One of my favorite things to talk about having to do with Aperture is how easy it is to use. Really, Aperture is marketed to professional photographers, but I believe it is a program that could appeal to many more. Once you get past the somewhat sparse landscape of the user interface, and tackle what I think is a fairly shallow learning curve, Aperture can really be a powerful tool for just about anyone who likes to take pictures.
Kendra, my girlfriend, better known on the web as the Island Med Student, is a great example. When I first adopted Aperture, Kendra was making the “switch” to Apple. We bought a new MacBook Pro to replace my G4 Powerbook, and the plan was to get another laptop for Kendra in the near future. So for a while, we shared the MacBook Pro and the old G4. Kendra had been using a Dell desktop PC and had her collection of snapshots dating back to her Nikon Coolpix 775, organized in folders on her hard drive. There was no backup, and the only way to find images was via her system of folders and filenames. Albeit, Kendra is a very organized person, and she had come up with a decent system of filing away her pictures, but once she saw what I was doing with Aperture, she quickly jumped on the bandwagon.
At first I suggested she look into iPhoto, but after she had me explain to her what non-destructive image processing really meant, it was Aperture all the way.
A lot has changed since then. Kendra now uses Aperture on her own MacBook as her sole imaging application. Once in a while she will drag a photo into Photoshop CS2, but it’s a pretty rare occurrence. She has also upgraded her camera, and now shoots with a Canon Powershot S80. Though it doesn’t shoot in RAW format, the S80 is a great little camera that she brings with her everywhere she goes. It has a few advanced features, such as the ability to work in Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority, and even Manual modes, and she was really sold by the slightly wider than average 28mm equivalent lens.
Recently, Kendra and I decided to revamp her website, Island Med Student. Kendra and I started the site back in July of last year as a way for her to blog about her upcoming experience of going through the arduous process of becoming a medical doctor. All along the way, one of her favorite things about her site had been her pictures, and so we really wanted the new site to showcase her shots, and more importantly, we wanted the process of getting her pictures up to the site and published into galleries, to be a piece of cake. After all, as a med student, she has little time to deal with details like FTP and HTML.
Enter the FlickrExport plug-in for Aperture. A while back one of the Inside Aperture contributors, James Duncan Davidson, wrote a post about the latest version of the FlickrExport plug-in for Aperture. Davidson pointed out how this release offered better streamlining and a more thoughtful mapping of metadata. Kendra and I read the post and quickly downloaded the plug-in.
Well, he was absolutely right. The new version really does do a better job of handling the task of uploading pictures to flickr. Why was this so important to us? Well, for the new release of Island Med Student, Kendra and I had decided to move from Movable Type, to WordPress as our content manager. One of the many reasons for this switch had to do with a really slick WordPress plug-in called Flickr Photo Album.
Flickr Photo Album allows a blogger to automatically generate very nice looking photo galleries simply by uploading images to flickr and adding them to a “set.” You can manage all of your blog’s galleries via flickr’s management system, and the galleries show up seamlessly on your site.
With the old site, Kendra had to produce her galleries via Aperture’s web gallery function. While this worked pretty well, and allowed her to display captions for each image, it was really difficult to make the galleries fit the format of the site. She also had to spend a bit of extra time uploading the galleries, and making the proper links in the HTML of her blog so that a reader could see an index of all the previous photo galleries. Needless to say, the topic of updating her photos page was one that seemed to never fall off our to-do list.
With the new setup, Kendra can do everything by herself, and the time commitment is minimal. She simply hooks up her camera via its USB cable and Aperture automatically begins the process of importing her photos.
Kendra then adds basic caption info and metadata including keywords and pertinent IPTC data. One of the great features of flickr is that you can sort images via “tags,” and now that the new FlickrExport plug-in maps keywords to tags, well, Kendra is in metadata heaven.
After importing her photos, Kendra goes through them one by one and adds a star to each photo that she thinks has potential for the gallery. She then usually makes a second pass, filtering for images with one star or greater, and adds a second star to the shots she will ultimately use.
Once she has edited the shoot down to her favorite shots, she makes adjustments for exposure and contrast, applies cropping, and then goes through them one by one adding a caption to each image. She really likes to use the captions to help her tell the story she is trying to convey in her pictures.
Once she has all the captions finalized, she uses the FlickrExport plug-in to upload the photos to her site.
At this point I think it would be pertinent to go into a few of the details, which really make the process sing. First of all, we set up an export preset in Aperture, which sizes the images to match the format of her blog. The preset sets all the pictures to fit inside a 500-pixel box and converts each image to the sRGB color space for use on the web.
In Davidson’s original post, he made mention of the fact that the plug-in defaults to the first export preset in the list. We noticed this right away, and though Kendra was ready to pay special attention to this option each time she uploaded images, it just wasn’t good enough. Then it occurred to me that we could just move the blog preset up to the top slot. I opened the export preset dialog box and low and behold, it worked. Now each time she goes to upload pictures to flickr, the 500-pixel export preset is selected by default.
After playing around a little with the plug-in we also noticed some very cool features that we thought might help us out in the future. In the FlickrExport plug-in preferences box you can set up the plug-in to add a keyword to pictures once they are uploaded. We set the preference to add the keyword “flickr” to each uploaded image. We thought this might make things easier in the future to search Aperture for Kendra’s flickr images.
We also took advantage of the option to add the flickr URL to the image’s IPTC in Aperture. This, we thought, might make referencing her past flickr pictures in future posts even easier.
So Kendra’s upload workflow is now basically a one-step process. In the FlickrExport plug-in window, she can add the images to her photostream, select an existing set, or create a new one. The images get sent to flickr, and any images added to a set are automatically added to a corresponding album on her website. With WordPress she can also browse her flickr images while she writes, plugging in the appropriate HTML code with a single click.
Kendra loves using Aperture. She was a little resistant at first, but once she caught on, there was really no looking back. She now has a permanent archive of every picture she has taken, and with the new FlickrExport plug-in she is leveraging the power of Aperture to make her life as a blogger and med student easier than ever. Sure it can only help that she has a professional photographer hanging around with her 24/7, but it just goes to show you how Aperture is really an application for anyone who likes to take pictures, and not just the pros.