Programs for two-dimensional graphics fall into three categories: design, paint and photography. Adobe Photoshop has been the “Swiss Army Knife” software that most video professionals rely on to do all of these functions, but its main strength is image layout and design. Realistic painting that mimics natural media like oils and chalks continues to be the hallmark of Corel Painter. Neither application is much help if you need to organize hundreds of images, so programs like Apple’s iPhoto, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 and Google’s Picasa have come to fill that void for legions of photographers worldwide. These serve the needs of most amateurs, but if you’re a pro who needs industrial strength photo organization and manipulation software, then Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom lead the pack. Both applications offer similar features and Adobe and Apple have been responding to each other tit-for-tat with new features in every software update – all to the benefit of the user.
In early 2008, Apple released Aperture 2, which was quickly followed by the 2.1 update. Aperture 2 added 100 new features, but the biggest improvement was faster performance, enabling quicker previews and image browsing. Aperture 2.1 introduced a plug-in architecture that has opened Aperture to a large field of third party developers. To date about 70 plug-ins have been developed for functions that include image manipulation, export, file transfer and Apple Automator workflow scripts. Apple has targeted professional photographers as the main customers for Aperture 2 and offers extensive support, such as video tutorials, on their website. There’s also a growing community of users and developers focused on Aperture and its plug-ins.
Documentary films and corporate image videos make extensive use of photographs to tell the story. Aperture 2’s file management is the biggest selling point for video producers and editors. Images in your library are organized by projects, albums, books and light tables. You can store master images in the Aperture library or link to other folders. There’s a new Quick Preview mode to that rapidly updates images during browsing. When not in the Quick Preview mode, Aperture 2 loads the full resolution images into the viewer (if they are available on the mounted drives) from the master files. You may use the Loupe (photographer’s magnifying glass) to isolate and analyze a portion of the photo at a 1:1 pixel size, which is accessed from the master image. Or just zoom the image to its actual size if your prefer. If the drive with the master images is not mounted, then Aperture displays a hi-resolution proxy image. Standard image corrections can be made when master files are available and these are applied as non-destructive filters, like adjustment layers in Photoshop, so your master image is never altered. Corrections are applied only to an exported image, therefore “baking in” these changes to a new version of the photo.
You can add custom metadata to each photo, which can be used to automatically populate smart albums. For example, as you browse and evaluate images, a rating system or keyword can be applied to each selected still. Smart albums can be tied to certain metadata information, so as you apply the right criteria, these images instantly show up in the appropriate smart album. Photos in an album, smart album, book or light table are linked back to the original image files in the project. As you adjust the non-destructive color settings, these changes ripples through to all the instances of that image in an album or light table. There are numerous templates and now export plug-ins to send images to locations outside of the Aperture 2 environment. The application is tightly integrated with Apple’s MobileMe web service, but other options via third party exporters include Facebook, Flickr, Gmail and Picassa to name a few. This makes Aperture 2 the ideal tool for location managers, casting directors, producers and directors who like to post photos to a web location for quick and easy client review. If you are a Final Cut Pro editor, there’s even a plug-in to send selected images out as a Final Cut Pro sequence, complete with a choice of transition effects.
Imposing structure on a ton of photos is very important, but in the end, it’s all about image quality. In the documentary scenario, many stills given to the editor require a lot of clean-up, like dust-busting and cropping. Newer snapshots may require red-eye correction. These tasks have been traditional Photoshop strengths, but are actually better handled in a photo-centric application like Aperture 2. The tools include straightening and cropping, as well as a variety of color balance and enhancement filters. The image adjustment toolset is rounded out by non-destructive retouching brushes (repair, clone, healing) and vignettes. If you shoot camera RAW photography, Aperture 2 supports a wide variety of camera models plus the Adobe DNG format, and gained new RAW fine-tuning tools.
Photographers can now tether certain Nikon and Canon digital SLR cameras to the computer and capture their images directly into Aperture 2. You might not think this applies to video editors, but I’ve done a lot of projects where old photographic prints had to be scanned or shot with a video camera. Tethered operation for copy stand work seems like a much better and faster way to accomplish this task!
While we’re talking about camera RAW images, I have to quickly point out that the .R3D format of RED Digital Cinema’s RED One camera is not supported in Aperture 2. One of the beauties of shooting with RED is that the high resolution progressive frames also make great stills for print campaigns derived from the same shoot. Much like pulling a frame out of the 35mm negative after a film shoot. The RedAlert application can export 2K and 4K stills in the TIFF format, so it’s a simple task to import these into Aperture 2 for further manipulation. Aperture 2 isn’t as complex as Photoshop and its photographic tools are more comfortable for most directors of photography. So, it’s the ideal place for a DP to import sample stills from RED and do a quick grade for the director, client or colorist as a reference for his intended look.
Aperture has offered an “edit with” feature since the beginning, which lets you designate an application like Photoshop as an external image editor. The new, third party image filters are accessed through the same “edit with” menu selection. Unlike other plug-in formats, these filters open as separate applications with their own interface. Apple got the ball rolling by integrating a full-featured Dodge and Burn filter. Tiffen and DFT joined the party, as did traditional photography software and Photoshop filter vendors, like Nik Software (Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro) and Picture Code (Noise Ninja). Unlike Aperture’s own internal tools, these filter changes are destructive, so when you use one, a copy of the image is created with the applied effect, so you aren’t locked into that result.
Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine and NewBay Media, L.L.C.