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.

HDR Made Easy

HDR photo example
High Dynamic Range photography is made easier with helpful software - Photo by Abphoto

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, photography is a technique for combining multiple exposures of the same scene into a single photo that has a higher dynamic color range than your camera would be capable of producing on its own.To capture the HDR bracket photos, you can either do it manually, or some cameras support a function called AEB, or Automatic Exposure Bracketing.  AEB isn’t really made for HDR photos, so most of the time you’ll be better off bracketing manually.

Merging the layers and doing the tonal mapping can be accomplished in any of the major photo editing programs commonly in use today like GIMP and Photoshop.

Another option is to go the easy way and buy a program specifically tailored for the job.  If you’re going to be doing a lot of HDR work, it’s well worth the money.

One option is a program called Photomatix by HDRSoft.  It comes in two flavors: Photomatix Essentials for $39, aimed at users new to HDR and Photomatix Pro for $99 which has a function called Exposure Fusion which makes natural looking HDR photos a breeze and is available for Mac and Windows users.

Mac users have the option of trying HDRtist.  It’s a fairly simple program in terms of operation.  Just drag your bracketed photos into the program and use the slider to adjust the exposure overlap.  The basic version is free and pro version is $29.95.

Another option is HDR EFEX Pro by Nik Software, but at $159.00 it doesn’t seem to offer enough advantages to justify the price difference with Photomatix Pro.