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Photos… What It Is, What It Isn’t, What It Shall Be

PhotoJoseph's picture
February 12, 2015 - 6:00pm

Hi folks,

As you know by now Photos for OS X beta has been released to developers as part of Mac OS X 10.10.3 beta. There's lots of information out there already due to Apple pre-releasing it to a series of media outlets and journalists who had time to prepare detailed articles and preview videos for its announcement last Thursday. Unfortunately, I was not on that list. This simple fact is extremely telling of the target market for Photos users. David Pogue, The Verge, Apple Insider, and The Wall Street Journal talk to everyman. I do not. My audience – you all – are the Aperture dedicated. Those still holding out hope that Photos will replace their beloved photo management app. This site, and by extension you, were excluded from this early release opportunity. I have friends at Apple. This wasn't personal; it's business. This alone answers most of the questions you should have. 

I've read and watched as much as I can of what's out there. I'm currently on the road for the LUMIX: Shoot Anything tour with no ability to install the beta and try it out myself. Even if I had a Mac to do it on, I don't have the time to dedicate to it. This whole thing started (for me) when I disembarked a plane at LAX to start my tour and opened the first email send by a dedicated reader with a screenshot of developer notes for OS X 10.10.3. So my take on the app is entirely coming from other sources, the official reviewers guide, and Apple itself. This is not an opinion piece on the state of the app; this post is to clear up some misinformation and state some facts. OK, and a little speculation.

Just the facts, Ma'am. And a little speculation. 

We expect Photos for OS X to be released this spring. There's no such thing as a hard ship date for Apple, but that's likely when it is expected. You have likely read April all over the internet. That may happen. It may not. There is no publicly stated fixed ship date.

Photos is not an Aperture replacement. At this point, it's a phenomenal iPhoto replacement. It offers most features iPhoto had, many it didn't, and for those of you who's photography organizing and editing needs fell into the iPhoto camp, you'll be exceptionally pleased with Photos. Personally, I'm very excited about what it does.

Photos can utilize iCloud to store your photos and videos, and allow you to access every photo, album, favorites and even the edits in your library from any device. For most users this will mean you'll want to upgrade your iCloud storage to accommodate more images. However as we've stated many, many times, iCloud storage is not a requirement. You can store everything locally just as you always have, and share just the photos you want over My Photo Stream. iCloud Photo Sharing will also continue to function as it does today. As before, neither My Photo Stream nor iCloud Photo Sharing will count against your iCloud Storage limits.

Star ratings, flags and color labels are not currently present in Photos. For those migrating from Aperture or iPhoto, that metadata will be converted to keywords. This is not an ideal workflow, and for anyone relying on that (i.e., nearly every Aperture user), this alone is enough reason not to migrate your existing library. Apple has not announced, promised, or in any other way inferred that these features will or will not be added. Given that this seems like a relatively simple feature (from an engineering standpoint), one should assume that it will eventually show up. But on the other hand, given that this seems like a relatively simple feature (from an engineering standpoint), one should wonder why it's missing in Photos 1.0. Why not just include it now? Perhaps it's deliberately missing to be an obvious barrier of entry for the more advanced audience so they don't, on the surface, believe it will replace Aperture, only to find out too late that it won't. Or perhaps it will never be added because that's an “advanced feature” that Apple believes most people don't want—i.e., if you're the everyman user, all you need to do is mark your favorite images and build a few albums. Anything more is excessive. Either way, we don't know what will happen, but the only fact is that it's not there now.

For those desperate to squeeze the most out of Photos as possible, a workaround is to create keyboard shortcuts for keywords to represent star ratings, flags and colors, then search or create smart albums for those keywords. For example, if the 1 star rating converted to the keyword “1 star”, you could create a shortcut for that keyword, then search based off of the keyword instead of a traditional 1-star search.

Also, keywords from Aperture are copied over, but hierarchical keywords are flattened.

On migration from Aperture, Projects containing no albums become albums, while Projects containing albums become folders containing multiple albums; one album contains the entire project's photos, and additional albums are created for each album in the original project.

Your other IPTC metadata such as copyright, contact, etc. will be retained but not visible in Photos. Which means you can't add that data to new photos you import. Like with ratings, this seems like a relatively simple feature to include, so you can speculate all day long on what it means. But the fact is, the data will be there but not accessible or editable. That also means you can not add copyright, contact, etc. to newly imported photos.

Custom metadata fields will not be transferred to photos at all. If you've added custom metadata fields, the data will simply be gone. You can still access it in Aperture, but you can't in Photos.

