Aperture To Lightroom Migration Guide
I wrote an Aperture to Lightroom Migration guide for one of my other sites called Aperture vs. Lightroom. Once Apple announced that Aperture was at its end of life, there really wasn't any further purpose for Aperture vs. Lightroom. It's coming down in June, but I thought this post would still be useful for some Aperture users who still need to migrate over to Lightroom.
Why You Need My Aperture to Lightroom Migration Guide
Apple announced the end of future development for Aperture, and recommended Adobe Lightroom as a suitable replacement. That's my affiliate link for Adobe. If you're interested in getting the Adobe Photographer Collection or another subscription to Adobe Create Cloud, I appreciate it if you use my link. It costs you nothing extra and I get a little income to help support this site.
I wanted to create an Aperture to Lightroom migration guide for those who are ready to make the switch. The steps aren't difficult, but there are numerous things to consider. You may not need every step published in this guide, so please use your own judgement and choose the methods that best suit your needs.
Before we begin, I want to note that I'm using the current versions of Aperture (3.5.1) and Lightroom (5.5) at the time I created this guide.
Always Start With A Backup
Aperture works in a non-destructive mode. That means it doesn't apply changes to your original files. The edits and metadata you've applied while using Aperture are stored in the Library. When you export your original files, that metadata may not be included unless you specifically tell Aperture to make a change to your original files.
These changes usually work well, but any change leaves the room for something to get corrupted or disturbed. That's why I always, always recommend that you create a backup before you proceed with any changes. This is true whether you use Managed originals in the Library database or Referenced originals on the Finder. Please make a backup of your Library and original images.
That backup should be on a completely separate drive from your working space. That helps both with performance to reduce waiting time while creating the backup, but it's also an opportunity to create an archive of the current state of your photos. If something goes wrong, you can always revert to those files.
Managed Library Backups
If you use Managed originals inside of your Libraries, there are two options. The first is to use the Vault feature built into Aperture. If you've been using this all along, you're ahead of the game. Make one final update before proceeding.
Another option is to use the finder to simply copy the Aperture library files (those with a .aplibrary extension) from one drive to another. I chose this method to copy several libraries that were over 2 terabytes in size. As you can see, this may take some time.
Don't be too frightened by the estimate. My iMac eventually indicated that it would take 11 days to copy all of the data, but it was complete within 4 hours.
Your backup time may vary depending upon the size of the data you need to copy and the speed of your backup drives. In my case, the Libraries were on a RAID 5 enclosure connected to my iMac by an eSATA port and were going to a RAID 0 enclosure connected by Thunderbolt. If you're copying over USB 2.0 or FireWire, be prepared for a longer wait to back up your data.
Referenced Library Backups
Referenced originals work the same in Aperture as they do in Lightroom. The files are in folders and the Aperture Library only contains the metadata, adjustments and other proprietary data for Aperture.
If that's the case, why bother making backups of the originals? Why not just import them to Lightroom as an Add to the Catalog? You can certainly do that, but you may not have some of the metadata stored in the Aperture Library as a result. In order to get that metadata, you have two options.
- Use Aperture to write the Metadata to the Original files
- Use Aperture to create an XMP Sidecar file
The first is destructive, since it changes the original file. The second is non-destructive, but it doesn't work for all file types. Lightroom will not import an XMP Sidecar along with a JPEG image. If you don't have any JPEG files in your Library, XMP sidecars may be the quickest path for you. However, you still have to go through an Export process to create them.
Aperture only creates Vaults for Managed originals, so you must create your own backups of the Library and original image files. You can use the Finder to drag and drop, as I did, or any backup software that works for you.
About Time Machine
Apple's Time Machine is a handy automated backup system, but it isn't an archival backup system. That means older data gets expunged when the Time Machine disk gets full. Therefore, I wouldn't rely upon Time Machine for these backups. You want to create an archive that won't get lost in a few months.
The reason is because you may want to use these files in the future. Either because you need to do something in Aperture again, because you may want to import them into the forthcoming Photos app from Apple, or because you just want to take your time making the migration to Lightroom and Time Machine may not hold the data long enough.
