Photos for Mac: Apple's betrayal of pro photographers?

I have worked for the past couple of weeks to set up a test Aperture Library so that I could begin to evaluate Photos for Mac, the application to replace iPhoto and Aperture according to Apple.  I built an Aperture library of 11,994 files which included RAW (Nikon, Canon and Sony), JPEG and video files that covered about 4 months of work.

A bit of perspective:  I don’t make a living wage from photography, but I do make enough to break even.  I estimate that I have between 300,000 and 400,000 images managed within the Aperture structure.  All of my primary images are referenced, but all of the editing information is stored within Aperture libraries.  This work spans from 2001-2015.   

My comments are based on Photos v1.0.  I think it might be easiest to describe what the program does.  Simply put, it is an iPhone/iPad picture sharing application with a core of picture editing capabilities and no meaningful data management or image editing capabilities other than the Apple proscribed method.

Importing Aperture Libraries

On your first opening of Photos, you are presented with a nice wizard that allows you to select an Aperture library to import.  During this process, a Photos Library will be created on the drive that the Aperture Library resides. 

Problem 1: You are not given a choice as to where the Photos library will go so you have to make sure there is enough room on the drive that holds the Aperture library.  

Problem 2: If you try to do a search to find solutions with Photos, you will pull up a ton of stuff that has nothing to do with Photos for Mac.  The choice of the name Photos is horrible for someone wanting to find help or information about Photos for Mac by doing internet searches.

Issue 1: You will need to decide whether you want to use the iCloud feature of Photos.  First, only one Photos Library can be enabled to share pictures via the iCloud structure.  Second, the pictures to be shared need to be managed and not referenced.  If your pictures are referenced in Aperture, they will remain referenced in the conversion to a Photos Library structure, but those referenced images can not be used for the iCloud feature. But it is possible to consolidate the referenced images into the Photos Library and make them managed.

Issue 2: I discovered another nasty problem this weekend.  I had built my test library and referenced images on an external drive attached to my iMac.  I was traveling so I took the external drive with me and connected it to my MacBook Pro Retina Display computer.  Opened my test library and it did NOT know where the original files were!  I relinked the originals through the dialogue box and the originals were reconnected.  When I returned home, and went to work on my test library on my iMac, again it did not know where the originals were and I had to relink them again!!  This greatly restricts the utility of storing your files and library on portable media.

My Aperture Library was 32.7 GB and my Photos Library was 39.5.  I am not sure whether the increase in size is proportional or fixed.  It took about 45 minutes to convert the test library.

There are several different views of the pictures.  Open the sidebar and you will see a folder labeled ‘Photo Events’ (mine was called iPhoto Events except it came from an Aperture Library).  I just changed the name.  Each of my projects came through as either an album or a folder (see below).  If they came through as a folder that meant I had albums embedded into a project in Aperture.


In addition to the sidebar view, you see your pictures in the ‘View>Photos’.  At the highest level, you can see the pictures by year as shown below (Titled Years).  One click on the arrow in the upper left corner, expands it to a weekly view (Titled Collections) and a second click expands the display to a daily view (Called Moments).


You can also view your pictures through the ‘View>Albums’ perspective.  At the highest level, you see the available albums with the top row being built in albums and below that albums I have created.

If I select an album, for example, my ‘Photo Events’ you will see the additional albums contained within ‘Photo Events’.  And if you double click on a particular album, you can see the individual pictures or sub albums.

Notice that the name of each album is displayed below the album picture (this can be changed if you wish by selecting the picture in the album you want to be the ‘Key Photo’)

When you open a particular album to see the individual pictures it will look something like this:

Notice that there are no names attached to the individual pictures.  That is because Photos wants to display the picture’s title rather than its file name.  

Titles vs filename:  I have had some interesting discussions about the use of Titles vs filenames.  Apparently, titles can be embedded into the image file where as filenames are not embedded into the actual image file as part of the metadata.  And Titles for pictures are part of the global standardization of metadate for pictures (IPTC) and also here. As OS systems change, there may be a need to change the filename structure whereas the embedded Title should be protected, thus making it more portable as technology changes.  

