Over the last few months I’ve been slowly mourning my loss of Apple’s support for Aperture and coming to grips with my inevitable move to Adobe Lightroom (you can read the beginning of my journey here). Today, I’m continuing my series on transitioning from Aperture to Lightroom from my non technical, Aperture perspective. I like to bring a non-technical view to things because there are a zillion technical articles out there where you can find every detail already. It’s been done.
But for those of us whose eyes glaze over every time someone talks numbers & letters, there’s not a lot out there that speaks to the user experience. I also like to bring the Aperture perspective because, well, that’s all I have! Additionally, much of the Lightroom help out there is written with a Lightroom perspective, which is not yet second nature to me or to (supposedly) you, my audience who is reading this right now. Hopefully, by sharing my experience with my transition, you can get some answers and have a sense for how things will go for you when you transition to Lightroom. So here goes!
Migrate or Start Fresh?
The latest version of Lightroom has (what’s touted to be) a wonderful thing called the Aperture to Lightroom Importer. I haven’t started with it yet for a few reasons. The last few months have been “Peak Wedding Season” for me here in D.C. and sitting down and finding time to migrate and transfer things has been a luxury I haven’t been able to afford yet.
Also, the way I work with Aperture, doesn’t lend itself to me needing to migrate over to keep working. I set up each client with their own Aperture Library, so instead of migrating them over to Lightroom, I just finished the clients with the Aperture Libraries that were already started, then switched to making Lightroom Catalogs for my new clients instead. (Once the holidays are over, I plan on going back and converting the Aperture Libraries over to LR Catalogs for archiving and I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes!)
My First Real Project
My first full scale start to finish process with Lightroom was with a recent engagement session. After I created a new catalog for this client, I inserted my camera’s card. Like Aperture, I was greeted with a screen showing previews of the images on the card that was loaded.
The menu bar on the left showed the location of the card, a menu in the top middle gave me options on HOW to import the photos, then the menu bar on the right showed the location(s) available for the photos. Coming from Aperture, this is slightly confusing because the default is always to contain your photos within a protected library (where you don’t have access to the images but through the Aperture interface). Sure this could be switched, but most users I knew always kept it self contained.
Start the Copy
With Lightroom, we have more options than our little Aperture hearts would have thought of! In the top middle there are:
- Copy as DNG
- Move, or
When copying from a card I had the option of Copy as DNG or Copy available to me. Copy as DNG will copy the photos & simultaneously convert them to DNG form. A DNG is an Adobe format that keeps the image as a raw image, but stores edits and improves compatibility.
Copy will just straight copy your files to your destination. I chose to use Copy. With copy, I can import the files to any spot on my HD and Lightroom will know where to look for the photos.
Now, an important distinction to remember is that this means your photos are no longer in a protected little bubble (like the Aperture Library). If you move or delete these files after you import them, then Lightroom will have broken links or lost photos.
How to Handle Files
For this reason, It’s a good idea to have a plan for your organization before starting out. I choose to structure my organization by creating a folder on my Drobo for my client, then within that, I include a folder for my Lightroom catalog as well as a folder for my images to import into. That way everything I need for that client (library & images) is within that folder and I don’t risk accidentally moving or deleting files when I go to “clean up” my machine.
On the right hand side of the Import screen within the Library Module, you have some convenient options for File Handling on import. You choose the quality of previews you want to build (this can either lessen or lengthen your import time based on your choice), Build Smart Previews, and avoid importing duplicates. It’s nice to also have the option to chose the “Make a second copy to”. If you aren’t importing to a location that is protected (like a Drobo or other RAID array), you can automatically have the images import to a second location or drive so you instantly have a backup.
