Apple Photos

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Unless you’ve been in a cave, you know that Apple replaced iPhoto and Aperture with Photos, a free photo organizing and processing tool that comes with current versions of the Mac operating system. Its biggest strength is the tie-in with Apple’s iCloud services. Since I don’t own an iPhone, that aspect has no value to me, so this overview is from the point-of-view of a desktop application. In other words, how does it stack up against Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom?

If your need is to create slideshows and books, it’s extremely easy. Simply import the photos you want, group them into a project and then create a book or slideshow from that project. Any of these items is based on templates with preset designs that can be modified. They include editable placeholder text. Printed photo books can be purchased through the application.

Double-clicking any photo opens it into the image editor, which is the closest to Aperture’s adjustment or Lightroom’s develop mode. When you edit the image, a series of tools opens on the right. These can be used to crop, add stylizing filters, heal blemishes, or fix red-eye. The Adjustments tool opens a set of sliders for various color adjustments, but the “add” pulldown enables quite a few more controls than the default. In total, this makes the level of control fairly sophisticated.

With the release of OS X 10.11 (“El Capitan”) Photos now gains the ability to use ExtensionsThese are hooks that allow developers to connect to other mini-applications, which can add functionality to an application – in this case Photos. It would appear that Apple is taking a similar direction with Photos as they did with Final Cut Pro X. That is, to provide hooks so that the growth of the application comes from third-party developers. The first developer to add effects and adjustment tools for Photos is Macphun. I haven’t tested these, but they appear to add a lot of power to Photos. Another recent update is Pixelmator, whose Distort tool is now available within Photos thanks to Extensions. These new tools are available through the Mac App Store.

Exports are handled through a share menu, as in Final Cut Pro X. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the sort of batch processing control that Aperture or Lightroom offers. While I consider this a functional new tool that many will like, it really isn’t for photography power users who need an industrial strength application. Nevertheless, it’s fast and a good organizing tool. On a recent project with about 1,000 old photographs and 35mm slides, I used Lightroom for all the image correction, but then exported adjusted, final images. I am now using Photos to handle the subsequent management of these newly-corrected shots. If you are a video editor who has to prep a ton of photos for use in an NLE, then Apple Photos offers little or nothing over the tools you’ve been using thus far, unless you just want to go with a newer, simpler tool.

Although Photos uses a similar Album and Project organizing structure as Aperture, I find its tabbed implementation too simplistic and actually more confusing than the sidebar panel used in Aperture. I personally prefer the folder and subfolder structure of Lightroom, but either works for me. My honest advice is that if you want the best tool, get Lightroom or find a (now defunct) version of Aperture and use that. However, for basic corrections and fast organization of a lot of files, Photos is definitely a viable option.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters