Article updated 16 July 2014

Introduction

First I should confess that I have never been a “real” Aperture user as I’ve always preferred Lightroom. However, I have owned Aperture since version 1.0 and used it for individual projects, and I like to understand how programs work in practice, see how far I can stretch them, and look for their nuances. Over the years I’ve helped people move over to Lightroom and initially wrote this article back in 2008, since when it’s been updated a number of times. It’s hard to find the right balance of overview and detail to suit every reader, but I hope it helps you.

I should also thank the people who have commented and draw your attention to the specific problems they encountered and their valuable insights – and corrections to my text.

Moving your photos from Aperture to Lightroom is not difficult. Your adjustments won’t translate (see 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. It just requires a little bit of thought and care. But where do you begin?

Aperture’s Demise

An Aperture-like project structure in Lightroom

An Aperture-like project structure in Lightroom – see this post


In July 2014, after Aperture development had already been frozen for 3 years, came the announcement that Apple had stopped developing Aperture and iPhoto. Instead they will provide a mechanism for users to import their libraries into a new Photos app which will be in next year’s Yosemite version of OSX.

I’m not sure what I would do if I were happy with Aperture. I think I might well wait and see if Photos is any good – but I’d be hugely unsettled by the announcement and maybe I would be upping sticks already. After all, it’s wishful thinking to imagine that Photos is going to provide an equivalent experience – you just have to “follow the money”. Unlike Aperture in its early days this new iPhoto won’t recover its investment by winning new customers for Apple hardware, and as Apple haven’t been investing in Aperture for 3 years why would they give Photos the level of tools required by the Lr/Aperture type of user? Financially it makes no sense. Photos may well allow plug-ins to fill in the gaps, but how many plugins will one need? And how soon will you wish you were back in 2005 when, if you recall, Apple rightly recognised that photographers didn’t really want their workflow to consist of a string of utilities but wanted it to be coherent and integrated in a single “pro” program? Maybe it will all work out, but maybe not.

Another reason for waiting is that Adobe haven’t said much yet, and maybe they will make the conversion process easier. Not many people recall that after LR4′s release a publisher mistakenly put online a book excerpt which described a new feature in Lightroom 4 – an import tool which converted Aperture and iPhoto libraries.  In fact the tool never made it into Lr4′s final release, but Aperture and iPhoto haven’t changed much since then and it would now seem less controversial to revive it. I think you will also see third party apps which make the preparation steps easier. So I wouldn’t move any faster than suits me.

Preparation

Preparation 1 – Get accustomed to Lightroom

Even if you 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. With a little more experience of Lightroom, moving your older pictures from Aperture will be much easier.

Preparation 2 – Ensure Aperture records your photos as “referenced”

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

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

keywords

If you use Aperture keyword hierarchy, it’s easy to transfer this to Lightroom

It’s quite easy to translate an Aperture keyword hierarchy – you just need to do it before importing the pictures into Lightroom.

  1. Display Aperture’s Keyword panel and click Export
  2. Save the file onto your desktop
  3. 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 – ditto. In general Lightroom users tend to use keywords for more than you would in Aperture because Lightroom doesn’t allow you to create your own custom fields (workaround here). On the other hand, it allows you to set any keyword so it won’t export.
  • GPS co-ordinates applied in Aperture – see this workaround

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

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 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)

Aperture 3′s menu command “Write IPTC to Master” writes keywords and other metadata directly into your photos. You should use this method for JPEG, DNG, TIF and PSD files, and can use it for raw files if you wish.

Aperture 3 has the more straightforward method. You should use this method for JPEG, DNG, TIF and PSD files, and you may also use it for raw files if you wish.

You just select all the pictures and choose the command Metadata > Write IPTC to Master  command.

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 altered your raw files, so this menu command is an about-turn. On the other hand, if you have your pictures properly backed up there probably isn’t much risk.

Method 2 – File > Export > Originals (Masters)

File > Export Originals (Masters) allows you to preserve Aperture projects as a folder structure and lets you carry your keywords and other metadata over to Lightroom

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.

Aperture adjustments

versions

Identify adjusted images by using a smart album.

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:

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

If you use option 2, it probably makes sense to

it’s easy to find all your adjusted image 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

import

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?

Conclusion

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