The Death of Aperture

So Apple has killed off Aperture, the photo program I’ve been using for the last few years to slog around the 30,000-some pictures I’ve taken. iPhoto is going to die soon, too. They’re replacing both with Photos, a dumbed-down port of the featureless picture program that’s on the iPhone. Oh, but that has The Cloud, so I’ll be able to dump 100 gigs of photos, pay $4 a month rent on them, and then live in fear that I’ll accidentally have some switch flipped in a system update and burn through my monthly data cap when it tries to sync all of that stuff to my phone seven times every time I leave the house.

I know, “why don’t you just put all of your pictures in a big hierarchy of folders on a hard drive and not keep them in a database?”  Because I actually need to find shit, and it’s not 1997 anymore.

I moved everything from Aperture to Lightroom yesterday. There’s a plugin for Lightroom that does most of the deal for you. I bitched about this endlessly, and it ate up a few days of my time, but I guess it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Here’s the various observations and gotchas:

  • It helps if you clean up your Aperture library first. I found I had an insane number of scans that were impossibly huge and didn’t need to be, and a lot of RAW files of dumb stuff that I didn’t need. I like to keep RAW files of Hawaii sunsets, but if it’s a picture of a dumb sign or a Taco Bell, I can smash it into a JPG and still sleep at night. My library was about 140 GB, and I got it down to about 85 GB before import.
  • You basically need your library size in free space on a drive to do the conversion, so good luck with that. I chose to convert in-place, so I freed up about 100 GB, put the new Lightroom in ~/Pictures/Lightroom* and then moved my old library off of my machine to a backup when I was done.
  • Back up your shit before you start. Back up your machine in general. Clone your entire drive regularly, not just your documents.
  • Lightroom puts all of your master photos in a hierarchical tree, just like I made fun of, and then keeps a separate database of metadata and non-destructive edits. The database itself isn’t that big. It keeps a previews database, too, and that can get big, depending on how big you make your previews.
  • Lightroom Folders = the hierarchy where stuff is stored in the above. I used Aperture folders projects as the “hard” dividers of what photos were captured in my library, although those are just virtual and you can move them around.
  • All of my photos ended up in a folder tree like this: LightroomMasters/YYYY/MM/YYYY-MM-DD/files* I don’t know how it decided on that hierarchy. I think it’s based on actual imports into my Aperture library, and not capture time or EXIF data or projects. I guess that format works for me.
  • Your tree in the left panel thing for Folders won’t look right. Right-click on the folders and do “Show parent” endlessly until it looks right.  (I.e. show the parent of the three levels of the hierarchy. Is there a faster way? I can’t find one. You only have to do this once, though, I hope.)
  • An Aperture Library = a Lightroom Catalog. I only had one Aperture Library. If you keep multiple Libraries, I don’t know what to tell you.
  • Aperture albums and projects are converted into Lightroom Collections. I.e. a Collection is a “virtual” collection of photos from your folders, and if you add or remove things to a Collection, you aren’t touching your stuff in folders.
  • If you edit the Collections made from your Aperture projects, you aren’t actually moving your masters in your folders. That’s a huge pain in the ass for me. Like I found a bunch of scans I took in 2006 that were pictures from, like, 1979. They should be in the folder for 1979, and they aren’t, so I had to find the pictures, then move them into the right folders.
  • All of your Aperture Smart Albums are broken. You can possibly use Smart Collections to replicate that, but you need to do it over.
  • All of your Aperture edits are gone. If you did edits, static preview images of the edits were imported, but you need to start over using Lightroom’s tools to do them again.
  • Any of those edited images will not have a Capture Time in them. The default grid view in Lightroom is sorted by Capture Time. So you’ll have a big mess there, and have to spend some time with the Metadata > Edit Capture Time settings.
  • I don’t even know what happened to shared albums. I don’t even care. I’ll start over. Nobody looks at my Flickr page anyway.
  • You end up with a huge shitstorm of dummy Collections with nothing in them. This is probably my fault, but I had to do a bunch of cleaning there.
  • At this point, this bulleted list is longer than I wanted and nobody’s reading, so figure the rest out. It will 90% work, but you’ll probably spend a weekend futzing with it after import.
  • Back all of your shit up again after you do all of this, and not on top of the old backup.
  • Do all of your imports in Lightroom. Don’t just dump images into your Masters directory or Lightroom won’t know they are there. If you want to dump them to a folder because you have a piece of shit phone without a modern sync, you can make Lightroom watch a folder and auto-import it. You can also do various schemes like watch a Dropbox folder and dump pictures there, like screenshots or your security cameras or whatever.

Here’s the main problem with Lightroom: there is no good way to sync with an iPhone (or iPad.)  You can set it up so when you plug in your phone and Lightroom will start and go directly to the Import screen and then import your photos, which is mostly how Aperture worked. (You could also just mount your phone and drag the files to your ~/Pictures directory if you are an idiot and want to lose all of your metadata and spend hours dealing with duplicates and creating new subdirectories and moving files around and whatever else.) So import is fine.

But there’s no real way to export and sync files to your phone. There are half-assed ways, but you can’t use iTunes to do it automatically anymore. It used to be in iTunes, I could say this:

  • Go to my iPhoto/Aperture library
  • Get my last X months of pictures, plus these other Albums I’ve selected
  • Sync those to the phone, and also clean up the ones that aren’t in the above, so my phone doesn’t slowly fill up and I end up trying to sync and I have 62GB of pictures on my 64GB phone and I have to spend a weekend deciding what to kill, and then the fucking thing will try to resync the 62GB anyway.
  • Do all of the above without me thinking at all, with no interaction, without opening iPhoto or Aperture, because life is too short.

There’s no way to do any of this in Lightroom. The closest I can think of is this:

  • Tell iTunes to sync from a folder.
  • In Lightroom, create a Publish Service that dumps a Smart Collection to a directory.
  • Remember to open Lightroom and click Publish before every time you sync your phone.
  • I don’t know how this handles duplicates or if it deletes old images. I haven’t tried it.
  • This is horrible.

There are some various plusses to Lightroom, I guess:

  • My library size dramatically dropped. I went from about 85 GB to about 70 GB. It’s possible that I just haven’t generated previews for everything and that will slowly climb.
  • Lightroom processing tools are supposed to be better. I haven’t gotten into that yet, but I spent a few minutes futzing with some RAW images, and it’s not bad.

So there’s what I did for the last few days instead of writing.

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