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Three years ago I covered London Fashion Week for Nick Knight’s online fashion and art project SHOWstudio.  Nick had asked if I would shoot as many shows as possible over the seven days, make edits and selects and then upload directly to the SHOWstudio current projects website. At the time, I had no idea of the challenge facing me. After each shoot I would find a café with Wi-Fi or use a datacard and then make my edit, colour  correct, export and up load around 20 frames per show.

 

Fast forward…and I’ve just finished a studio shoot for L’Oréal at Iris Studios in London. I shot tethered and, as per nearly all my studio shoots, we used Capture One Pro, which is, of course, an excellent capture solution and has now earned its rightful place as the industry standard in close partnership with Photoshop. While I really admire both these programmes, there is a third addition to this list, which in my opinion is for many studio photographers and digital assistants mistakenly still not considered to be in the same league. The software I refer to is Aperture, and it was Aperture that enabled me to make my edits for SHOWstudio three years ago. And given the tight deadlines, the job would simply not have been possible without it. And it is Aperture 3 that I am using today to edit, colour correct, post produce (in conjunction with Photoshop) and export files for the L’Oréal shoot. It is a critically important tool, allowing photographers to take a fuller and more complete control over their work in a way that was previously simply not possible.

 
In many ways I entered the business at the perfect time, as digital had gone through the initial teething troubles and was finally coming of age. Computer programmes were needed to make sense of this new and groundbreaking technology and I believe that Aperture has earned its rightful place within the industry.
 

Maybe because I shoot so many frames, I have found editing my work to be one of the most challenging disciplines to learn. However, even when I’m working in a studio and have a smaller number of files to manage, there are still the tiny nuances in an expression or highlights in eyes that are deep in shadow, that cause me to sit for hours pondering whether it’s this one or that. For most of us, both Capture One and Photoshop can sometimes feel daunting and a little confusing, but they are both essential. And I am in no way saying that Aperture 3 is a replacement; it’s another tool with some very new and powerful additions. I’m not suggesting that we photographers can do it all and I am aware that there will always be a serious need for post production specialists, but it really depends on the level of a particular project and its required usage. Obviously, an advertising shoot or large fine art print will dictate the highest degree of post, yet there are other projects where the post will be far less critical and the photographer, depending on their skill level, can to a greater or lesser degree perform their own post. And even when it comes to the high level post requirements, we can always prepare a suggested post-produced file as a guide. For many photojournalists, sport, fashion (catwalk) and landscape photographers, Aperture is now the standard, and I hear that it’s gaining a following with the big studio digital assistants, both in New York and, to a lesser degree, here in the UK. For me, it’s the simplicity and end-to-end capabilities that make it so exciting. Usually, I will make anything up to five edits using smart albums (I just hit anything from one to five and the smart album function does the rest). And now I can flag and colour code files even within the five edits. The usual control over exposure, white balance, colour, contrast, highlight, shadow, sharpening and noise reduction is now strengthened with the new curves tool, and all of these can be brushed in and out with ease. The ‘brushes’ tool, in conjunction with a Wacom tablet, opens up a whole new world for existing Aperture users, and I believe this is where Apple has made its biggest improvement. Retouch, skin smoothing, dodge, burn, contrast, saturation, blur and sharpen are just a few of the tools that can be brushed in or out with a very high degree of accuracy due to brush size options, softness, strength, feathering and edge detection.

 

Others will talk about the face detection, places (gps tagging), merging libraries, adjustment presets, flagging, labels, custom books or print capabilities, but so far there are five areas where this new version of Aperture excels over version 2.1.4. These are: Brushes, and in particular, the skin smoothing and blur tools. Skin smoothing alone has radius, detail and intensity,and when using it in conjunction with the blur tool, I almost spilt my cup of tea when I saw the results. And that after just a few minutes of applying these with my pen andt ablet. Curves now gives a fuller control over exposure and colour than was previously possible in both linear and gamma. Even more so with extended range support,which may help recover highlight or shadow detail from RAW files. After days of editing and post production, I can now simply put my edit into one album and export it as a library and consolidate all the files along with all post production instructions. These libraries can be backed up and archived and are usually a fraction of the size of the original. Non destructive image adjustment. This is a massive improvement and allows for more control than before. All your adjustments can quite simply be switched on and off or brushed in or out without changing the RAW data.  At £169 or £79 for the upgrade, it’s cheaper than anight out with Alistair Darling, and probably a lot more entertaining.

 

Tethering would make my list, as at the time of writing this dispatch, I cannot tether my Canon 1Ds MkIII. I am especially interested in the presets being applied to each capture along with the capability to save to two drives simultaneously. If you combine these with an improved RAW processor, which in my opinion is equal to or in some cases better than, the competition, add a MobileMe account and the web publishing capabilities, then Aperture 3 is a serious force to be reckoned with. For the last three years I have published every shoot (stills and video) to either a MobileMe gallery or custom website. The MobileMe gallery allows clients to view the edits on desktop, laptop or iPhone along with the capability of password protects, and even allows clients to download low, medium or high-resolution files. Just last weekend I spent four hours on a screen share with a client as we made edits and post produced files remotely, straight from my Aperture window. An account will start at £59 or you can sign up for a free 60-day trial. An individual subscription comes with 20GB of file storage along with 200GB of file transfer per month. Unless you are James Cameron, this is more than enough for most of us. To make the most of Aperture 3, I would recommend a Wacom tablet. I use an Intuos4 with both my Mac Pro and 17in Macbook and it’s a joy, whether I’m in my office, on location or in a studio. Also, bear in mind that it will take several hours to convert your existing libraries from previous versions of Aperture. My main library is around 200GB and this took most of the day, and while somewhat time consuming, this is will add the all-new functionality and is a once-only process. Finally, you’ll need a fairly chunky Mac to make this software sing. The tech specs say 2GB of RAM, but realistically, I think it requires a minimum of 4GB, especially if you’re jumping in and out of Photoshop. I personally have 8GB in both laptop and desktop – which must also be Intel based. In many ways, I entered the business at the perfect time as digital had gone through the initial teething troubles and was finally coming of age. My original Canon 5D cameras had full-frame sensors with 12.8 megapixels, which seem small by today’s standards and yet these cameras enabled me to shoot very large quantities of pictures in very low light, and in a way, that would have been almost impossible with film. The sheer quantity and control of these images meant that computer programmes were needed to make sense of this new and groundbreaking technology, and I believe that Aperture has earned its rightful place within the industry. It sits comfortably alongside the established software giants, and it will be interesting to see how they see Aperture 3.