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What I expect from the new Photos application

Matthew Morse's picture
July 4, 2014 - 9:00pm

The news that Apple will stop development on Aperture has everyone playing a guessing game, including me. How comprehensive will their new solution be for professionals (and even prosumers)? What new features will it bring?

Personally, I think Apple is moving towards an even better workflow that combines the organization and non-destructive edits of Aperture with cloud-based features the likes of which we haven’t experienced in any other product.

Reading between the lines

In my last post, “Syncing Your Aperture Library via Dropbox”, I wrote about the risks and benefits to syncing your Aperture library through Dropbox. Mostly, I focused on the very precarious challenges as well as the benefits I personally derive from such a setup; I get my organizational structure, non-destructive edits, and special projects like books all synced across more than one computer.

Around the time that post went live, Apple took to the stage at its Worldwide Developer Conference to discuss its vision for the future of photos on iOS and OS X (the Photos presentation begins around minute 73). Although there were no announcements specifically about Aperture, they did speak more broadly to their new, cloud-based strategy for photos across devices. If you read between the lines, it sounds like they are building the benefits of Dropbox syncing of libraries right into their new versions of OS X and iOS (hopefully without the headaches).

Original Format & Resolution Presentation Slide“Original format & resolution”… sounds promising

New iCloud-based syncing features

Most importantly, it sounds like the ability to sync photo edits and enhancements via iCloud is on the way. They did not specifically say whether edits were non-destructive, but they did say that photos stored in iCloud maintain their “original format and resolution,” which hints that they store and sync master images and, my guess is, means they apply edits non-destructively as well. 

Apple was even more vague when it came to organizational structure — the demo they ran on Yosemite did not show any type of organizational hierarchy systems, and they did not discuss their implementation on iOS. What they did show, however, was the iCloud-driven search functionality that is akin to a Spotlight specifically for photos, allowing you to enter a word and the app will search the photo’s name, location, album, and other data and display live search results. 

Cloud-based search using location, time, and albums

Given that they are marketing this as a solution for all the photos you can’t fit on your phone, this seems to suggest that the new iCloud photo features will, at least on some level, be aware of album hierarchy in order to properly index and search. If that’s the case, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they envision cloud-based photo hierarchy so that folders, projects, and albums are stored in the cloud and synced locally to other devices.

Only time will tell…

To wrap things up, we can only guess what Apple has in store for us with Photos, and it is only natural (and wise) to be apprehensive. After all, based on Final Cut's recent treatment, it’s likely that the first iteration of their new product won’t have all the features we’ve come to expect from a professional photo management solution. That said, hopefully Apple will add those features. What remains clear is that it will offer new, cloud-supported syncing of features, some of which were demonstrated at WWDC, and some we haven't seen yet.

About the author, Matthew Morse:

Based in Washington, DC, I'm the operator of the travel photography blog The Prodigal Dog. I'm a digital strategist who has been an avid photo hobbyist for over 15 years. Hiking and traveling off the beaten path, landscapes, wildlife, and the occasional portrait are my preferred subjects. Always interested in the technology behind what makes this art form so great.

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Matthew Morse

I have 36,000 (275GB) of photos in a highly organized Aperture structure.  I think if Photos uses Spotlight search functionality, I might consider cleaning up my keyword/tags in Aperture.  I’m also considering making a copy of my Aperture library and then splitting up the copy into smaller libraries, maybe by year.  This will provide me with more options once we learn how much space we’ll get in the cloud.  This could be a relevant topic for ApertureExpert:  demonstrating a workflow for splitting up a large library.      


Great point – I think a better search is always a good encouragement to cleanup and add additional metadata like keywords and tags to your library.

Whatever size your library, I'm hoping (and guessing) that the iCloud photo storage will hopefully be easily adaptable so you don't have to create multiple libraries if you don't way to pay to sync the entire thing (275GB in your case). Thanks for reading and commenting!

In Aperture, we can organize with folders and projects, where the folder is an actual database construct. We only view one library at a time.

One thing that I noticed from the 2013 release of iMovie was a new way of treating libraries.  We treat the library like a folder pertaining to a project. We have the ability to view many libraries at once. You can move clips from library to another.