You can never go wrong by having too many backups. Your Time Machine backups are great for short-term restoration, but my advice is to create a separate archive of your libraries and original images.
Migration Planning And Preparation
The bulk of your work happens before you export original files from Aperture to import into Lightroom. While these programs have many similarities, they aren't identical when it comes to metadata management. There are some things you can transfer from Aperture to Lightroom with ease. There are some things that require a little manipulation before you export from Aperture. Then there are things that just aren't going to transfer at all.
In this section, I'll try to point out what you can do to convert as much of your past work as possible.
The Easy List: Stuff You Can Migrate From Aperture To Lightroom
I've often received messages from concerned Aperture users who were afraid that their original files were “trapped” in the Aperture Library because it's a database. Clearly, that isn't true. You can select your items and Export them at any time to the Finder. Then you can import those items into Lightroom (with the exception of some unsupported file types that Lightroom doesn't accept).
Here is a list of the Lightroom CC supported file formats:
- Camera raw formats
- Digital Negative format (DNG)
- TIFF format
- JPEG format
- Photoshop format (PSD)
- CMYK files
- PNG format
- Video files (AVI, MOV, MP4, and other video files)
Aperture does accept some file formats that you can't import into Lightroom. The two most notable file formats that I use which won't transfer to Lightroom are various Audio files and PDF files. I'm actually a bit shocked that Lightroom doesn't support PDF, as both are from Adobe.
Why would you want a PDF in your digital asset manager? In my case, I use it to organize copies of my US Copyright Registration documents. When I receive a copyright registration, I update a custom field in my Aperture database for each photo covered by that registration, and then I import the PDF into a separate Library I created to manage my Copyright documents.
Should an infringement issue arise, it's easy to find the photo and note the registration number, and then correlate that to the original document from the US Copyright Office. Looks like I won't be doing that in Lightroom. My advice is to get Evernote to manage PDF documents.
Unsupported file formats aside, you can expect to easily import your favorite photo file formats into Lightroom.
Most of your metadata will transfer from Aperture to Lightroom. If you're like me and you use an extensive Keyword list and structure, you can easily export it from Aperture and Import it into Lightroom. I'll cover this in more detail below.
Writing Metadata To Your Originals
By default, Aperture does not write metadata to your files, even those that can handle it. That information goes into the Aperture Library. Before you export your files, you should embed that metadata in the original files.
- Select your photos
- From the menu, select Metadata-Write IPTC Metadata to Original…
- You'll receive a warning that this will change the original file and it is undoable. Select Write to continue.
- Aperture will show a progress bar as it writes the metadata
How do you know when to use IPTC embedded in your files or an XMP Sidecar file? In most cases, you'll be best served by using IPTC inside your files. It will work with your RAW files, TIFF and JPEG files.
Embedded metadata makes changes to your original files, which is why I strongly recommended creating a backup before taking any other action. The chances of damage are small, but you never know when a bad sector or some disk problem will make a simple operation go bad. If you don't have a backup, then such a write operation on your original file leaves you vulnerable in the event of an error.
XMP sidecar files can work for some, but not all, file formats. TIFF and JPEG files won't give you an error when you import them with XMP sidecar files (at least not in my tests), but they also don't bring in the metadata. If you write the IPTC metadata inside the RAW, TIFF or JPEG files, you'll have no problem importing that metadata into Lightroom.
Save the XMP sidecar files for your PSD files.
Some Manipulation Required: Massaging Your Metadata
There are some things that Aperture doesn't export, but that doesn't mean you can't find a way to migrate the information to Lightroom.
Custom fields will not export from Aperture. Yes, you can create custom fields in your Aperture Library. Some plugins also create custom fields. However, you cannot directly export custom field data. There's just no mechanism in Aperture to do it.
On the other hand, you can move that information to a supported field that will export from Aperture and import into Lightroom.
Preparing Custom Field Data For Transfer:
As I mentioned previously, I created custom fields about Copyright registration in my Aperture Library (shown in the example). It's a simple way for me to relate individual photos to a master registration list. Other uses of custom fields are from plugins. The 500px plugin creates a custom field to store the URL of your photo after upload to the site. My FlickrExport plugin does the same thing by storing a URL and ID in custom fields.
