Digital Photography Organization in Aperture 3

This is the first of technical series on organization, workflow, and backup, focusing on file management in Aperture 3. This gets a little involved, but it is fairly straight forward. There is no right way to go about organization, but after years of post production and creating organizational workflows for many professional studios, this is what I’ve found to work best.

My file structure within the managed Aperture library is as follows. I use Folders to create categories, like Sports, Weddings, Portraiture, or if I have a long term job. Individual shoots are organized in Projects, which contain the captured media. Projects consist mostly of Nikon RAW (.NEF) files, and .MOV QuickTime files, which you can see below (click to enlarge). I switched from Adobe Bridge and Camera Raw to Aperture when Aperture 3 was released, and spent probably ten hours just customizing the interface before I began a single edit. It is highly personalized, but hopefully these screen shots give you some ideas on how to simplify and bring out features to accelerate your workflow.

Within the projects, I create a smart folder and label it “Finals.” This smart folder is set to search for images with a numeric rating, one through five. These are the images I end up working on. I will also append a color label from an additional level of sorting, say, images I need to print, deliver to a specific client, or post on my blog.

The metadata panel is an extremely important tool to keep at hand while editing. It helps to formalize relationships with light, depth of field, and what I might be doing right or wrong. I use the “Photo Info” preset in the drop down menu most of the time, but you can customize your own lists, as well.

One of the benefits of Aperture 3 is that you organize, edit, and process your images all in the same interface by toggling through your Inspector. You can customize which tools you keep active in the Adjustments Inspector under the action menu/gear after you enable an adjustment temporarily, but as far as I’m aware, you can’t change the order.

Another really helpful tool if you are using a DSLR is to see your focus point. Option f will show you where your camera was focused the moment it clicked. This is a really helpful tool for reviewing what you were doing when the action took place, what you might have been thinking, or why your image is in or out of focus.

As you can imagine, Aperture libraries can get big, and rather quickly. I create annual libraries, so I can look back at a glance and see a very high level overview of the work I did that year, and I find a lot of value in that. These libraries are stored on a DroboPro, a beyond RAID, self healing, and infinitely expandable 8-bay hard drive array. I connect using ethernet to that, and use it as a shoe box. The nice thing about Aperture 3 is you can export and merge both Projects and Libraries. Each shoot gets an independent Library, because it moves a lot faster, can easily update the main Library, and is portable on a notebook so it can travel with me. I start off with a new Library for each shoot, stored on my internal 7200 RMP hard drive. That drive works the fastest since it is connected directly to my logic board, and when I’m finished, that smaller Library gets archived on my external drive by simply opening up my annual Library and selecting File – Import Library/Project from the menu bar.

In the Finder, it looks something like this…