Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fun and Despair with Aperture 3

Was sniffing around the Mac App store, and I noticed that Aperture 3 is now just $19.99 (a huge price drop from $60 or something). I thought it would be a good time to revisit my love-hate relationship with Aperture 3.

I wrote a review for Aperture 3 for late last year. Since then, I've had much more time with Aperture 3. I also have much more to say about Apple's pro photo editing/management software now that I've spent some extended time with it.

I wish I could say that I've never regretted choosing Aperture 3 instead of Adobe Lightroom, but that would just be untrue. There are days when I contemplate getting Lightroom instead, but mostly, Aperture 3 has helped me to discover a whole new side to photography -- at least on days when Aperture isn't causing me pain.

The Fun

There are a lot of things to love about Aperture 3. First off, I have to mention the non-destructive photo editing, which I'm crazy about. Now you don't have to save multiple versions of your photos or worry about deleting or overwriting your original. You can fiddle around all you want with your photos and Aperture never erases the original version. This is a drastically different way of doing things, and it's gangbusters.

Notice the junk on the table.

Like magic it's gone! Aperture 3 has some functions that overlap with Photoshop, but these are all done on non-destructive layers. You can always revert to the original "master" photo.

The downside is this makes Aperture processor-heavy. It's constantly working things out on the fly, and my humble MacBook struggles to keep up. This is a power-hungry application, and if you plan to use it, you better have a fast computer.

Transferring from iPhoto

This was an absolute breeze. I copied my entire library to Aperture and left my iPhoto library intact, just in case. You can also choose to nuke your iPhoto library if you swing that way. Once moved in to Aperture, any iPhoto user will feel right at home. The two programs have a lot in common.

Presets, presets, presets!

I stumbled onto a bunch of downloadable Aperture presets made by other users. You can download some of these for free, though there are also a lot that ask you for money. The presets are quite useful until you figure out what you're actually doing when you're mucking about with the sliders.

Downloaded a free preset called "Dust Storm." I love the emotion in this pic!

Straight to Facebook

Just like iPhoto, you can upload albums straight to Facebook. It's a simple little function, but one that I found myself using a lot.

My original Facebook profile pic, shot using Olympus' in-camera Art Filters, hence the saturated colors.

Instagram, eat your heart out. I made it look all vintage.

It's all about the RAW baby

The real power of this piece of software lies in RAW manipulation. I'm only starting to discover what manipulating the RAW files can do for my photos. Yes, months later and I've barely scratched the surface. Suffice it to say, I have a lot to learn, but I'm loving what I've learned so far…

Shot this in RAW and managed to squeeze out a lot more detail from the buildings below.

The Despair

Sluggish. Need Liquid Sosa

I always noticed that Aperture was doing A LOT of work in the background. So here's some advice: Turn off Faces and Places as soon as you can. Faces are a pain when it's sucking up all of your computer's resources, and it's not even all that accurate. I guess it's a cute feature to have, but think about it now, you can live without it.  Places is, likewise, kind of pointless. Most cameras don't even have GPS. A lot of phones have GPS, but then you'll end up with two sets of photos: crappy, geo-tagged photos from your phone and high quality photos with no geo-tagging whatsoever. I figured it's all or nothing and decided to shut off the feature.

Even with these features shut off, you'll often find Aperture spontaneously closing up shop as the "processing" beach ball comes out. The beach ball can hang around for minutes at a time, even during simple photo manipulations like cropping. Patience is key here, as force quitting only makes matters worse. It takes a long to rebuild a large photo library, which Aperture will do in case you force quit.

Worst thing that happened to me was I had to reformat a 1TB hard drive. Almost lost all my data, but was able to recover it, thankfully. Stressful day, that one. 

In conclusion, my Aperture 3 experience is full of fun and despair. Of course, this is a problem that can easily be fixed by buying a faster computer. A pro editing application requiring a MacBook Pro is no surprise here. To Aperture's credit, I've learned a lot about getting the most out of my photos -- even from JPGs. Nowadays, I rarely print or upload without running my photos through Aperture first. The results speak for themselves, so here are some of my favorite shots (click on the photos for a larger image):

Really muffed this shot. The lens I was using is prone to flare.

Aperture helped to recover the shot. It's now one of my faves.

The original photo by our wedding photographer Chito Vecina. A real winner photo.

Even professionally shot photos can use a little help. Now the colors are more natural.

The original photo.

A simple modification to make the colors pop.

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