Although you cannot export the information in these fields directly from Aperture, you can move the data to unused fields that will export from Aperture and import into Lightroom.
To see what custom fields you may have in your Aperture Library, click the Filter button in the upper-right corner before the search field. You can then click the Add Rule to search for Aperture Metadata. It's the second item on the Add Rule list shown on the right.
The filter box now adds a line called Aperture. The first option in this line shows your custom fields and a few other internal fields for Aperture metadata. As you can see at the bottom of the Filter box image. the first field in this line says Version Name. That's an internal custom field that you'll see in your Aperture Library. However, you can change that to select from the custom fields in your Library.
When you click on the field that shows Version Name, the list appears for you to make a selection.
The following field in the line shows “includes”, followed by a text box. This is where the power of Aperture filters can help you find your custom information, even if you don't know what's inside it.
Click the second field and you'll see there are other options:
- is not empty and does not include
- is not empty and not
- starts with
- ends with
- is empty
- is not empty
Now you can identify the custom fields in your Aperture Library, and you can also identify which items in the Library have information by creating a simple filter to look for “is not empty” fields.
Finding this hidden information is one thing, but now what are you going to do about it?
Moving Custom Field Data
Your first option is to do nothing. If the information doesn't matter to you, there's no point in working to migrate it from Aperture to Lightroom. I don't really care about transferring the 500px URL in my Library, so I won't make any effort. However, I do care about the Copyright fields and the Published field (it shows the date I used one of my images on my web site). That's data I want to save, so I need to put it in a new location.
The first thing to do is look at fields that are common between Aperture and Lightroom. Both use IPTC fields, some of which are very likely unused. Since Lightroom has a much richer implementation of IPTC than Aperture, chances are good that you can find unwed fields in both programs.
Now you have two options to move this information. The first is to do it programmatically with AppleScript. You can get Apple's Aperture 3 AppleScript Reference Guide as a PDF. It's not that large and AppleScript isn't very difficult for most programmers.
Of course, there are plenty of users who aren't programmers. Even if you are, you're going to find yourself writing and testing a script to use for a one-time purpose. That's why I prefer to make the changes inside of Aperture itself using a combination of filter queries and syncing with the Batch Change tool.
Here is an example using one of my Copyright custom fields. The first step was rather simple. I selected the contents of the field and created a filter for the custom field using the Aperture Metadata discussed above.
That filtered the list of photos to just the ones that correlate to this particular registration. Each one has the same content in this field. Now all I need to do is find an alternative field to hold this data that exists in both Aperture and Lightroom.
The easiest way to find a field to use is to open the Batch Change tool. From the menu, select Metadata->Batch Change… or type Shift-Command-B on the keyboard. Select the Add Metadata from field on the Batch Change tool and then select Edit Presets.. at the bottom of the menu.
Now you'll see a list of all the fields at your disposal.
Next, open Lightroom and look at the corresponding fields by selecting Metadata->Edit Metadata Presets… from the menu. Now you can find compatible fields in each program to store your data. In my case, the Copyright field will suffice.
Once I made the change to the preset that includes my copyright notice and the information from my custom fields, I can use the Batch Change tool to quickly modify all of the selected photos.
Take note of the Append or Replace option in the Batch Change tool, right below the Add Metadata From preset selection. I prefer using Replace. Otherwise, you end up just pasting duplicate information into the fields that you have to clean up later.
You can repeat this process for your other images. Another possibility is to make the change in one photo, and then use the Lift and Stamp tool to modify other selected photos on a field-by-field basis.
These techniques work when you want to make a change that you apply to many other photos. For something like a Flickr or 500px URL, each one is unique. You wouldn't use Batch Change or List & Stamp. Rather, you would simply copy the information from the custom field and paste it into an existing, unused field that will transfer to Lightroom.
That's a rather tedious process, so you have to ask yourself how important it is to save that data. For the programmers among you, these unique values are a perfect reason to create an AppleScript that copies from one field and pastes into another for each photo in your Library.
