If you are reading this and looking for one of my normal travel related images and related story, you can stop here. There’s no pretty image. However, if you’re interested in reading about a month long saga of my transition from Aperture to Lightroom, then read on.
Over the last few years Apple has significantly slowed down its development efforts for its professional photography development software program, Aperture. Last summer Apple finally told its users what we already suspected. Apple would cease development of Aperture and iPhoto and transition both user bases to its new photo software, Photos.
So, I began the waiting process. I hoped that Photos would actually be a replacement and potentially an improvement to Aperture. Since Apple had advertised that Aperture was for professional photographers and those who needed serious editing tools, I assumed they wouldn’t abandon the user base they had cultivated. Of course, in the back of my mind, I knew that Apple had abandoned other software developed for professionals. Still, I waited until Photos was released to see if it would live up to Aperture users’ expectations.
Sadly, Photos didn’t live up to my expectations. It was time to move on from the asset management and photo editing software that I had used for the past ten years. Fortunately, I had somewhat anticipated Apple shutting down development of Aperture.
The principal alternative for Aperture is Lightroom. I purchased the program a few years ago and have kept it updated to the most current version. I can’t say that I was an expert in using Lightroom, but I had worked with it a bit and at least understood its major features. I’ll talk more about that later.
The problem I faced was that my entire workflow was based on using Aperture. I intimately understood its features and could quickly process hundreds of images from a shoot. And, I had close to 200,000 images that I had shot over the years. I had to figure out how to transfer years of images and their associated keywords, ratings, projects, and other metadata and organization structure that had been created in Aperture into Lightroom.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person facing this challenge. I don’t know the numbers of Aperture users, but they must number in the thousands. Many of them were in the same dilemna that I faced. Many of them had seen the handwriting on the wall regarding Aperture’s imminent demise more clearly and much earlier than I had. Some had even written migration tools for the move from Aperture to Lightroom. Then, late in 2014, Adobe added a migration tool to Lightroom itself.
So, after considerable research and after setting aside a large chunk of time over several weekends and evenings, I plunged into the transition. My primary concern was losing critical data in the migration process. I wasn’t worried about my master files. I shoot in RAW and had kept those files outside Aperture. In Aperture those files are called referenced files. In Aperture’s workflow edits are non-destructive. Edits are applied against the original files without actually changing the original file. What I really wanted to move to Lightroom were the edits to my images and the metadata I had created for each image.
The good news was that the metadata would transfer to Lightroom. The bad news was that edits made in Aperture just weren’t compatible with Lightroom. I either had to manually recreate the edits to thousands of images or simply export a .jpg file that reflected the edits made to each image. Re-editing the images simply wasn’t a viable option. So, I began the arduous task of exporting a preview of all of my edited images.
The first step was to have Aperture recreate a high quality preview of every image that had an edit applied to it in Aperture. That process alone took approximately four days!
Once the previews were created I began the import process to Lightroom. Well, at least I attempted to begin the import process. I quickly ran into my first major problem. The Import Aperture Library feature in Lightroom simply wouldn’t work on my library. I spent a frustrating few days trying to determine why the import feature wouldn’t work. I read as many articles online as possible. I tried the various solutions put forth by others attempting the same transition I was trying. Unfortunately, none of the options that worked for some others worked for me.
As it turned out, though, several others had experienced the same situation I found myself in. The suggested solution was to export each individual Aperture folder as a separate Aperture library. In effect, I was breaking up my massive Aperture library into multiple smaller ones. As a test I exported one folder with relatively few images as a library. I then successfully imported that small test library into Lightroom using the Import Aperture Library function. I had tasted success, but now I had to replicate the process for a dozen or more much larger folders.
Now I began another very long and tedious process. I began to create new individual Aperture libraries from folders in my Aperture hierarchy. Depending on the number of images in any given folder or folder hierarchy the library creation process took an hour to eight hours or more. It took about a week of almost continuous exporting to finish the process.
Oddly enough, even though Lightroom choked on my large Aperture library, the import function worked on about eighty percent of the newly created libraries. It took about as long to import a library into Lightroom as it did to export from Aperture, but the migration worked as advertised most of the time. For several of the libraries though, I had to export the folder structure from Aperture yet again after doing a bit of cleanup in Aperture. The second time through the import worked in Lightroom. After several weeks of effort, the migration process was complete.
I still had to learn Lightroom, but my images were largely in the same structure as they had been before I began the process. Even though my learning curve is still steep, I’m now able to function largely as I did before. I still stumble through the editing process. But, there are some significant advantages to making the change. I can talk about that later on. In the meantime, thanks for reading through my travails. I hope that my challenges can help others that attempt the same transition to do so more seamlessly. Please let me know if I can help you in your transition.