Other Modules + Keywording
There’s also a module for applying settings, metadata, and keywords automatically on import. This is similar to what we found in Aperture, so surprises, just nice features to take advantage of. Develop Settings will apply an effect to the entire batch. This could be an effect from a Lightroom Template or one you custom create. I prefer to edit individually, so I don’t have any develop settings to apply to all my photos. The metadata setting is always useful for applying your copyright info, automatically to everything. Lastly the Keywords are nice to apply, just remembering that at this point, it’s generalizations only as it will be applied to every image in the catalog.
Based on how I work with each client having their own catalog, this is not as advantageous to me as compared to someone who keeps a catalog of say an entire year or specific month where they would need to search through to find a particular wedding or project.
Once you click import, your progress bar indicator will be visible on the top left of the application. In Aperture, I was able to see a detailed view of what part of the process the import was on, how many files it had to go, and it always told me when my import was done before asking me if I want to eject my card. With Lightroom, it just finishes and ejects the card by default with no notice. I wasn’t a big fan of this. It led to me going on to other tasks and then wasting time because I didn’t know it was finished, when I could have already put in another card. So I did some digging and found a great option in the preferences menu to play a sound upon finishing import (as well as export). This has been a helpful adjustment for me and allowed me to stay efficient.
I have noticed that the importing times with Lightroom seem to be a bit slower than that of Aperture, despite me also now being on a faster machine. Not the biggest deal in the world. All good things take time, right? But it’s definitely something I noticed. I attribute it to a different RAW converting process which I seem to like. My highlight tones in particular seem to be rendered with a little more detail than I was getting out of the Aperture renders. With weddings and dealing with white dresses, that’s always a bonus for me!
Time to Develop
Now that I’ve gotten my images in, it was time for me to start working. In Aperture, this meant culling. I had a system down where I could just hit “9” and it would “reject” a photo and based on my display settings, it would automatically be hidden from view. I could also star images 1-5 which I reserved as a way of picking the images I wanted for the album. With Lightroom there seems to be a lot of different ways of marking and organizing “Attributes” of your images and this is where I tend to have the most problem wrapping my brain around. There are Flagged & Unflagged photos as well as ratings and colors you can apply. While I do appreciate the multitude of options for people to be able to choose what works for them, it sure does make it hard to decide! Also, I find it VERY hard to see the difference between a flag being selected or unselected. The difference in the full saturation to the grayed out half saturation is pretty minimal. I did find a “Font Size” option in Preferences (under Interface) that helped a bit when I switched it to “Large”. Compared to Aperture, the Lightroom interface is so full of information it seems cluttered and hard to decipher (until you know what to look for) so if you’re having trouble seeing through all the stuff like me, you may want to switch to a large font.
Ultimately, I wanted to find a way to do the same system I had in Aperture; go through and cull out the rejects and never have to see them again, being left with a Library of images that I could then star as selects for my album or blog.
To do this in Lightroom:
- Select an image that you want to reject.
- Press the “X” key which black flags/rejects.
- Navigate to the top center of my Library Module and locate is a place called Library Filter where you can choose to filter by Text, Attribute, Metadata, or None.
- Choose Attribute, then click on the white flag with a tiny check mark that means it will show me the “flagged and unflagged (but exclude rejected)” photos. This is what I want.
- From there you can take it further with the star ratings or colors.
Once I got done culling I could get to work editing.
One of the most positive things I notice right of the bat is how Lightroom handles highlight tones. On this particular engagement shoot, D.C. was under a blustery, gray, chilly day. On days like this I always over expose a tad to render my shadow tones a little more open, but try to keep that delicate line of not completely eradicating highlight detail.
Not only am I not a huge fan of total blown out look, this couple chose the D.C. monument area for photos because it was integral to the start of their relationship. I want to ensure that part of the image stays present.
With Aperture’s handling of highlights, it was roughly 50/50 on if their highlight slider would handle it or if I’d need to go into a plug-in to achieve the level of detail recovery I wanted. So far, Lightroom has handled every single frame I’ve thrown at it with their highlight slider. Also, it does so without “getting crunchy” and flattening the highlights. Big plus in my book as it’s a huge time saver & peace of mind quality.
