Aperture vs Lightroom and Business Model Scalability

lightroom vs aperture

Recently I started to test Apple’s Aperture vs Adobe’s Lightroom 4 as tools for my photo workflow.  This is a question right up my alley. I work in Operations and have a Master’s Degree in Operations so the workflow side of managing a large volume of photos efficiently to reduce cost and stress and to maximize revenue or at least personal satisfaction is a sweet spot convergence of my interests and skills.

At work, we would call this exercise “creating the business architecture for scalability.” It basically means getting your working foundation set right so you can grow in volume and revenue. The tools I’ve tried before simply are not scalable.

Folder structure architectures are too many levels deep. The access paths are vertical with many

English: Apple's headquarters at Infinite Loop...
Apple’s headquarters at Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

clicks when horizontals would be faster.  iPhoto has tagging functionality but somehow still doesn’t help me find my photos. When I have asked other photographers how they organize their photos to find them I get a variety of responses; a shoulder shrug, a sideways glance as if I were asking about trade secrets, and the occasional “I use Lightroom Catalogue” or “Aperture”. Adobe’s profiles of Nevada Weir whom I wrote about earlier and Ryan Heffernan are fairly high level in this area. I think I’m going to have to dig down and drill deep.

I decided to compare Aperture vs Lightroom 4 to see if these tools would help me handle the volume of photos.  I could easily picture a table with 3 columns: Feature, Aperture and Lightroom 4. For example, in terms of platforms Aperture is only available on Apple.  Lightroom is available for both MAC and PC. Aperture costs $79 and is available through the app store.  Lightroom costs….well, I haven’t warmed to Adobe’s new business model pricing schemes yet.

Adobe San Jose Building
Adobe San Jose Building (Photo credit: Marty Nelson)

However, before I could make such a table, I needed to understand what miracles I expected this tool to do for me.  What are the criteria? What problem am I trying to solve?  What is the shape of it?  What is it and what is it not?  So I got started.

Do I need it to edit? No. Would it be nice to have editing features in it? Yes.

Do I need it to find photos? Yes, with over 7,000 photos in the last 16 months from my iPhone 4 alone and many before that spread across multiple analog and digital devices from Canon to Holga, and more to come, emphatically, Yes!

How will I find photos?  By tag, but what tags? Which tags are important? Stage (Do, Doing, Done), Size (print, web) and Signed (yes, no) are important attributes, editing tool provenance would be nice, a sort of editing tool history and it would also be nice to know if this photo was posted to Instagram, used in a book or sent as a Postcard so usage is also important. Here’s a swag at what I think I need:

  • Stage (Do, Doing, Done)
  • Size (Print, Web)
  • Signed (yes, no)
  • Social Media Usage: Promoted in which Social Media channel (which blog, FB, Instagram, Google+,etc. )
  • Product Offerings: Books, prints, licensed,  etc
  • Product Offering Channel: SmugMugRed BubbleBlurb, App Store etc
  • Audience: which groups of people specifically would be interested in this image
  • Editing Tool History: Which apps did I use and in what order
  • Sales History (buyer, channel, price, notes for follow-up, reason for buying)
  • Edition History (x/y)

Wow! That’s a lot and I haven’t even started looking at the tools.  Clearly there’s more to learn here and an example to follow or workflow template to leverage would help a lot.

Who has a workflow model that’s working for you? What tools do you use?


    • Hi Carla! I saw how a friend of mine used Aperture and I can see how it helps organize things through folder structures. Like you say though, the editing features in LR are over the top fun and wonderful. I do most of my editing in an iPad so I had sort of written off editing on the computer. But, it’s silly to cut myself off from all the editing capabilities that LR, Aperture and Photoshop provide. As you say, the editing in LR is fun! Thanks for stopping by!


  1. If you don’t need to edit your photographs, buy either of these applications and go. Just remember not to move your files once you import them into Aperture or Lightroom without telling the program where you’ve moved them to. Either application allows embedding whatever metadata you can imagine and searching for those tags later. Another idea is to use a third party service like Photoshelter. They allow you to keyword images and having them there provides an extra level of security against failed hard drives. You don’t have that many images, really, so you could get a basic subscription for say $10 per month and have everything you need. For what it’s worth, I use Lightroom, but that’s because its editing features are superior.


    • Hi Pete, thanks for the tip on Photoshelter. It looks like a fantastic display and distribution tool that includes the ability to sell. I’ll check it out. Since I wrote this post I purchased Lightroom and have centralized my photos from the last 10 years from various drives and locations into one place to build my catalogue. It felt great to get that done. Thanks for adding your notes on the comparison between Aperture and Lightroom too. It’s very helpful to hear from those who have knowledge of both. Thanks for stopping by and love your website! Jennifer


  2. I’m currently using Aperture but with 150,000+ photos left to sort (I’ve gone through 15k already) I’ve got a long way to go. I’m downloading a trial of Lightroom now to take a peek and see if it’s any better than Aperture.

    Best of luck with your picture sorting efforts… it’s a real pain in my opinion!


    • HI Jason, I agree, picture sorting is a real pain. I got started on it and realized that I had so many different reasons for keeping photos that it only made sense to do a superficial cull for blurry photos, accidental and no good photos etc. From talking to my friends who use Aperture, I’m not sure that Lightroom is any more help. In fact, most of the photo culling that I’ve done so far, I’ve done outside of any program and just in the folder structure. I hope you find LR more useful in this phase of editing! Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer


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