On that note, when you migrate a library from Aperture or iPhoto to Photos, the library metadata is duplicated but the original photos are not. You can also open the original library in Aperture or iPhoto again, and you'll be warned that any changes made there will not show up in Photos.

Extensions… Not Yet

When we first started talking about this last year, the discussion was that 3rd parties would be able to expand Photos by use of an Extensions architecture, allowing them to fill in the gaps, at least for editing, that Apple left behind. This is still the idea, however we will not be seeing this in Photos 1.0. The only extension capability will be for sharing (like you see now on iOS, where you can easily share an image to many, many other installed apps), however the native extensions ability for a 3rd party developer like MacPhun to create a “plug-in” style app will not be available. There is no confirmed date of when this will happen. While technically this means it could never happen, personally I'm confident that it will be here eventually. Just not with 1.0. 

Is this ever going to be an Aperture replacement?

This is a big question that is open to a lot speculation and interpretation of official discussions. Reading between the lines, if you will. I've heard it said that according to Apple, Photos will never replace Aperture. This is not true. Not the part that it won't ever replace it — that, no one can know. But the “according to Apple” part. That is not accurate. There are those inside Apple that would very much like to see Photos fully replace Aperture. It is confirmed and plainly obvious that Photos today does not replace Aperture today. But there is no official confirmation that Photos will – or will not – eventually replace Aperture. I know that's a lot of doublespeak, but the only fact is what we have today. Anything else is speculation. 

What's missing?

A lot of things are missing, but adjustments don't concern me. Assuming Apple does indeed release the Extensions SDK so third party developers can make cool plug-ins/extensions/mini-apps for Photos, then all your editing dreams will eventually come true. This was what was exciting about the Photos transition in the first place. 

[Some corrections made 2015-02-12 17:45] What I'm more concerned with is the missing features that I don't see any value to Apple to add back in that a small but vocal group of us absolutely need in a professional photo editor. Renaming files on import. Custom metadata fields. Custom metadata views (both in a metadata window and overlaid on the photo itself). Scripting support (AppleScript support is present, but not as robustly as in Aperture). Batch processing. Custom export presets. Hierarchical keywords. Exporting of projects as libraries. Merging of libraries with intelligent duplicate handling. Opening in external editor apps (like Photoshop) with complete round-trip support. Tethered shooting. Stacks. Date and time correction (Date and time correction is in Photos 1.0). Compare view modes. Lift and stamp (Lift & Stamp is also present, however can currently only do one at a time). Multi-card import. Backup on import. And a whole lot more.

So, what do *I* think?

This is where the news gets a little less exciting. Last year, I was bullish on Photos eventually replacing Aperture. I no longer feel that way. I am sure it will be a great app — a really great app. And I'm sure that it will have enough features for the vast majority of users. I do not believe however that it will be sufficient for the working professional. It simply is not designed for professional photographers. Sure it will gain more and more features, but those features will be prioritized by the hundreds of millions of iPhone shooters, not the relative few of us who are really, really serious about this — or who do it for a living.

Plainly put — I no longer believe that serious Aperture users should expect Photos to replace their photography management and editing needs. I am now recommending that advanced and professional users begin to explore other options.

How long will Aperture continue to work?

Aperture is currently 100% operational under Mac OS X 10.10. You can expect it to remain fully functional until OS X 10.11 ships. At that point, Apple may or may not release another Aperture maintenance update to retain compatibility with OS X. Of course Aperture will continue to work under 10.10, but if you want to upgrade to 10.11, as most of you will want to, there is no guarantee at this point that Aperture will go with it. You may well have to leave a legacy system running.

What's next for ApertureExpert / The Photos Expert?

I have made an official announcement on the future of this site on TWiP, which was recorded on Monday but will be released on Friday the 13th (2015/02/13). Seems appropriate. I will make that same announcement on here, then. When you listen to that show, keep in mind that it was recorded before this was written, and I know more now than I did then.

Apple Photos for macOS

This is a tough situation for all of us who have relied on Aperture, but especially tough for those that have had Aperture as a brick in building their careers.  I am anxious to learn how this site is going to evolve and remain relevant in this new Photos-world.  I can imagine that Joseph will not want to be reliant on Apple or probably any single company or product after this experience as he morphs this site.

Waiting till Friday to see…

A follow-up to my post above- I just listened to Joseph on TWIP this morning.  The plan for this site sounds like a great idea and I wish Joseph well. I think  the site will be very successful.

