Moving your photos from Aperture to Lightroom is not difficult. Your adjustments won’t translate (workaround here), but moving to Lightroom certainly doesn’t mean losing control of your picture collection or sacrificing all the keywords and other metadata you’ve added in Aperture.
As background, I should say that I have never been a “real” Aperture user – I’ve always preferred Lightroom – but I had been at Aperture’s UK launch, owned each version since 1.0, used it for individual projects, and as an author of books on digital photography it’s my job to understand how to make best use of mainstream programs like Aperture – just in case a publisher comes knocking. So over the years I’ve been able to help many people move to Lightroom. After I initially wrote this article in 2008, it’s been updated a number of times, and some great comments (bottom of page) describe specific problems people encountered and provided valuable insights and corrections to my text.
While it’s hard to find the right balance of overview and detail to suit every reader, I hope it helps you.
In July 2014 Apple announced what had been obvious for 3 years – that they had ended developing Aperture (and iPhoto too).
If I were a happy Aperture user, I would certainly be unsettled by this announcement. Apple have promised a way for users to convert their Aperture and iPhoto libraries into a new “Photos” app which will be in 2015’s versions of OSX Yosemite and iOS, but I’m not sure I’d be convinced by that idea. Maybe I would have already decided to abandon the sinking ship?
At the very least I’d be thinking ahead, and the only obvious alternative is Lightroom:
- Aperture will keep running fine for a few years – so I wouldn’t move any faster than suits me.
- Lightroom isn’t the only escape route. CaptureOne is good, though its cataloguing isn’t on a par with Aperture or Lightroom.
- The best way to move your Aperture work to Lightroom is with Adobe’s new Import plug-in.
- You can also move your work with the old manual method.
The best method
Adobe’s Import plug-in is the best way to move your Aperture library to Lightroom
From Lightroom 5.7 the import tool is launched by the menu command is File > Plugin Extras > Import Aperture Library.
It’s worth quoting what it will bring into Lightroom:
- Star Ratings
- GPS Data
- Hidden Files
- Color Labels – as Lightroom keywords
- Stacks – as Lightroom keywords
- Face Tags – as Lightroom keywords
Other Aperture organisation become Lightroom equivalents:
- Projects, folders and albums will become Lightroom collection sets and collections
- Versions will become Lightroom virtual copies
But some Aperture work won’t come over:
- Aperture’s adjustments – but you can import previews (below)
- Smart albums
- Custom fields
The process is very simple and begins with the menu command File > Plug-in Extras > Import from Aperture Library. I strongly recommend you click the Options button:
Clicking Options brings up a second dialog box with one particularly important setting which is needed because of the two ways Aperture can store photos as “managed” or “referenced”:
- For “managed” photos, Lightroom’s Import from Aperture process will always make copies of those pictures and put them in new date-based Finder folders (YYYY/MM/YYYY-MM-DD). If you don’t like that structure or don’t have enough hard drive space, I recommend you use Aperture’s own Relocate Masters command to switch your “managed” photos to “referenced”. This means you can choose your own folder structure.
- For “referenced” photos in Aperture, the Import tool’s default behaviour is also to copy your photos into new date-based folders. Again, you may not want that. In this case, choose the option to leave the photos in their current folder locations.
I wouldn’t change the other options, apart from perhaps the top one. This imports small JPEG files showing how your pictures looked in Aperture.
Once you click Import on the main Import from Aperture dialog box, just wait while Lightroom copies any pictures and then proceeds to import your projects and albums into its Collections panel.
The Old Method
So what about the rest of this page?
Well, Adobe’s announcement might make the rest of this page redundant. You don’t have to use Adobe’s plug-in to import Aperture libraries, but I can’t imagine a good reason why you would follow the manual methods outlined below.
Preparation 1 – Get accustomed to Lightroom
Even if you don’t intend to jump away from Aperture right now, I would recommend that your first step should be to become more familiar with Lightroom. For instance, choose a date such as the end of the month and then import all subsequent pictures into Lightroom, continuing to use Aperture for earlier images. A few weeks or months down the track you’ll have more experience of Lightroom and moving your older pictures over from Aperture will be very much easier.
Preparation 2 – Ensure Aperture records your photos as “referenced”
Lightroom only works with files in regular Finder folders. So it’s very important to make sure that in Aperture all your photos are “referenced”, that is in normal Finder folders rather than “managed” inside the Aperture library.
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 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….
Preparation 3 – Keyword Hierarchy
It’s quite easy to translate an Aperture keyword hierarchy – you just need to do it before importing the pictures into Lightroom.
- Display Aperture’s Keyword panel and click Export
- Save the file onto your desktop
- Open Lightroom and in Library, run the menu command Metadata > Import Keywords
Your Aperture keyword hierarchy should now be exactly reproduced in Lightroom.
When you start importing the pictures into Lightroom, it will match their keywords to the hierarchy you’ve just imported.