If you are like me and have never entered picture titles, there is small Applescript that will transfer your filename into the title field.  You can find it here.  I have tried this script and get an error message.   Or if you would like to change the IPTC Title Field to the existing Aperture version name prior to import into Photos, here is an approach.  I have tried this script and has worked with limited testing.  Just remember this will replace any existing IPTC fields with the version name.


1. Once you open an Aperture Library in Photos, the file name changes to ‘.migratedaplibrary’.  Should you delete the Photos library, you will not get a second chance to open this library in Photos as Photos will not see it as a choice.  Lesson:Make sure you have multiple copies of your Aperture libraries before even testing Photos.

2. The background color is white and there is no option to select your own background color.  I hate white, it is hard on my eyes and my eyes are drawn to brighter regions first.  In the Edit and Full screen mode, the background colors are dark

Import pictures from a card or camera.

Matters get a bit more complicated when one wants to import pictures and video from a card.  You need to make a couple of decisions before you import the pictures.  First you will need to decide whether you want your own filename structure and you will need to decide whether you want the pictures managed in Photos or whether you just want Photos to reference the pictures.

With respect to filename structure, Photos has no ability to rename the file upon import.  This was an extremely useful feature that allowed me to create a unique filename for each picture.  There is also no ability to create a unique Title for each picture either.  In my mind this is a very serious deficiency in Photos.  In its current state, my only choice is to either use the camera file name as is (this will result in redundant and not unique file names—not a good solution) or to drag the files over to the drive housing my pictures and use a renaming program (Rename works pretty well..there are multiple applications with the same name).

The other issue to decide is whether you want your pictures managed by Photos or just referenced.  Managed means the pictures are stored within the Photos Library.  Referenced means the pictures are stored outside the Photos Library and Photos just points to them.  BUT if you want to use the iCloud feature, the pictures need to be managed.  For many reasons, I prefer to have my pictures referenced and not stored in the application library.  

Another unpleasant surprise, if one initially decides to let Photos manage their pictures, but then changes there mind and wants them referenced, there is no relocate masters as there was in Aperture.  I can export the originals or an edited version of the picture, but now I have two digital copies of the same image.

In the final analysis, my tenative workflow will be as follows

1. Drag image and video files to the proper location on my external drives.

2. Rename the files according my filename structure that I have used for 15 years (and never lost a picture in 300,000 plus)

3. Import the files making sure the Importing box is unchecked.

I have not fully tested this approach particularly with relocating the Photos referenced library to a different drive.  Also with this approach there remains the nasty problem that the Title field of the picture remains empty.  Since Photos places a very high priority on the Title field, it becomes a very big problem quickly.

Library Consolidation

Part of my work flow was to create small Aperture Libraries on Western Digital Passport drives.  I would work on these libraries until project completion.  Once completed, I would import and consolidate the smaller Aperture Libraries into a master yearly library and this would become the final permanent storage location (backed up and archived).  I evolved to the workflow for a couple of reasons:

1. When actively working in a Aperture Library, performance and stability were better than larger libraries.  And if the library got corrupted, I would not loose everything.

2. I work at many different places and all I need to take was my current passport drive and plug it into my desktop when at home and into my laptop when traveling.  In this model, I could have all my active projects/edits and pictures wherever I was.

3. Lastly, it is a fundamental truth that where ever your pictures are stored, over time, you will run out of space.  And even if you store all your pictures as referenced, the library (either Aperture or Photos) will be come too large for your media.  And storage capabilities increase over time and so it would be very helpful to be able to consolidate the libraries together

Photos inability to consolidate libraries and export content into separate libraries is a very serious limitation.

