the case of aperture and the stratocaster

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For the past year - and more so these past months - the debate has been raging around Aperture and Lightroom, mainly from AP2 users who feel abandoned by Apple. The silence surrounding a new version of the application has been deafening, forcing a lot of users into the arms of Adobe for many reasons that have been discussed to death at this point. If you read this blog you know I’ll be sticking it out unless physically booted out of the Aperture camp.

There are a lot of technical reasons for my decision. I’ve mentioned them in other posts. But one thing that never seems to enter the debate is something less tangible: the fact that software can be an instrument in its own right.


I’m not talking about software as a tool mind you, but as an instrument. Like a violin, a piano or a… flugelhorn?
You see, through all my experimentation with various incarnations of Lightroom one thing has always been quite clear: I get very different results than I do with Aperture. Some of it has to do with my varying comfort level between the two apps. And some of it is purely technical, differences between RAW converters and such. But I’ve also come to believe that software - creative software - has a footprint and flow that affect the output. Software has tone.
I’m a musician. My guitar is a Fender Stratocaster. Everything about this instrument impacts what I do with it: the neck, the spacing betweens frets, how the body feels in my hands. All these design choices mould the way I use the guitar. In fact, over the years they’ve moulded the way I play guitar. I’m now convinced Aperture shapes my photography in pretty much the same way.
In the great debate between Lightroom and Aperture we seem to forget that they each have a very specific signature. The philosophical differences in design, the choice of available effects and the way they’re applied all contribute to shaping pictures in a very distinct way. In my mind they’re not instantly interchangeable, as many seem to imply. This, I think, is why I’m having such a hard time contemplating a switch. I’m not so sure I want to change oils for water-colour, Strat for SG.

the homogenous pool

Why do we feel this need for one app to rule them all? If everyone uses a brush, isn’t there a case to be made for using a palette knife? Ok, it’s not as clear cut as that. These applications can obviously be twisted and turned in ways that can make them much closer to each other in the end. Plugins are certainly an equalizer. Same goes for round-tripping to external editors.

But right now I can’t help looking at my choice of Aperture as a plus, something that puts me in a particular mindset that’s philosophically different from a Lightroom user. I see my photography in another context, I use other tools that work in other ways, I interface with my work through another window. Interface as zeitgeist so to speak. I’m not trying to delude myself into being some sort of rebel soldier either - I’m simply contemplating my choice beyond keywords, metadata and organization.

full of what?

I know, maybe I’m full of it. Just rationalizing my decision to stick with Aperture. But perhaps I’m on to something. Perhaps software design has become a much more intricate part of our creative process than we give it credit for. Perhaps it impacts our vision and field of view as well.

And perhaps I can wait a little longer.