Dealing With Flags, Stars and Color Labels
The good news is that both programs use Flags (or Picks in Lightroom), Stars and Color Labels. Aperture has a few more colors than Lightroom, but that's not the problem. The problem is that this type of metadata doesn't transfer from Aperture to Lightroom…mostly. Once more, there are exceptions.
Flags will not become Picks in Lightroom. If you want to find a way to keep your Flags, then you need to use the process above in such a way that you can transfer some metadata that you can search in Lightroom, and then select all of those items and hit P to flag them as a Pick.
Star ratings do transfer for some file types. My tests showed that star ratings worked fine for my RAW and JPEG files, but they did not transfer for PSD files alone. Aperture cannot embed IPTC information into a PSD file, nor did exporting it with an XMP sidecar file help in transferring star rating information for PSD files.
Color labels are another odd duck. They did not transfer for RAW files or PSD files, but they did work for JPEG files. Perhaps this is because of the Mac OS itself. If you look at the exported files in the Finder, only the JPEG shows up with an associated color.
If you want to keep your color labels, you'll have to apply the same technique I mentioned for transferring your Flags. Find an unused field, type in the color, and then search for it later in Lightroom to make the color label change in bulk. Once again, it's easy to do but a bit tedious.
Before we talk about Keywords, bear in mind that's another option than moving metadata to unused fields. For example, you could make a selection of your photos with a Red color label and add a keyboard called COLOR_RED to all of them. Once in Lightroom, select the photos with that keyword and quickly add the color label. The same principle should work well for other metadata that's common to multiple photos.
Migrating Your Keywords
It's very easy to export your keyword list from an Aperture Library and import it into a Lightroom Catalog. I'd go so far as to say it works perfectly, including any nesting you created in Aperture. The important thing to remember is to import your keyword list into Lightroom before you import any photos.
The reason is because the mere act of importing a photo will bring along the associated keywords. The problem is they will all reside at the top level of the keyword list if you haven't previously established a keyword hierarchy. When Lightroom imports a photo and detects a keyword, it checks the keyword list. If the keyword exists in the list, it makes an association. If it doesn't, it adds the keyword to the list at the top level.
Importing your keyword list after you import your photos will not magically organize your nested keyword list. So all of you neat freaks need to import the keyword list before any photos. Otherwise, you end up with something that looks like a drawer full of loose socks.
In Aperture, select a photo and bring up the Keyword HUD by typing Shift-H. Click the Export button on the bottom. It will default to “Keyword List.txt”, but I generally change that because I keep multiple Libraries that have different keywords inside. So if I create a Catalog called Travel, I'll use Travel Keyword List as a name when I export from Aperture.
Now that you have your keyword list in place, you should have a much easier time keeping it organized when you import photos that have embedded keywords. It's not perfect. I've found some straggler keywords that still showed up at the top of the list instead of in the nested hierarchy.
Fortunately, it's a lot easier to deal with a few misplaced keywords than to create an entirely new hierarchy from hundreds of keywords all located at the top level.
If you're one of those photographers who doesn't really care for keywords, it's an easy item to skip. For the rest of us, this is one of those little things where order of precedence makes a difference between staying organized or creating a huge mess.
You can move your photos and most metadata. What you cannot move are your photo adjustments. All of the work you performed in Aperture to adjust your images will be left behind. If you created Versions of an original image, those will not transfer. You can export them as a static file, such as a JPEG, but then they essentially become a new Original file that's imported into Lightroom.
Lightroom will not recognize your adjustments for Definition, Vibrance or any other adjustment.
The good news is that Lightroom has excellent tools for creating new adjustments. In fact, those adjustment tools are mostly better than their counterparts in Aperture. I'll miss the Retouch tool in Aperture and there is no Skin Smoothing adjustment in Lightroom.
On the other hand, many Aperture users have longed for better noise reduction and lens correction tools. Well, now you have them once you migrate to Lightroom. Since your old edits are gone, it's time to experiment with the new tools are your disposal.
Another part of Aperture that won't transfer are your Projects, Albums, Smart Albums and structural organizational resources. Those are internal to Aperture. Lightroom has its own resources. You'll use Collections, Smart Collections and other variations. We'll discuss how to handle your organizational structure in the next sections about the Export and Import processes.