Now, I’m not someone who does a ton of edits or actions to my images. I also try to be conscious of finding my exposure quickly and staying there and not jumping around because it will streamline my post production process. In Aperture I could easily use the Lift & Stamp tool to copy/lift whatever adjustments and stamp them on the rest of the images in that series and save a ton of time not going into each and every one to fiddle around. In regard to Lightroom, I’ve been a little confuddled with their version of Lift & Stamp. It can be done, but I feel as if it’s slightly more complicated than it needs to be.
First off, you can achieve this through right clicking on the image or the thumbnail, but depending on which one, you have a different menu & different verbiage for the same process. Under the large image it’s found pretty straightforward, at the top of the list, under Settings > Copy Settings. Under the thumbnail it’s slightly ambiguous, lower on the list, with Develop Settings > Copy Settings. I don’t quite understand why they’d use different language and make it a different file path between the two.
An interesting thing that happens in Lightroom that’s different than Aperture is a dialogue box pops up once you do select Copy Settings. I like that Lightroom makes it clear and easy to check on and off which settings you want to copy and which you don’t. I find this particularly useful with the crop tool. Often I want to copy the tone, white balance, etc. but I can’t think of one instance where I want to copy the crop. In Aperture it was harder to pick and choose what to copy and what not to. I appreciate how straightforward Lightroom has made thing. The only con, is this menu pops up every single time. Given the way I work, it would be interesting to be able to set a default of what I most often like to copy that would be editable. Granted, that’s nitpicky, but hey, it’s a thought.
I will also say that I have found the tool a bit finicky when choosing “Paste Settings from Previous” (usually it works, but occasionally it won’t and I have to copy/paste again) and have yet to be able to get it to work if I select multiple images to copy the settings to at the same time. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong?? (I’ll reiterate that this is my attempt at use without delving into a ton of training first. I wanted to see LR’s intuitiveness when approaching from an “Aperture brain”.)
Fixing Chromatic Aberration
Moving on to another common area of editing that I usually touch: chromatic aberration. CA can be a factor for a multitude of reasons and I deal with it often particularly because doing weddings, I am often dealing with bright & high contrast images. Perfect scenario for CA. Also, the large, soaring white marble monuments in DC? Yeah…they’re a perfect for CA, too. Each lens handles CA differently so it’s nice to have a slider integrated within Lightroom. Aperture had a tool that worked much like a paintbrush, that I would usually use for CA and it was pretty decent most of the time. I liked how specific I could be with it. I find that Lightroom’s slider (found on the right side of your Develop Module under Lens Corrections) works, overall, much better. There is a lot of customization that can happen if you play around with the sliders and I’ve found it gives me a much more specific adjustment than I’d get with the Aperture tool that seemed to handle things with a slightly heavier hand.
After using the slider, there is still some slight green CA that remains in a few of the shadow areas, however, given they’re in an area of greenery already, I don’t find it particularly offensive, and when viewed at print size, isn’t noticeable at all. I could however, tinker with it some more if it was still distracting.
Now occasionally, I want to use an external editor like Photoshop or plug in software (like OnOne, NIK, Imagenoemic, etc.) to do some more in depth editing. When I do I can right click on the image and select which editor I want to use. Before each time, a dialogue box comes up and asks me what kind of file I want LR to edit; the original, a copy, or a copy with LR adjustments. I always choose to edit a copy
with the LR adjustments because of the flow my process uses. I will always have made my small adjustments first before going to an external editor for something more in depth. This preserves what I’ve done already, uses a copy to apply the new adjustments to, and makes a new version. It’s great. I also like how the dialogue box can be expanded to show the Copied File Options. I can choose the format, color space, compression, & resolution. This is crucial as it will effect your final image size once you are done editing it. The only downfall to this box is that it comes up every single time. It’s another one of those things I wish I could set up a default (then customize if necessary) so I don’t have to pick each time. Again, perhaps I’m missing where this is done, but I’d think you should be able to set that right within the dialogue box.
