Edited on 27/07/2009

So, I seem to be suffering the bane of the modern digital photography enthusiast. I’m buried in a digital avalanche of my own photos. I’ve been lucky enough in the last year to have virtually free breaks in Sydney and Hong Kong off the back of business travel to Fiji and these alone generated around 1200 photos on top of the hundreds I’d already taken on breaks in Rome and London. So, I started to investigate how modern photographers manage their own pretty and colourful (though sometimes also in black and white) version of information overload. I discovered two things:

  • I needed something called a workflow
  • I’ve actually already bought one of the two industry standard packages (yes, as in used by the pros), didn’t really understand it, didn’t trust it and decided I didn’t like it.

The package in question is Aperture and is favoured by many Mac users (it’s only available on the Mac). The alternative is Adobe Lightroom and it is the real industry standard, outselling Aperture by a wide margin. Both do the same thing and had I bought Lightroom instead of Aperture, I would have misunderstood, distrusted and disliked it for all the same reason. Why is this? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  • My background is in software and it is quite natural for anyone with a background in software to mistrust software on general principle
  • If you don’t understand what they are and why your using them, both package will attempt to conquer and subjugate your PC or Mac, taking all your photos and hide them in their very own monolithic über fascist all singing all dancing database (though to be fair Aperture and I suspect also Lightroom have options use the photos where they are)
  • Neither package is a photo editing package per se (though both do all the main adjustments and Lightroom goes further allowing the selection and adjustment of regions of a photo)
  • On the surface, Aperture at least is very raw centric, presumably on the assumption that real pros (read real men) shoot raw.

Now, that last point is quite a poor assumption. Plenty of professional photographers work at getting the exposure and all other settings right while their eye is glued to a view finder, thereby saving time slaving over a hot PC. Fortunately, as I got under the surface of Aperture, a lot of my problems with it went away (with the exception of my mistrust of software in general):

  • Firstly, Aperture imports photos into its monolithic über fascist all singing all dancing database
  • Even inside the database, all edits to photos are none destructive
  • Options for backup, archiving, copying between databases, merging databases and so on
  • It has a feature called ranking (more of which later)
  • Some really nice (albeit sometimes really expensive) plugins for everything from tone curves to sharpening
  • Lots of free plugins that enable to Aperture to publish any selection of photos to anything and everything ranging from Getty Images all the way down to Facebook (yes, Facebook)
  • It automatically links into Mobile Me to create albums (in turn those Albums can be published to a web page using iWeb)

So, with all these apparent advantages in mind, lets take a look at the actual workflow itself:

Step 1: Ranking

Ranking is the most important part of the process!

  1. Transfer all the photos to the MyPhotos directory on my Lacie “Eye of Sauron” 1TB external disk. This is the directory I will back up to ensure I always have access to photos outside of the database.
  2. Import them into Aperture and Aperture project
  3. Go through each picture and rank to the following rules:
  • Firstly, nothing complex; everything is ranked or not and all ranked photos are equal
  • If the photo is a keeper and is near as dammit perfect out of the camera, I create a new version from the Master JPEG in the project and give the JPEG a ranking of three stars
  • If the photo is a keeper but could do with the extra latitude that raw gives me, I give it four stars
  • If the photo is a keeper and is near as dammit perfect out of the camera but requires cropping or straightening, I create a new version from the Master JPEG and give it five stars

Step 2: Processing Ranked Selections

  1. Filter on five stars
  2. For each five star photos, crop, straighten or both and then set rank to three stars
  3. Filter on four stars
  4. For each four star photo, perform raw and none raw edits (including cropping and straightening if necessary) and set to two stars
  5. Filter on three stars
  6. Select all those three star photos I want to apply my standard adjustments to (contrast +6, definition +30, saturation +0.6, vibrancy +15 and a little sharpening) and apply my adjustments to all at once.
  7. Quick scan for any that need a shadow, highlight or levels adjustment and perform this.
  8. Fliter on two stars or above
  9. Select to export (I have Flickr and Smugmug plugins set up plus I usually create a Mobile Me gallery)
  10. And that’s all there really is to it. There are other things I’ve not looked at yet. I must sort out my backup strategy.

I suspect Lightroom can do pretty much all of this but I’ve not really played with it in detail.


What about alternatives to Aperture and Lightroom? Well these are thin on the ground:

If you’re a JPEG shooter, the best of the the bunch is in my opinion Lightraft’s Aurora. I had a play with this today and it includes ranking, filtering and publishing to the major photo sites including Flickr, Smugmug and Facebook:

For free we have Google’s Picassa. I’ve had a play with this and it seems reasonable for the money but I don’t really think of it as a workflow package:

Finally, we have Bluemarine which is ambitious but the authors admit it is very much not ready for the big time at this point


~ by jasonhindle on July 26, 2009.


  1. […] sorting through thousands of photos. I finally found digital work flow that seems to work for me: have a recommendation for a reliable/affordable external hard drive? Need a couple for […]

    • I don’t think there are any particularly poor portable HDs out there. Verbatims are generally cheaper – I have one of these and it performs reasonably well.

  2. I’m using ACDSee Pro3 and I’m very pleased with it. I had ACDSee Pro2 (and then the free Pro2.5 upgrade) and was never entirely pleased with them. I hesitated to pay for the upgrade to Pro3, but when they finally came out with RAW support for the E-620 and I read multiple reports saying that Pro3 was significantly better than Pro2.5, I took the plunge. Personally, I imagine this is an application that can do everything that 99% of the photographing public needs…from DAM to editing.

    I think it would be worth consideration for your readers looking for an application that can help them manage the digital image collection.

  3. Hi Joe,

    Sorry for the time I took to approve and respond to your comment. First, thanks for the recommendation. I’m in the process of looking into alternative RAW converters because I’m very concerned about Apple’s commitment to cameras by anyone other than Canon or Nikon! Your E-620, for example, is not supported by Apple even though it’s probably less than a day’s work to take what they’ve done for the E-30 and modify it to work with the E-620 (they are very similar). This is a pity because for the E-30, the profile they’ve created is very closely aligned with what you see from the JPEG engine (yep, I can get the advantages of RAW with and Olympus colours with zero effort).

    As I may well be getting an E-P2 in the near future, I’ll certainly take a look at ACDSee.


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