Exporting From Aperture
By this point, you've done all that you can to protect and prepare your Aperture Library before making the transition to Lightroom. The next step is to plan your Export strategy.
Rather than dumping everything in one place, consider how you ultimately want to manage your photos in Lightroom. Aperture can and should help you put the images in the right place to ease the Lightroom Import process.
How Many Catalogs Do You Want?
I keep multiple Aperture Libraries for different topics – Portraits, Travel, Events, Personal, etc. There are a few reasons for separating these items rather than plopping everything into one large Library. The first is performance. The larger a Library grows, the slower it gets. Daily operations are slower, backups are longer, and it's just not very nimble.
The second reason is to create a firewall in case of a problem. If I have one Library and it gets corrupted, everything is at risk. If I use separate Libraries, I mitigate the risk. A problem in my Travel Library won't affect my portraits and other photos.
My plan is to create a single folder called Lightroom under the Pictures folder that comes with Mac OS X. Under the Lightroom folder, I'll create several sub-folders that correspond to my Aperture Libraries. One for Travel, one for Portraits, etc.
Do you absolutely need multiple catalogs? No. Matt Kloskowski has a good post on why using only one catalog in Lightroom is perfectly fine now. He notes that previous versions of Lightroom, like Aperture, had performance issues when the catalog got too large. That's no longer the case. Using one catalog provides you with a simpler workflow and Lighhtroom can handle it.
Once you've decided which approach you want to take – one catalog or multiple catalogs – go ahead and create a catalog(s) you need before you start filling it with photos.
The Export Step
This part is pretty simple. Select your photos in Aperture. You could select an entire Library, but I recommend doing this slowly by Project or Album. Another reason to avoid selecting all items is because you may need to create different types of exports.
For most files, I recommend changing the Metadata option to Include IPTC. However, some folks will prefer to use XMP sidecar files. Your files, your choice. PSD files should already have metadata inside them. TIFF and JPEG files need to have the metadata written inside their files to show up in Lightroom. It seems that using the Include IPTC option is the easier way to go. Use your own best judgement. Better yet, conduct a few tests of your own before making a complete commitment.
Bring up the Export Originals dialog from the menu under File->Export-Originals… or by hitting Shift-Command-S on the keyboard.
Change the destination to the sub-folder where you want Lightroom to store your images. I don't recommend creating additional sub-folders, though. For each Library, I'll keep my images in a single sub-folder. All of the management I plan to use will happen in Lightroom in the form of Collections and Smart Collections.
As I export a Project or Album from Aperture, I'll then go into Lightroom to handle the import and build my collections. There is no need for multiple sub-folders in the Finder. You want Lightroom to manage your organization, just as you wanted Aperture to manage your organization in Libraries. Creating more sub-folders is just extra work that isn't really productive and is counter-intuitive to the way a digital asset manager should work
Work your way through each Project. Export a little from Aperture. Import a little into Lightroom and build your Collections as you go.
This approach allows you to break up the workload in manageable chunks. If something doesn't go as you expected, you can catch it before you have a total mess on your hands.
There is another approach to getting your original files out of the Aperture database, but I'm not a fan of this approach. There is a command to Relocate Originals, which means that you're telling the Aperture Library that you want to use the selected photos as a Referenced original instead of a Managed Original. When you selected File->Relocate Original.., Aperture will prompt you to identify a file location to store the original files.
The difference between Export Originals and Relocate Originals is the difference between a Copy and a Move. When you export, you're telling Aperture to create a copy of the original, and you have the option to add IPTC metadata or XMP sidecars. When you relocate, you're telling Aperture to move the file from one location to another. There is no option to include IPTC metadata or add an XMP sidecar. If you haven't previously written your IPTC metadata to the original file, it still doesn't have it in the relocated file.
When you use Relocate Original, you're using less disk space than if you make a copy with the Export command. If you're tight on space, that may be a reason to use this approach. It doesn't duplicate your file resource requirements.
