One of the most common questions I hear Aperture users asking is “how should I organize my library?” At first Aperture seems pretty straight forward as far as organization goes. You create Projects which contain the images from a single shoot, and then you can create Albums, Web Galleries, and Light Tables below each project as you wish. You can use Queries to create Smart Albums within your Projects and so on and so forth.
Well, this all works just fine until you have amassed a few hundred Projects or more. And, if you are one of those photographers out there who is adopting Aperture midstream in your digital lifespan, you probably already have a pile of “Projects” waiting to be imported.
So, I have talked with numerous Aperture users and everyone seems to have a different way of managing their Library. Some prefer to keep things simple and just create a running list of Projects. They tell me things like “it is so easy to just scroll down the list and find the project you are looking for alphabetically.” Okay, well that works just fine if you always name your projects with some consistency.
Then there are the photographers who opt for the chronological approach. By using a hierarchy of “blue” folders these photographers arrange their Projects according to the date they were shot. Seems pretty simple, but finding projects based on your memory of when it was shot can be pretty tough, especially if you shoot a few times a week throughout the year. “What year did I go on that trip to Peru again?”
The truth is, Aperture allows you, the user, to organize your images just about any way you wish, with a few caveats. The main caveat being that an image must reside in a single Project. You can move images from Project to Project at any time, but a single image can never reside in more than one project.
So, I thought I would share a few tips that I find useful for organizing an extensive Aperture library. Of course, these are just tips and suggestions, so please don’t forget that each Aperture user (including yourself) will have a somewhat different approach to organization that works better.
Tip Number 1 - Use Favorites
At the top of the Projects pane you will see a few drop down menus. One of them says “All Projects” and the two on the right look like a plus sign and a star shape. You can mark any Project as a favorite. Just click the star shape drop down and click “Add to Favorites.” Whenever you want to view your favorite projects simply click the All Projects drop down and click Show Favorites. You can mark Albums, Smart Albums and everything else that you can see in the Projects pane as a favorite, and it’s a pretty handy way to filter your projects.
Tip Number 2 - Use Folders
Aperture offers the ability to organize your projects within folders. At first folders can seems a little strange in Aperture. Sometimes they are blue, sometimes they are sort of yellow. Well, it is pretty simple. If your folder exists at the top level above any projects, it will be blue, and in fact is an actual folder inside the Aperture library file. If the folder is beneath a Project in the hierarchy it will be yellow. So, blue folders can contain multiple projects, and yellow folders are folders within a single project.
Tip Number 3 - Use Albums and Smart Albums
Albums are a great way to add a more complex level of organization to your projects pane. Unlike Aperture’s Projects, Albums can contain images from any project, regardless of where they reside in the hierarchy. And, an album can even reside at the top level, outside the scope of a Project. So, albums offer a great way to group images from multiple projects together, or to separate images from within a project into subgroups. Lets say for instance you have shot five basketball games for your home team over the past few weeks. You probably imported each game as a separate project. Within each project you can create an album for your selects, and then, later, you could create a top level album containing a tighter edit from those selects spanning all five games for a portfolio. You could also do this with Smart Albums, they work the same way in the hierarchy, only they use a query to fill themselves with images.
Tip Number 4 - Use Folders To Organize Albums
One thing you might notice if you begin to create top level Albums or Smart Albums is that they get thrown into the list of projects alphabetically. If this seems to disorganized for you, simply make a top level blue folder and move your Albums or Smart Albums inside. Following the above basketball example you could make a blue folder at the top of the hierarchy called Best Basketball Shots. Within this folder you could have multiple albums or smart albums drawing on images from your entire catalog. You could even create a smart album that is a query search of this blue folder and contains only the 5 star images. The possibilities are pretty much endless!
Tip Number 5 - Decide What a Project Means to You
My final word of advice would be to decide what a Project means to you. For many a Project is probably a “shoot.” But, a Project can be just about anything. So be sure to come up with some type of standard. Some people prefer to think of a Project as “everything I shot in 2004.” Within the Project 2004 they might have numerous albums for each month. This is fine, but just remember the one rule in Aperture that is a Project can contain no more than 10,000 images. If you plan to take more than 10,000 images in a year, this approach might not work for you. Also, it pays to keep Projects fairly small in size as they can be easily exported and transfered to other Aperture libraries. Personally, I like to think of a Project as a shoot or an assignment. Sometimes an assignment will span multiple days and consist of a long list of “shoots.” At some point I have to decide if I want to organize the entire assignment as a single project, or perhaps as numerous projects within a single top level blue folder.
Luckily, Aperture is pretty flexible, I can always change my mind later, and reorganize things as I wish. I am always interested to hear how others organize their libraries, so please reply in the comments section.