Guest Post & Photos by Joseph Linaschke Follow him on Twitter

One of the most common requests I get for personalized help on ApertureExpert is to assist in organizing a library that’s suffered years of neglect. When you’re staring at a veritable rat’s nest of images, getting them sorted out can be a very daunting task! But the old adage applies perfectly well here… “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”.


Before moving anything, first devise an organizational strategy; a structure that makes sense to you now, and that you will follow for the future. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Do you need to separate personal and professional work? If you aren’t a working professional, or rarely do jobs for money, then probably not. If however you shoot loads of family photos as well as paying gigs, then you likely will want to keep them separate. This doesn’t necessarily mean a separate library, but it probably means separate folders in Aperture.

Does your work want to be sorted chronologically or categorically? Most people are shooting a wide variety of topics, so trying to organize them by category doesn’t make sense—which means organizing by date probably does. However if you’re primarily a stock photographer, perhaps sorting by category actually does work for you. The beauty of Aperture though is that with good metadata, you can search and sort by any system at any time, with just a few clicks.

Are you going to be diligent about keywords? If not, repeat after me: “I will create excellent project names!” Adding keywords and other quality metadata to every photo assures that you’ll be able to find the exact picture you want, at any time. But let’s be honest… most of us don’t keyword religiously, no matter how much we say we will! If you do, then you can basically organize any way you want, since you’ll be able to find any image via metadata later on. But for the rest of us, simply creating a sensible project name will let us narrow the search very quickly when needed. Project names should include high level keywords like “birthday” or “summer vacation” or “Paris”. Client projects may include the client name, or a job/invoice ID—something you can be consistent with and will make sense years from now. Also, I like to precede every project name with the date in a YYYY-MM-DD format, which forces a chronological order, followed by a space-bar-space, like this: “ | ” which as you can see in the screenshot below creates a visual separator between the date and the project name.


What you see above is how I organize my own library. But if you prefer to go by categories, that’s fine too. For example, if you’re a travel photographer, you may want to organize by Continent > Country. If you shoot stock, perhaps it’s Nature, Architecture, Food, etc. . If you shoot wildlife, maybe you organize by species. However I would argue that the date/description structure allows you to find anything quickly, no matter the category. Ultimately it’s up to you—but whatever you choose, stick with it. That’s the most important thing.

Once you have projects named with great keywords, you can find them very quickly. Aperture’s fastest search is the Library search, which searches project names, location data, and the Project Info text.


The Project Info (Window > Show Project Info) can be as long and descriptive as you want, and is a great place to add other keywords you may want to search for later. For example, if you call your project “summer vacation Disneyland”, words like “holiday”, “trip”, “family”, and “California” might come to mind years from now when trying to find that group of photos.


In part 2, we’ll talk about how to sort out your old mess using your new strategy!

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  1. […] The first part of Rich Harrington’s 3-part tutorial on how to organize your Aperture library […]

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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.


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