It’s a subtle, yet important difference in iMovie vs Aperture on how libraries are managed. I am curious if Apple will follow this type of setup in the new Photos application. If so, would it make sense to re-organize a single large Aperture library into smaller ones ?

This change came when Apple restructured FCPX from its filesystem based approach to a library based one.

Spotlight search to replace industry’s best DAM? Really? And where are the local editing features? Surely you are not willing to give that up? Hope for plugins to plug-in the hole? They might work on RAW files if Apple opens up the software, but consistency might suffer in the process. While I understand Apple’s decision to abandon pro market, clutching to straws leads nowhere. Wait another year investing time and therefore money continuing to use Aperture only to realise that you have to move on anyway. But this time with 20K more images in the library. Surely if Apple had some plans for high end of the market, they would prevent loyal users from abandoning the ship by giving us hope without disclosing any details. Shame, after 4 years of neglect Aperture is still the best software around.

Peter, Spotlight is no replacement for DAM, but it is an essential part of it: indexing, filtering, search. Why do you think there are no local editing features? From the underlying framework it is not important where an Asset is from. It will automatically load it from wherever it is. Local assets are in the API why shouldn't they be in the App? Btw. The iCloud Photo Library is a user option - even if you do not activate it you can still manage your images in photos - that's at least how it is on iOS. Why should that be different on the Mac? Apple also did not abandon the pro market. I actually think that it really makes less and less sense to differentiate strongly between consumer and pro in the photography market. There is a huge market full of people who are both not “Pro” in a strict sense, but with demands that require much more than dumbed down toys. It is hard for us who are used to established professional solutions to get used to that idea. I think though, that there will be a benefit for all users: advanced features and intuitive modern UIs combined.

I think Joseph's recent articles (especially this one:…) touch really well on what local editing functionality we can read into and expect from Photos for OS X (at least version 1).

That said, I didn't mean to imply a Spotlight-like search would replace the organizing hierarchy and tools, but instead supplement the foundation that exists, especially if that search functionality is supported by an iCloud sync that pulls in your entire library's hierarchy (so I you could search for any version of any photo in any album from any device). It's not a guarantee, but there seem to be some hints that's a possibility.

Likewise for the professional vs. prosumer vs consumer market – I think Joseph's other recent articles do well here, but that said Apple seems to recognize that it can't be all things to all people. That doesn't mean it isn't supporting the professional market any more (on the contrary, I think the Photos application will draw more professionals in), but that said there will also be pros who discover other tools suit their needs better, which also makes sense.

I meant local adjustments, sorry probably picked wrong word for it. There is no mention so far that this will be available in the new app. You are right about in your comments about pro market, I simply used the term to describe high end functionality that is often desired across the spectrum of users.

But the real issue is in the fact that Apple made absolutely no commitment to assure existing users that it is worth their while to stick around. No company can be that arrogant, so the only other logical explanation is that they have nothing to say to those of us who either need or want high end features of Aperture.

Yes - there still is no sign of local adjustments in what we know about Aperture so far. There is the “Retouch” icon which could be a sign that we may get at least more than we get from applications like Capture One Pro (in that case). iPhoto for iPad actually contains some indication that there at least could be the typical set of brushes (Definition, Sharpening, Dodge, Burn…) we know from Aperture. I really want brushed in and out adjustments in Photos.

regarding “commitment”: Apple is always quiet until they are finished. I also do not like this, but it is like it is. So any negative conclusions based on Apple being quiet may be hyperbole

Of course, there’s little or no mention of a lot of things. But, based on what’s been reported so far, I do expect a lot third-party developer interest in the platform. In a year or two, Photos could turn out to become the most powerful imaging eco-system on the planet. If enough people come to the party, and if the OS really is easily extensible to developers, and Apple continues to remain “open” to them, this is possibly a huge game-changer for both consumer and professional imaging apps.

Apple has committed to supporting Aperture at minimum through OS X Yosemite. They have committed to your Aperture library converting to, even if all the features won’t be there on the outset. They have committed to the most advanced and integrated photography solution between hardware, software and the OS that the world has ever seen. It may not be a precise product roadmap, and it may not be targeted at the top 1% of pros, but it certainly doesn’t smell like “absolutely no commitment” to me.