In my view, this process takes longer and leaves your Aperture library, for lack of a better word, deflated. It works, but it's slow and may cause you to forget to transfer some information. It's another option for you to use if you need the reduce the amount of space you use during the transfer.
Importing Originals Into Lightroom
Go to the Library Module in Lightroom and select the Import button on the lower-left pane. The order of operation goes from Left to Right. Select your Source for images on the left side in the Source Pane. At the very top is a quick way to locate some traditional sources and access a list of Recent sources. If this is your first Import session, this should quickly get you to the Pictures folder.
Navigate down to your Lightroom folder and then the sub-folder where you exported images from Aperture.
The center pane should show your images. Those already imported into the Catalog will appear disabled. New images will have a Checkmark. Verify the selections to ensure you're importing the files you want. Lightroom is smart enough to avoid importing duplicates by default.
At the top of the center pane are your options:
- Copy as DNG
My preference is to use Add. The files are already in place, so you don't need to copy or move them. You could use Copy as DNG, but I honestly don't care for that format. Just bear in mind that either the Copy, Copy as DNG, or Move options will require using more disk space in another folder.
In this example, we're going to use the Add option. The files are where we want them and there are fewer forms to fill out. In fact, there are only two – File Handling and Apply During Import.
- Build Previews – Lightroom gives you an option to select the size of the previews it uses. It's your choice. The larger previews take longer to build and slow down the import process. They also consume more space. However, they also allow you to see the entire image and zoom in at full resolution. You may want to change this setting depending upon the file size of your camera. For example, a full preview of my 12 MP files from a Nikon D700 are still smaller than a 1:2 preview from my 36 MP files from a Nikon D800.
- Build Smart Previews – Lightroom allows you to perform edits on Smart Previews, even if your original files are offline. Imagine you're traveling with your laptop and you're disconnected from the source files. You can still perform edits on those Smart Previews in Lightroom, and then they will sync up when you re-connect to the source files later. This is a cool feature, so I plan on using it.
- Don't Import Suspected Duplicates – This is on by default and I have no need to turn it off. If you need or want duplicate images in your catalog, be sure to disable it prior to import.
- Make a Second Copy to… – This allows you to create an immediate backup of your source files on another location.
Apply During Import
- Develop Settings – This option allows you to apply basic settings from the Develop module as you import. There are plenty available, such as if you wanted to convert all of the images to Black & White or apply other presets. I'm not a fan of presets (though there are many available for Lightroom), so I wouldn't want to make changes on a mass scale.
- Metadata – We've already covered how to save and convert your existing metadata prior to export in Aperture. This setting is very useful for import in the future from your camera cards, but it's not necessary for this migration guide.
Lightroom's Import Process
All that remains for you to do is to click the Import button on the lower right pane. Lightroom will move fairly quickly because it doesn't have to copy any files. You'll see it build the previews and give a notice when it's complete.
At the end, Lightroom will display only the photos that you just imported. This is a perfect time to add them to a Collection. You can create a collection by typing Command-N or selecting Library->New Collection from the menu.
There are a few options for Collections, Collection Sets and Target Collections. Lightroom also has Quick Collections and Smart Collections. At this stage, unless you are familiar with Lightroom's options, I would just recommend making a simple Collection and continue with your importing process. I'm afraid going into the various features of Lightroom's Collection options is beyond the scope of my Aperture to Lightroom migration guide.
Don't worry, though. There are plenty of excellent resources to help you learn how to make the most of Lightroom's resources.
Concluding The Aperture To Lightroom Migration Guide
First and foremost, I hope this was helpful to some folks. There is more than one way to skin a cat, but this guide shows how I would recommend going through the migration from Aperture to Lightroom. In fact, I'm going through this same process as I wrote this guide.
If other issues come to mind, I'll add them to this guide as applicable. Likewise, I welcome your input to help make this a better resource for others. Thanks for reading and please share it with anyone who may need to use my Aperture to Lightroom migration guide.
I received a kind offer from reader Timothy Spears to share his AppleScripts to export images from Aperture while maintaining the folder structure. He has two scripts, one that exports your original files and another that exports as JPEG images. Many thanks, Timothy!