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Aperture 3 – Fashionably late, or a dollar short?


It used to be one could get by with just Photoshop and your own folder management and manual organization system, but for photographers who routinely have days with photographs numbering in the hundreds or thousands, a good work flow application is now essential.  Fortunately, this demand supports a good number of competing programs that are all struggling for a piece of the pro-photo pie.  Two of the well known apps in this category are Adobe’s Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture.  Having used both, I don’t think there will ever be a TKO and a clear winner.  Instead, I hope to see both continue to push each other in new directions.  In this spirit, I was very excited to see Apple release its long awaited version 3 of Aperture, with many of the features I’ve been hoping for.  Here is a quick review of my favorite new features and what apple has to say about them.  Watch for an upcoming article detailing my hands-on experience.

Major Improvements

Non-destructive Brushes:

I’ve been waiting for this one!  This is one of the areas they are playing catch-up to Lightroom.  Prior to this version, Aperture users were left with plug-ins such as Viveza. The polarizing brush and skin smoothing brush seem promising.

adjustments-skin-smoothing-20091020Make nondestructive image enhancements to specific areas of any photo using new adjustment brushes. Use brush strokes to modify — brush in or brush away — most of the standard image adjustments available in the Adjustments inspector. You can control the size, softness, and strength of each brush with intuitive sliders.  Blend adjustments more easily — and achieve more realistic results — by taking advantage of the feathering tool available for each imaging adjustment brush.  Turn on the Detect Edges option, and Aperture will detect hard edges as you brush, making it easier to brush adjustments into specific areas of a photo.  Deepen color, and darken shadow areas and mid-tones, without affecting the black and white points in an image using the new Polarize brush. Use the new Skin Smoothing brush to apply a gentle blur effect, creating smoother-looking skin.

GPS support and Face Recognition:

Not a killer feature, but it will be fun for some.  Lots can be done with “Faces and Places” not mentioned here.

faces-detection-20091020Aperture 3 automatically detects faces in photos when you import them. It then compares the faces and finds similar ones (similar to iPhoto).  You can then view faces by project, album, or folder.  Click the Facebook button to publish selected photos directly to your Facebook account. People named using the Faces feature are automatically tagged with Facebook names, and published albums can be automatically updated as you add, remove, or edit photos.

Places allows you to organize photos based on where they were taken, using GPS data embedded in photos when you took them or location data added in Aperture.  See where you took your photos on an interactive Google map displayed in Aperture. Choose from terrain and road maps or view satellite images with or without labels.  Import GPS locations for the photos you take with your GPS-enabled iPhone directly into Aperture.

Multiple Instances of Adjustments:

Nice! You aren’t limited to global adjustments any longer.

Apply multiple adjustments of a single type to different parts of an image by creating multiple adjustment bricks for each adjustment. For example, set one Levels adjustment to create the perfect sky. Then add another Levels adjustment brick to selectively perfect skin tones. To add a new instance of an adjustment, choose the Add New option from the Action pop-up menu in each adjustment brick.

Adjustment presets with live previews:

The live previews are a huge time saver when you don’t know what direction to take an image.  It’s also nice to have some common presets available as well as being able to create your own.

adjustments-presets-20091020If you use a combination of adjustments frequently, save it as a preset. Then apply the preset to individual images or a batch of images. Aperture 3 includes dozens of ready-to-use presets, and you can easily create your own and export them for use by others.   The Presets pop-up menu in the Adjustments inspector displays a preview of each preset applied to your image, allowing you to assess the effect of the preset before you apply it.

Advanced Sideshows:

Apple is so good at building multi-media apps, it’s nice to see them finally bringing in these features to Aperture.  I’ve gone through so many slide-show making apps, hopefully this will end now that I can do it in version 3.

In Aperture, you can now export slideshows in a number of predefined formats, including YouTube, iPhone, Apple TV, HD, and 1080p. You can also specify a custom size and frame rate, and export slideshows using either the H.264 or MPEG-4 codec.  Using the Classic and Ken Burns themes, you can choose from a dozen transitions, including Dissolve, Fade through Black, and Fade through White.  Besides including a main audio track in a slideshow (such as background music), you can add a secondary audio track, such as a voiceover or narration, to create a true layered soundtrack.

Cures tool: (With brushes)

Meticulous pros know how huge this is.  Others may find the basic adjustments sufficient.  The extended range is a nice bonus.

adjustments-curves-20091020Use the new Curves tool to adjust exposure and tweak color. Curve adjustments can be applied to luminance, RGB, or individual color channels. You can set the black, white, and midtone points, as well as place custom points along the curve using a target tool. All Curves adjustments can be brushed in or brushed away as needed to achieve desired results. Because the Curves tool supports the “extended range” data sometimes available in RAW images, you can set the Range control in Curves to Extended in order to see the “out of range” highlight or shadow data that you may be able to recover.


Fashionably late.  Although they are playing catch-up in some areas, they are breaking new ground in others.  I think this update will keep Aperture as a top contender for a while.  The biggest challenge they face is boosting the performance, as this is quite a memory and resource hog.  They need to be better at updating their camera raw support as well.

Free 30 day trial.  Price: $199 or $99 upgrade from previous versions.

Note: Amazon currently have Aperture 3 available for pre-order at $189 and $94.99 for the upgrade.

For videos of the new Aperture in action, check out Apple’s videos here: Pros with Aperture.

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Chas Elliott
Chas Elliott

is a freelance photographer in the Northern Virginia and DC area. See more of his work at www.chaselliott.com.

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