Apple should have never released Photos without having a $79 Pro plugin pack ready to replace and expand current Aperture set. Coupled with the putrid ‘flat’ design introduced in 10.10 (on top riddled with bugs) I couldn’t care less about Apple’s efforts any longer… I have moved last year to Capture One for editing work, although Aperture is and will remain my catalogue app even if I should continue running it inside virtual machine on VMware.

While I heard that there will be changes in the iCloud storage plans this year when Photos is introduced, I no longer wish to have anything to do with lock in of Apple system or apps. Being a huge fan (boy too sometimes) of  since 2004 it really hurts to see them treat customers this way….I grew up on Aperture since version 2, but this is too much,  they arrogantly forget it’s a two way road - my hardware $$$ will go in the future somewhere else but Infinite loop in Cupertino. And I won’t even start b*tching about Retina MacBook Pro 17”


sad days…wealth of capital and resources they posses and yet they churn one turd after another compared to their software cadence 10 years ago 

What about leaving Aperture feedback? I just left a plea to revive Aperture - in my own words. What can it hurt. Only takes a moment.

Leave Aperture Feedback


I think we should coordinate a massive, serious and polite email to Tim Cook. I’m afraid using the Aperture feedback will go nowhere (either you will reach someone about to migrate to Photos or being fired). Tim is known to read his email regularly and occasionally replying.


I thinker your idea about a massive email to Tim Cook is worth it. How can we make that happened?


Just finished watching the TWIP podcast, and what Joseph’s intentions are.  Totally agree with the direction he’s going and look forward to reading/participating in the discussion.

your recommendation to start looking for something else is… hard… but I agree with it. 

Being non pro, the migration to lightroom or something else is not urgent as long as it will work. In all case, it will be painful and if I wait 6 or 9more months, it will not change so much the effort for migration based on the number of pictures I am doing every week vs. what I have in stock. So for me the conclusion at this stage is: start to look for which tool I will migrate, test and start to use it a bit to confirm and … when it will be the right time on my personal life (meaning having time and some long evening planned to be alone :D) , I will make a last check on Photos status as a last chance and then move…

Aperture’s real value to me is in having both a powerful cataloguing and photo editing app all in one. I can easily replace (and even surpass) Aperture’s editing capabilities, but being able to import into a self determined folder structure, i.e.., projects, albums etc is what is most critical to my workflow.

I’ve never used Adobe LR or PS. Should I assume LR has the importing/renaming/cataloguing features I now have with Aperture, along with great editing tools?  What other apps can duplicate Aperture’s import and cataloguing abilities if not Adobe?

Thanks for any recommendations.



I wonder why would Apple cater to music and video pro’s with Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X apps but not for photographers with Aperture Pro X. Any ideas?

Yes exactly, I wonder why also? And the idea that Apple made a business decision does cut it for me.

Thrilled to see the future of the site! Congrats on its continued evolution! 

My one major request: I'd love to see the site continue to follow the evolution of Photos. Many sites will cast their judgments and comparisons of Photos vs. Aperture today, but few will track changes to see if Photos becomes more viable as an Aperture replacement in the months to come.

Personally, I can live with Aperture as it is for at least another year or two (assuming Apple supports it that long), so it'd be great to see what features are added to Photos along the way.

We will, Matthew. I'm personally quite excited for Photos. It just isn't going to be a pro solution for a long time (if ever). I fully intend to use it for my iPhone photos (of which I shoot many), and will eventually look for the most seamless way to move photos from whatever pro app I end up moving to into Photos for the features it offers. Maybe I'll even separate personal/family work to Photos and client work to something else. 

— Have you signed up for the mailing list?

I took a lot of heat for posting on the long…  thread on that Joseph (who I much admire) was putting lipstick on a pig in his optimistic predictions for Photos. Well, it looks like that swine ain’t wearin’ no makeup no more.

LOL yeah, the make-up is gone isn't it. I still think the app will be great… just not for higher end users, unfortunately. 

— Have you signed up for the mailing list?

Why would Apple do this?—Follow the money! I belong to the Charlottesville Camera club. We are about 100 strong. In that group there are 2 who Have Aperture. One keeps stating he will call me to teach him (3 yrs now),and me. Apple knows this. Plus, the future of photography, so the experts say, is in smart phone cameras and the casual, not serious photographer.  Thus to capture the new market Apple has developed Photos. Presumably not very expensive, and easy and fun to use. Perhaps some day, if they capture enough of that market and enough in that market (iPhone) gets more sophisticated they will develop an advanced App just as they went from iPhoto to Aperture. 

On another note, any comments about On1 as a switch to. Are they a stand alone or just a plug-in? They claim a new manage/catalogue App that sounds similar to Aperture.

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