Aperture vs Lightroom

aperture 3
Aperture 3 is worth a look if you have a Mac

There are holy wars in the tech world, but the discussion about Aperture vs Lightroom is more like a friendly rivalry than any serious dispute.

If you don’t have a Mac, you only have one option, which probably helps explain why Lightroom dominates the marketplace. That’s good and bad: Good because you have a lot of resources for support. Bad if there’s something you don’t like about the program.

Lightroom 3 is the industry powerhouse, more of my pro photography associates use that than any other image management software, including many who are shooting 2 and 3 weddings a week. They have their Lightroom work flow down to a science. They can shoot 2 weddings on a weekend and have them basically ready to deliver inside two weeks. Considering the amount of post-processing work a wedding takes, that’s truly impressive turn-around time.

On the agency side, the majority of companies I work with here are using Aperture. These are high volume shops that are jamming a lot of custom ad work out the door every week; they manage 10’s of thousands of photos.

Those are anecdotal observations for sure, but there’s at least some validity to them. The ad agencies are graphics intensive and most were already using Apple computers. If you’re more comfortable working on Macs, you’ll probably like Aperture better.

I’ve had a chance to try them both this week and, once you get used to the vagaries of working on a Mac, I do like Aperture better. It seems more fluid and intuitive than Lightroom, with more ways to quickly edit images. To be open about disclosure, I did have an Apple pro who works with commercial photos every day showing me the ropes.

Both support tethered shooting, which as a wonderful option to have in the studio, and both support popular plugins like Topaz.

There has been some back and forth in discussion boards about a difference between RAW conversions, but even a color corrected studio monitor, I couldn’t see enough difference to make it an issue.

To be completely fair, I don’t have a Mac and, while I do like Aperture better, I don’t like it well enough that I’d go buy an Apple computer just to get it.

The Lightroom interface is less intuitive and harder to get used to, but not so bad it’s a deal breaker. There are more clicks involved for editing, that did bother me a little. In a high volume environment those clicks make a difference.

The bottom line: If you have a Mac, then you have a wonderful choice between two really great products. I think you’ll like Aperture better and, at $149.00 (retail box at B&H, $79.99 download from Apple), you’ll save some money. If you don’t have a Mac, don’t feel like you’re missing anything with Lightroom for $209.00.

Best Free Image Editing Programs

free image programs
GIMP is one of the stand out free image editing programs

While most professional photographers will utilize a professional image editing system like Adobe Lightroom, Apple’s Aperture Pro, or Adobe Photoshop, there are a lot of people who don’t need all that high-priced processing power and a few who just can’t afford it yet.

There’s no need to feel left out, there are many really good free photo editing applications out there.  Some require a bit of learning and lack the automation and polish of more expensive programs, but you can’t argue with the cost.

GIMP 2.6

GIMP is proof that high end image processing capabilities don’t have to cost a lot of money and it runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The downside is it has a steep learning curve. If you’re coming at GIMP from an older version of Photoshop, you can almost forget it. GIMP gets its automation from scripts generated by the user base and getting them to work right can take a bit of practice.

I’ve also talked to the GIMP developers about changing the name, trying to point out the connotations of the name in English, but they just laugh and say I’m crazy.

Picasa 3.8

Picasa offers superb organizational tools, galleries, geotagging data, support for RAW formats, and basic editing features. I’ve been a fan of Picasa from the beginning and, like most of Google’s tools, it just keeps getting better.

Probably the best organizational feature is the Unnamed Faces tool. When you import pictures of people, Picasa puts people it doesn’t recognize in a special folder and lets you tag them when you have time.

New editing features include blemish fix and basic retouching.

Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011

As the name implies, this application is limited to those of you using Windows. Despite that limitation, Windows Live Photo Gallery is quickly becoming a capable application. The first couple generations were a little chunky, but those days are behind them.

Windows Live Photo Gallery includes features to combine parts of two or more photos, retouch pictures, automatically stitch panoramas, and straighten photos that are crooked.

It may not be a power user tool, but it does bring a lot of push-button functionality to new users.


Paint.net is another Windows only program, but gets very high ratings from users and reviewers. CNET gave it 5 stars, as did Softpedia, and PC World.

Designed to be quickly intuitive, Paint.net supports many high end features including layers, unlimited undo, and dizzying array of special effects. Paint.net has an active and supportive community that provides a lot of support.


This is a Linux only program, but I wanted to give it honorable mention for being one of the best free photo applications on the market. It organizes photos by gallery, plus features a full suite of photo editing tools and compatibility with the KIPI plugin library.