Aperture: the end of an era.

I remember the moment when I decided to become a full-time photographer. I was sitting in front of the computer, quietly going through images in this phenomenal new piece of software that felt like the very essence of photography. I thought: “Man… I could seriously do this every single day ”.

The application, was Aperture.

It’s easy to forget how groundbreaking Aperture was when it arrived on the scene: it was the first ever application entirely developed for the needs of working photographers. Here was a one-stop shop, self-contained application at a time when the digital photography workflow was a nightmare of stitched together solutions. It replicated time honoured tools like a loupe, a light table; it had stacks, versioning, metadata editing, ColorSync calibration and previews. It provided a complete workflow solution from start to finish. And: it introduced the world to non-destructive raw processing. This was unheard of. Here’s an excerpt from the original press release:

Until now, RAW files have taken so long to work with,” said Heinz Kluetmeier, renowned sports photographer whose credits include over 100 Sports Illustrated covers. “What amazed me about Aperture is that you can work directly with RAW files, you can loupe and stack them and it’s almost instantaneous—I suspect that I’m going to stop shooting JPEGs. Aperture just blew me away.
— Heinz Kluetmeier

Stop.Shooting.JPEG. That was it. That was the moment when raw became a workable solution, something you could use on a daily basis without jumping through fifty hoops while standing on one foot. Apple had ushered in the modern era of digital photography.


In January 2006, less than three months after Aperture was announced, Adobe released a public beta for an application called Lightroom. This was the first time in their entire history they had made a beta freely available to the public and it was clear to everyone at the time that it was a defensive move on their part. The genesis of Lightroom probably coincides with the internal development of Aperture — great ideas are often simply ready to emerge — but Adobe was obviously caught off-guard, not just by the concepts embodied by Apple’s software but also by the scope of what they had accomplished; as it often does, Apple had thought long and hard about what was wrong in the photographer’s digital workflow and had basically eradicated the pressure points while introducing features no one had even thought of at the time… Most of which are now staples of every single DAM out there, from importing to processing, to exporting final images.

It wasn’t perfect: it was a resource hog, it was buggy and it was expensive. But Aperture 1.0 had features that weren’t available for YEARS in Lightroom; and some that still haven’t even made it to version 5.5. In terms of vision, they hit it out of the ballpark. This application made you want to be a photographer. In my case, it was a revolution.

Slow dive

Like many I saw the writing on the wall and in 2012, after years of being a fierce Aperture proponent, I made the move to Lightroom. What’s fascinating to me is that even to this day I miss the Aperture workflow and still mostly feel constrained by the Lightroom environment. Many features feel like little more than pale imitations meant to check off a list rather than actually being useful. Anyone out there besides me interested in being able to sort the Collections list however the hell they want to? Managing virtual copies is a joke compared to Aperture’s Versions and I still cringe when I need to switch modules or look at that claustrophobic Grid view. I miss Aperture’s project driven metaphor and I suspect I always will. The reality is that Apple had a jewel but instead of polishing it they simply hid it in a drawer, to gather dust and be forgotten — to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep it around anymore.

I’ve been reading some of the reactions to the news of Aperture’s demise around the web these past few days and it’s been interesting but pretty much unanimous. One that stood out was Joseph’s from Aperture Expert. It’s easy to dismiss his views as self-serving given the focus of his site, but he’s clearly thought about this quite a bit and it’s a legitimate point of view that’s well worth reading. In the end though, no matter how we spin it, I can’t dismiss what in my mind is completely obvious: while Apple still loves photography, they’re no longer interested in pro photography, at least not in the way most of us define it. They’re no longer interested in providing a solid workflow for our very specific needs and are now aiming at the larger population. This may result in crossover features at times but on the whole I doubt the new Photos will be able to replace Aperture — Apple would’ve said so otherwise. I can see little beyond cross-compatibility and can easily envision a simplification that will take away most of what made Aperture what it was, all for the sake of ease of use and minimizing confusion. As far as most of us here are concerned, I fail to see anything other than “Move Along” in big, bold lettering.

It’s strange because I’m both sad and relieved at the same time: sad to see so much potential wasted but relieved to finally be able to put Aperture out of my mind and concentrate on the tools I have. I use Lightroom and it’s not going away; I’m playing with Capture Pro One and there’s a lot of potential.

Aperture was an important part of my life and It’s over, but it was also the trigger for everything I’m doing today. Perhaps it wasn’t such a waste after all.
In the end, it's hard not to be thankful...

Below is a collection of posts I wrote during my switch from Aperture to Lightroom. I though they might prove useful for those who will be going through the same transition. And btw: if you’re an Aperture user don’t freak out. Apple has committed to the application’s compatibility with the upcoming Yosemite update as well as the forthcoming Photos. In essence, you have a good long year to prepare your move.

Patrick La Roque

laROQUE, 311 Lorncliff, Otterburn Park, Canada