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By Derrick Story | Tuesday, June 03, 2014

One Library Shared by Both Aperture and Lightroom

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Aperture or Lightroom?

Some photographers just can’t decide. And to be honest, for image editing, they don’t have to.

That’s because both Aperture and Lightroom can be configured to share the same collection of master images. Keep all of your photos in one directory—on your computer or external hard drive—then “point”each application to them.

Since both Aperture and Lightroom are non-destructive editors, neither will alter the original photograph. This means you can edit one photo as a duotone in Lightroom, then jump over to Aperture and make it a 1960s Polaroid. The master picture on your hard drive will remain as you originally captured it with the camera.

That’s because each application notes your editing instructions, then creates a new JPG preview based on those adjustments. The original photo is the starting point, but none of those instructions are ever applied to it, only to the new image that each application generates.

From your perspective, this all just happens magically. What we see when we move an editing slider is that the picture on the screen changes. What really happens is that the application reads the master photo, notes the edits that you want to apply, then creates a new JPG preview based on those components. Like I said, magic!

This is why you can point both applications to the same pictures without worry. The trick is how.

Setting up Aperture

I recommend creating a new library for your shared images. The main reason for this is because it will be a “referenced” library (meaning that you “point” Aperture to the master files) instead of a “managed” library, where the masters live inside the Aperture container. Generally speaking, it’s best not to mix these.

In Aperture, go to File > Switch to Library > Other/New.

Now that you have a fresh library for this scenario, point Aperture to a collection of master files on your computer or external hard drive. Go to File > Import > Files and navigate to the images that you want to add to the library.

Aperture Referenced Files

Now here’s the key. In the Import dialog panel, under Store Files, choose “in their current location.”Then click on “Import Checked.”Aperture will note the location of the master images, but leave them exactly where they are. This is why we call this a “referenced”library.

You can now add metadata, edit the image, and play to your heart’s content, knowing that the master file will remain untouched and unmoved.

Setting up Lightroom

Lightroom - Add/Import

The process is very similar for Lightroom. Go to File > Import Photos and Video. In the left side panel, navigate to where the master files reside. It’s those same pictures that you pointed Aperture to. On the top of the Lightroom interface, make sure “Add” is highlighted. That means that Lightroom will note the location of the masters without moving or copying them. Click on the Import button to finish off the process.

Testing the system

Open Lightroom, choose a picture, and edit it. Do something distinctive such as the split tone that I did to the Las Vegas ferris wheel file. Then open Aperture, and do something completely different to the same image. In my case, I applied the onOne Software Urban preset to the photo.

Lightroom - Split Tone

The picture appears completely different in each application. But the master should be untouched. To verify this, open it in another application such as Adobe Bridge or Preview on a Mac. Even after playing with the picture in both Lightroom and Aperture, the original file will open in the third app and appear just as you captured it in the camera.

Final thoughts

I recommend that you choose one app for organizing your images. Things can get confusing if you spread organization among multiple programs. But I don’t think that’s true for image editing. And if you create an effect you like with an app that isn’t your organized library, you can always export a copy of that photo and import it into the other program.

I organize my collection in Aperture. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to use the noise reduction or lens correction features in Lightroom. And like I said earlier, I can always export a copy of the finished file out of Lightroom and add it to my Aperture library.

You can learn more about setting up a referenced library in my Aperture 3.3 Essential Training course.

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