Image Information

You can access the image information by clicking on the i icon at the top left of the window.  Below is the information provided.  This is a floating window so it changes as you change pictures.  It is a pretty limited set of information.  As examples of missing data: focal distance, aspect ratio, exposure bias, copyright notice and etc.  I would be nice to see all available information from the EXIF and IPTC data

Search Capabilities

At the present time, the only mechanism to find a particular picture or set of pictures is to create a smart album.  While you can edit a smart album definitions (see smart album editing screen), you are restricted to the Match All or Any in aggregate which complicates searching.

My preliminary working model will be to build a series of Smart Albums for my standard set of searches and then just edit them to the specifics of the task.  This is not a great work around.

In Aperture, I typically set my projects to display 1 star pictures, when I was done with them.  If I want to accomplish the same thing, I would need to create a smart album for each album.  

Photos needs a better search/find capability.

Image Editing

When you first open the Edit window, you will see the following screen.  There are 6 options.

With the exception of the Adjust choice, they are reasonably self explanatory.  When you select the Adjust choice, these are the options available: Light, Color and Black & White.  If you slide your cursor over the option, a light bar appears  in the image below.  You can move this to the left/right and invoke some embedded routine to make a Light adjustment, however, you can also select the down carat at the upper right

and this displays more detail of adjustments possible in the light pane (see below).

You can also add additional adjustment tools to this pane (see below)

While I have not critically examined all of these options, they include the vast majority of my routine image adjustments I make in Aperture.  I have not examined the quality of these tools in any detail.

An absolutely huge deficiency in Photos 1.0 is the inability to use external image editors such as Photoshop or Perfect Photo Suite.

Another significant problem is you can only stamp image adjustments made in one picture to a single picture at a time.  This substantially reduces the utility of the Stamp Adjustment Functions.   

My Summary of Photos 1.0

I believe my comments need to be interpreted within my environment.  I have 300,000-400,000 images spanning 2001-2015 stored on 4 main external drives (6-12 TB for a total of about 28 TB).  Some of these ‘images’ are video files.  Moving that content into some cloud format is not a viable choice.  

I rarely shoot pictures with my iPad/iPhone.  I alway shoot RAW at 40MB per image with my Nikon D800 or Sony a7R.  Moving 10’s of GB of image files for a particular shooting session into the cloud is also not viable.

Unless Apple decides to address these critical issues in future versions, I will likely never use Photos.  I believe it is possible to add these capabilities into Photos and if Apple chooses to do so, Photos could well be a very useful tool for the pro photographer (thus the ? mark in the title).

1. Digital Asset Management.  These are just a few of things that come to mind, but DAM in Photos needs to at least match Aperture’s capabilities

     a. Create a solution for the Title vs Filename

     b. Rename file upon import and auto insert Titles if desired

     c. Ability to import and export Photos Libraries

     d. Allow for relocation of master files outside of the Photos    Library

      e. Address the issue that the Photos Library and the computer reading the Library are linked so that if one moves the library and referenced pictures to a new computer, one is forced to relink the files.

2. Ability to edit with external editors.  The reason for this is obvious.  Also address the issue that only a single picture at a time can be stamped with image adjustments from another picture.

3. Expanded Image Information options.  The information exists, but can not get to it. 

4. Rating/ranking of pictures.  The capability in Aperture was so incredibility easy to use and useful to the process of culling through pictures.  The like/not like in Photos is not sufficient.  My practice was to rate pictures, usually on a 0, 1, 2 star basis, to begin the process.  Then I would review the 0 star (unrated) to see if I wanted to upgrade any of them.  Then I would review the 1 star pictures and determine whether I wanted to downgrade them or upgrade them.  Finally I would review the 2 star pictures and determine whether any of them needed to be down graded. The unrated pictures were ignored, the 1 star got standard adjustments and the 2 star pictures got stanard adjustment plus special detailed work to maximize their impact.  

5. Search/Find capabilities: There are many times when I just want to find a picture quickly without having to create a smart album.  

A© 2011-2018 by Steven Seelig, Chicago Photographer                          630-561-6581