The one problem will be where the same keyword occurs more than once in the hierarchy. For instance, in Aperture the keyword “Packhorse Bridge” may be under “Lake District > Valleys” and also under “Architecture Bridges”. Unless I’ve missed something, Aperture doesn’t save this information into the images and Lightroom can’t work out which keyword to apply and instead creates a new top level keyword. But this is a detail that will only affect a few users – just be aware of the issue.
Preparation 4 – Other Problem Metadata
Although Aperture won’t export all its metadata, there are ways around it:
- Colour labels – the easiest way is to select all the files with each colour labels, add the colour as a keyword, then use that keyword to reapply the labels in Lightroom.
- Flags – ditto
- Custom fields. Lightroom doesn’t allow you to create your own custom fields (workaround here) and you’re probably going to need to run an AppleScript inside Aperture to copy custom field values to standard IPTC fields. The obvious one would be keywords, and in general Lightroom users tend to use keywords for data that that Aperture users often store in custom fields. This article discusses the issue and there’s a script here which could be adapted to copy from custom fields.
- GPS co-ordinates applied in Aperture – see this workaround
- Faces – I think the best method seems to be this script to add Aperture face names as keywords
I am no AppleScript expert but I have an script which handles the colour labels and the flags. If you want to try it at your own risk, let me know, but the manual methods do work.
Preparation 5 – Backup and validate your Aperture libraries and your pictures
Things can go wrong whenever you move between any systems. You may misunderstand something, do something genuinely stupid (we all do!), or you might run into a hardware problem such as lack of disc space. It’s always easier to proceed with a migration if you are confident that you can just go back to square one and start all over again, having done no harm.
That means having everything well backed up, so I recommend you should run a complete backup of your Aperture library and your pictures.
Also, backup is no good if you don’t validate it or know how to recover files after a problem. So take the opportunity to make sure everything is indeed being backed up, and try restoring some files to prove you know how to use that part of your backup program.
Aperture keywords and other IPTC metadata
Lightroom can read your Aperture keywords and other metadata and you should be able to transfer almost everything else such as captions, titles, ratings etc. There are exceptions such as colour labels, custom fields, and GPS co-ordinates applied in Aperture for which workarounds are needed.
Essentially you have two alternative ways to get metadata out of Aperture, and you should think through both of them before proceeding.
Also keep in mind you need to handle raw files differently from JPEG, DNG, TIF and PSD files as they shouldn’t usually have xmp sidecars.
Method 1 – Metadata > Write IPTC to Originals (Masters)
This is the more straightforward method though is only available in Aperture 3. You just select the pictures and choose the command Metadata > Write IPTC to Master command. This writes the metadata directly into the masters, and Lightroom will read it when you import the files.
You should use this method for non-proprietary file format such as JPEG, DNG, and TIF and also for PSD files.
You may also use it for proprietary raw files if you wish, and if you are certain you do have reliable backups of all those files. I urge some caution because these pictures are in proprietary file formats, which means more danger of Write IPTC to Originals (Masters) causing some kind of minor but very-annoying file corruption. In fact, in Aperture’s early days Apple had advertised that it never touched your raw files. On the other hand, if you have your pictures properly backed up there probably isn’t 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 for raw files, but it does require much more disc space as it creates copies of your master files. This is essentially what the Aperture Exporter app does.
Just select the pictures and choose File > Export > Originals (Masters).
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.
Adjustments made in Aperture do not convert into Lightroom adjustments – and vice versa – because the adjustment sliders are too different or have no equivalents in the other program.
If you want to continue to output pictures precisely as they were in Aperture, you’ve two alternatives:
- Keep Aperture on your computer and open it whenever you need to reprint pictures
- Export versions in TIF or JPEG from Aperture
If you use option 2, it probably makes sense to find all your adjusted images by creating a smart album. In Aperture’s Library section, select Photos, then File > New Smart Album and click Add Rule. Choose Adjustments and “are applied”.
Import into Lightroom
Your pictures are now in regular folders and have as much IPTC metadata as we can rescue from Aperture. You are now ready to import the pictures into Lightroom, a process that’s very similar to importing files into Aperture in referenced mode or “in their original location”.
You should already understand Lightroom’s Import dialog box if you followed my earlier advice to become accustomed to Lightroom. So I’ll make a couple of points:
- I like to drag a folder from Finder and drop it in Lightroom’s grid. This opens Lightroom’s Import dialog box and automatically sets the source to the folder you’ve just dropped.
- Make sure you choose “Add” in LR’s Import dialog. This leaves the files in their original location and is most helpful if you chose method 1 since it leaves the files where Aperture knows they are, just in case you still 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 that has happened. Have you not imported some folders into Lightroom? Have some file types failed to import?
So it’s not quite as difficult to escape from Aperture as you might have feared – Apple, surprisingly for them, made it rather easy.