Moving your workflow from Aperture to Lightroom is not difficult, and it doesn’t mean losing all the keywords and other metadata you’ve entered in Aperture. It just requires a little bit of thought and care.

But where do you begin?


Whenever you move data from one system to another, it’s a lot easier to proceed if you’re confident that you can always get back to your starting point.

That depends on having everything well backed up, so run a complete backup of your Aperture library and pictures.

A backup is only as good as your ability to restore the data. So what better time to review both tasks and confirm that your work is as safe as you thought it was?

Preparation in Aperture

Lightroom only works with files in regular folders. So first make sure that in Aperture all your photos are “referenced”, not “managed”, that is in normal Finder folders rather than hidden inside the Aperture library or vaults.

In Aperture, use File > Relocate Masters to ensure all files are in regular Finder folders

Aperture’s File > Relocate Originals (“Masters” in earlier versions of Aperture) is the menu command to move any managed files from the Aperture library or vault and put them into regular folders.

Choose a folder in Pictures or somewhere sensible, and then tell Aperture how it should create subfolders.

If you want  your Aperture project structure to be reflected in the new folder structure, or if you want a date-based folder structure, Relocate Originals / Masters has suitable options.

Once the files are in regular Finder folders, you can import them into Lightroom. But hold on a bit….

Aperture adjustments, keywords and other metadata

Adjustments made in Aperture do not convert into Lightroom adjustments – and vice versa. This is mainly because the adjustment sliders are too different or have no equivalents in the other program. If you want to keep the ability to output pictures precisely as they were in Aperture, you’ve two alternatives:

  1. Keep Aperture on your computer and open it whenever you need to reprint pictures
  2. Export versions in TIF or JPEG from Aperture

Lightroom can’t read Aperture’s adjustments, but it’s important to know all your Aperture work is not lost and that your keywords and other metadata or information  are not trapped in Aperture. Keywords, ratings and other metadata are covered by the industry standard IPTC. While this doesn’t cover everything (eg colour labels, custom fields), you should be able to transfer almost everything else.

Alternative approaches

Essentially you’ve two alternative ways to get keywords and other IPTC information out of Aperture, and you should think through both of them before proceeding.

Method 1 – Metadata > Write IPTC to Originals (Masters)

Aperture 3′s menu command “Write IPTC to Master” writes keywords and other metadata directly into your raw files. It can be good, but think

The more straightforward method is to select all the pictures in Aperture 3 and choose the command Metadata > Write IPTC to Master  command (for Aperture 2 see method 2). It seems to include all IPTC metadata but not any  GPS data added in Aperture (technically this isn’t IPTC data).

This writes the metadata directly into the masters, even if they are proprietary raw files. So you should ask yourself if you think it is a good idea to write directly to file formats which are not publicly-documented? Certainly in Aperture’s early days Apple advertised that it never changed your raw files….

On the other hand, if you have your pictures properly backed up there probably isn’t too much risk.

Method 2 – File > Export > Originals (Masters)

An alternative method can be used in Aperture 2 or 3. It is the safer method, and is generally the way I recommend, but it does require much more disc space as it creates copies of your master files. It does include GPS data.

Just select the pictures and choose File > Export > Originals (Masters).

File > Export Masters allows you to preserve Aperture projects in your folder structure and lets you carry your keywords and other metadata over to Lightroom

You can make the export into new Finder folders which match your Aperture project structure – that’s the Subfolder setting.

In Metadata you should choose the option to write IPTC XMP sidecar files. These files will go into the folders next to the images and allow Lightroom to read the keywords and other metadata that you entered in Aperture. So it avoids the need for Aperture to write the metadata directly into proprietary raw files.

Import into Lightroom

Now you can register or “import” the pictures into Lightroom. Make sure you choose “Add” in LR’s Import dialog. This is more helpful if you chose option 1 because it leaves the files where Aperture knows they are, just in case you later need to use Aperture for something.

Also, perform a careful review of what you’ve imported into Lightroom. For example, does Lightroom now show the same number of master files as Aperture contained? If there’s a difference, find out why. Have you not imported some folders into Lightroom? Have some file types failed to import?

I suggest leaving the new “ex-Aperture” folder structure (the one created by Relocate Originals  / Masters) exactly as it is, and never renaming or moving any of the files or folders that are in there. This makes it easy to go back to Aperture whenever you want to reprint one of these pictures with their Aperture adjustments. With new pictures, put them into a new folder structure – I’d recommend simply using Lightroom’s default date-based system. So in the end all your work would be under a couple of top-level folders – “ex-Aperture” and “Photos”.

So it’s not quite as difficult to escape from Aperture as you might have feared – surprisingly for Apple, they made it rather easy.