Managing Multiple Versions
Now, after I’ve made some edits in an external editor, I have these extra versions. Aperture had versions as well, and they’d be created into similar “stacks” together that could be expanded and contracted. The main difference I’ve noticed (and loved) about Lightroom’s stacking, is they always put the most recently worked on image at the “top” of the stack. Within Aperture I always had to go back and choose my “pick” for the top of the image. That was slightly counter intuitive to me b/c it’s highly likely your most recently edited image is the one you want, right? So Lightroom handles stacking quite nicely.
Great Black and Whites
Perhaps the feature that has surprised me most is LR’s black & white processing. In Aperture, I always had to take my images into an external, specialized b&w photo editor to achieve the results I wanted.
With LR, I’ve gotta say, their black & white processor does a darn good job. The options that are natively available render superbly throughout all tonal ranges and with a little tweaking, playing with levels, and split toning, I can achieve a pretty stellar look. I especially love the level of control I can have filtering not just RGB colors but a whole range of the spectrum. It reminds me of my analog days in the darkroom messing with filters.
I am able to achieve the black and white look I want without going into my external editor about 90% of the time. That’s a huge time saver. I’m really looking forward to playing more with it and perhaps setting up a custom action once I find the perfect look for me.
Once I’ve gone through all my photos, it’s output time. Typically I output to a predetermined file on my HD from which I can burn my clients’ their archival disc as well as upload to my online proofing service. (I have discovered that my proofing service offers a plug in for LR, so I’ll have to try that and report back!) Now, I’ve found the LR output process to be rather interesting. Like much of my experience within the program, I feel slightly overwhelmed at the detail of information and options on each screen. Details and options are good, they just seem to bring up more questions than I’ve ever had before and make me slow down to ensure I’m doing it properly.
Once I select all the photos to export I choose to export them to a specific folder. Because of how I organize I don’t need a subfolder. I like the custom settings for file naming. Everyone I know has their own system for naming and it’s nice that I can clearly and easily set what I need to do.
Scrolling down in the Export dialogue box (yes, you have to scroll down there’s so many choices) We get to the File Settings and Image sizing. This is an area that I am totally bewildered. I initially had set my image quality to 100% but not limited file size, and output at 300 dpi (which I always do).
Well, my files were coming out absolutely monstrous! Over 20mb huge. Under the same settings in Aperture my files would come out around 6-8mb. I’ve been doing some research and it seems that LR’s Quality setting scale of 0-100 isn’t an exact correlation to percentages, nor direct correlation to the 1-12 quality system Adobe uses within Photoshop for jpegs (nor a correlation to anything Aperture did). I’m a bit bewildered but ultimately have been putting the quality to 100 but limiting the file size to about 8mb (8000k) which is plenty quality for my albums and large wall prints.Exporting, specifically, is an area within LR that I really need to sit down and investigate just what is so different about it and why. A similar not to my comment on the speed of the import process, I find the speed of the export process to be a bit slower than my Aperture experience as well. Of course, this obviously makes sense given whatever extra large data processing appears to happen, but again, I’m brought back to why? I’ll figure it out one of these days!
So ultimately, there you have it. A complete review of my first time, start to finish, with Lightroom through “Aperture Eyes”. It wasn’t pretty at times, and there are definite areas I struggle with. However, there were definitely areas I was happily surprised by. It gave me just enough encouragement to stick with it and work at becoming more familiar with it. At this point, I’m glad to have attempted without delving into any training. It gave me a good sense of where to start looking for answers and what parts I can skip when I’m searching through tutorials on lynda.com.
Now I can add this to my list of new year’s resolutions to get better at! Keep tuned to Photofocus in the coming weeks and months. I’ll be regularly reporting back with my progress, hangups, and triumphs with the conversion. My next big step will be to work on migrating my libraries over with the integrated Aperture to Lightroom feature released in the latest LR version.