I like automation features when the work well and get the job done. That doesn't say I won't change my mind later and try out something else.

But in the early stages of beta Lightroom, I suggested and questioned why there was no Smart Album features. When I posted this question on the Adobe discussion board, one of the moderators didn't seem to even know what I was talking about. I felt and still feel that Smart Folders are essential to the photo management and processing workflow. However, I do know that photographers have different needs and purposes, so a more dedicated folder structures may be necessary, which is an option in Aperture.

What Apple really needs to focus on, IMHO, is getting some better speed in Aperture and not at the expense of having a high priced, high performing computer like the MacPro. Aperture should not be geared just to professionals, but also serious amatures who do and will spend their money on a program like this.

Aperture needs to remain a dedicated image processing and managent program for Apple users and it needs to have continuous development so that works with smoothly with other applications.

As for your comment about Aperture's XMP metadata featrues, I need to look into that more. Again, my needs have been very basic so far, but I realize that there are many other photographers out there who require something more and different.

So let me ask you, which program, Aperture or LR, are you primarily using, and why?

2007-05-25 09:46:15
galactusofmyth, yeah, it appears that the specific request you have is not there in Aperture, or at least I can't address it based on my use of the program. You are limited to max. and min. focal lengths.

However, one work around may be, I think, is to view photos in the browser using the list view. Do a Command-J and in the List View option change one of the sets to Photo Info- EXIF. With that view you will get the various focal lengths of each shot. From there, you can view particular focal lengths in groups.

Let me know if that helps.

2007-05-25 13:07:40

I worked with Aperture (my business partner is a true Mac fanboy) until LR beta 4, but since then it's LR all the way. The key reason is speed of processing multiple big jobs because of background processing. We do 4/5 800 frame jobs a week in lots of artificial lighting (opera/classical work) plus portraits and weekend weddings. Once a job's on its way to web / export / print, we can't afford the downtime of waiting for it to finish. Even without that lag, LR does these output jobs in 2/3 of the time that it takes Aperture.

Just to explain my comment about XMP, Aperture won't read it in sidecar files or if it's embedded. It only writes it if you export or duplicate the masters. I find it incredible that a program designed after XMP should fail to recognize it, especially when the product manager's background was with Extensis Portfolio which has excellent (though patchy) XMP support. For instance, we use it to add job, client, and billing numbers to finished images - using Adobe File Info panels and our own namespace and flow this into our job accounting. For our arts archive, LR reads and preserves all this information - Aperture hoses it.

I'm very critical of the lack of smart albums in LR. As I said, it makes LR feel really dumbed down (we loved them in Portfolio 8 before we switched over to iView) and frankly not professional. In Aperture, we used them you described but something I don't think you said was using them for versions - my partner's wedding shoots have colour, b&w, and often sickly-sweet sepia versions of every shot. So we used smart albums extensively. These tools are databases - how hard is it to let users write queries?

You know, I'm not sure about wanting Aperture to have more speed. That has been getting better, and machines are getting faster. It's the background processing that's the big delay and which needs fixing. Second, the lift and stamp is light years slower than LR's auto sync mode - in Develop you Cmd-click the Sync button. But IMO what Apple really should be doing is bringing out a PC version - after all, Photoshop sales are 60:40 PC:Mac, which is shifting as new serious/amateur photographers are overwhelmingly PC, Apple need economies of scale (eg to support more camera models), and Aperture would hook into a far bigger developer environment for plug ins, web templates, books etc (the plist architecture is cross platform enough).