How to Switch from Aperture to Lightroom

by Jon on February 8, 2011

The post-production world in digital photography today is pretty much a two-horse race between Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom. Stats show there are lots more Lightroom users than Aperture ones, but I’ve been a pretty diehard Aperture fan up till now: nobody designs interfaces like Apple does, and in any case it made sense to stick with the software that would presumably play well with all the other Apple stuff I have around here. (For the record, Aperture Workshop is so named for this, not that.)

Now I’m not abandoning Aperture, you understand, but with all the good things I’d heard about Lightroom I was determined to give it its day in the sun, and while in London this Christmas I decided that day had arrived. This article is about how to switch from one to the other; for a discussion about the pros and cons of each, check this out.

First things first

Migrating from Aperture to Lightroom isn’t that hard and doesn’t take long, but there’s a few things you should know.

  • How do you organize your photos? Most people like to organize things in folders named after events (eg. Christmas 2009, Vacation 2010). If you’re one of them, there’s an extra step involved. If you’re one of the few who prefer a single library tagged with metadata, the process of switching will be a little easier. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read about organizing photos first.
  • Your adjustments won’t be coming with you. We’ll be exporting the master files from your Aperture Library and importing them into Lightroom, but there’s no way to export the non-destructive adjustments you’ve made to your photos. All is not lost – I’ll show you how to export versions of the images you’ve adjusted so you’ll still have copies, so if you want to go back and recreate those adjustments on your RAW files you’ll have visual reference.
  • Lightroom lets you manage your own stuff. In usual Apple fashion, Aperture keeps your photos all tucked away in a big box, the Aperture Library, that it organizes all by itself, and that you never see. It always used to bug me that when I put mp3s into iTunes they’d get reorganized into some weird file structure on the back end; Aperture does the same but with pictures. In Lightroom you do the managing yourself. Just so you know.

Enough chatter, let’s get to work.

1. Remember that extra step we talked about? This is it. If you organize things in folders and you want to maintain that structure, you’ll need to add keywords to your photos that Lightroom can refer to later on. It’s pretty quick and easy to do. First, choose Windows > Show Keyword Controls. You’ll see the keyword controls appear at the bottom of the screen.

Keyword controls in ApertureNow in each of your folders, select all and type the name of the folder in the ‘Add Keyword’ box – (eg. ‘Vacation 2009′). That’ll apply the folder name to each of the images, which Lightroom will use later to reorganize with. Do this for each of your folders. Then continue with Step 2.

2. Export masters of your RAW files. You do shoot in RAW, don’t you? You should. The easiest way is to make a smart album in Aperture and have it gather all the RAW files together. Click on ‘Add Rule’ and see below for how it should look.

Creating a smart album for RAW files in Aperture

Make sure you activate the new rule by clicking its checkbox. Then select all and choose File > Export > Master. Create a new folder on your desktop. Under metadata, choose ‘Create IPTC4XMP sidecar file’ (this ensures the folder name metadata we added earlier migrates with the files). Click ‘Export Masters’.

The export dialog in Aperture

3. Export versions of photos with adjustments. We can’t force our RAW files to take their adjustments with them but we can do the next best thing: make copies of all the adjusted images. To do this, time for another smart folder:

Making an adjustments smart folder in Aperture

Once Aperture gathers all of the adjusted images, choose File > Export > Version. Create another new folder (name it ‘Adjusted’), and click ‘Export Versions’. Nice work; almost there.

4. Export everything else. If you don’t shoot in RAW, and even if you do, you probably have some non-RAW, non-adjusted photos lying around that we don’t want to leave behind. I have a ton of sets from before I started using RAW that are all high-res JPG, for example. Make one more smart folder with a ‘file type’ rule to capture all of those guys. You may have to make some additional folders for PNG, TIFF or whatever you may have lying around. Export versions of these as you did above, to folders named after what they are. You’ll need to do each file type separately.

That’s it… that should be all your images safely out of Aperture and ready for import to their new life.

Bringing them into Lightroom

The hard part is over. From here on, things are pretty simple. Let’s go.

1. Fire up your copy of Lightroom. If it’s a trial, that’s fine too. Lightroom is fully functional for 30 days.

2. Click the ‘Import’ button at the bottom left. Once in the import screen, choose the ‘Add’ option at the top centre. Navigate to each of your export folders (RAW, Adjusted and JPG, TIFF, etc.) and bring ‘em in.

The import button in Lightroom

When you’ve imported everything, exit the import screen.

3. Reorganize. To recreate your folder structure, make new folders in the ‘Folders’ pane on the left. Lightroom stashed everything you just imported into a folder called ‘Previous Import’ which you’ll find under ‘Catalog’. To sort and organize your pictures it’s really easy: over on the right, under ‘Keyword List’ you can sort using the keywords you set up in Aperture. Your keywords will appear automatically. Just sort, then drag and drop them into your new folders. Don’t forget to check out this article about organizing pictures and how using tons of folders is not always the best way to go.

4. Enjoy Lightroom. It’s a totally different experience to Aperture and one I suspect you’ll really enjoy.

How was your experience switching to Lightroom? Any tips or techniques you can share? Please leave them in the comments!

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