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I think iCloud storage could be useful for storing and syncing final edits, but I already have a client-delivery system with my SmugMug account. SmugMug’s “Portfolio” account costs about the same as other hosting services, yet you have the convenience of Aperture direct-uploading (since v3.5), lots of template-based design tools, online client print ordering/selling with customizable mark-ups (from a choice of labs), plus unlimited storage, all for about $12/month. Even with the basic account at $3.33/month, you still get unlimited storage/unlimited traffic. With tools and pricing like that, personally, I don’t see any value in Apple’s storage services (beyond the syncing feature).

So, I’m not sure how Apple’s cloud services fit into my needs, if at all. I’ve owned paid-for licenses for Adobe Photoshop on both platforms since v2.5, but I’ve since sworn off all Adobe products (except for InDesign), and have zero desire to move to Lr. So, I really do hope that Photos can mature into a professional platform, adequate enough for most pros’ requirements (primarily counting on third-party plug-ins to add features which the basic application may lack). The biggest “hole” left is Aperture’s desktop-based library, since managing large libraries in a cloud application will be impractical for most. As for the rest of my imaging apps, I currently own the following licenses:

  • Aperture (primary editor/DAM).
  • DxO Optics Pro Elite (my RAW developer of choice for select images).
  • Pixelmator (Photoshop replacement for when I need layers and typography control).
  • PhotoMechanic (ingest/IPTC editor/file viewer/manager/re-namer).

I would love a more unified solution to take care of all these needs, but each stand-alone app has its forte, and their respective strengths are notable.

I used Photoshop until CS2 and then first again with CS6. In the time between I've researched many alternatives. Besides of Pixelmator and Acorn (which I do both own) there is also PhotoLine ( The user interface looked a bit antiquated when I picked it up - it got much better in the last versions. But the real interesting bit is, that it is actually the only serious competitor to Photoshop in my opinion. There are even things which PhotoLine does significantly better than Photoshop. Its masking capabilites are better and its non-destructive working layers much more comprehensive. PhotoLine even supports many Photoshop-Plugins. The software does cost only 59€ - which is a steal for what you get: 16 and 32 bit/channel, non destructive editing, much better vector support including PDF as just another filetype (even multi page). Its actually not just “Photoshop” but also a little bit “Illustrator”, “InDesign”, “Acrobat” - but the “Photoshop”-part is the most comprehensive.


Wow, this list is quite telling. Just looking at the tools you use, even though you had and liked Aperture, tells us there must have been some major issues with Aperture over all for you to still need these other programs. I too have used all the ones you mentioned, though I completely replaced Photo Mechanic with Aperture. I’m curious what PM was able to do for you that Aperture could not?

  • Aperture (primary editor/DAM).
  • DxO Optics Pro Elite (my RAW developer of choice for select images).
  • Pixelmator (Photoshop replacement for when I need layers and typography control).
  • PhotoMechanic (ingest/IPTC editor/file viewer/manager/re-namer).

I understand DxO Optics. I’ve wanted to use this software from the beginning but hated how it worked as a semi-plugin with Aperture. I also understand Pixlemator, I use it as well.   

As I mentioned above, as much as I’m disappointed to see Aperture go, but the fact both you and I are using 3-4 additional programs, along side of Aperture,  obviously we both feel there are tools and workflow benefits not present in Aperture. I think Apple figured this out as well. Take for example DxO Optics. I dreamt of Apple buying these guys and rolling their tools in to Aperture giving us something similar, only better, than Lightrooms built in lens modules. Now that Photos has the PhotoKit option that allows major integration of third party development, Apple doesn’t have to buy DxO Optics. DxO can write an app that plugs directly in to Photos and we as photographers get the tool we really want. At least that’s My interpretation of how PhotoKit will work. I hope I’m right. 

Daniel J. Cox

Hi Daniel,

I can only speak for me my list actually looks like this:

  • Aperture
  • Photoshop CS6 (and now CC)
  • Lightroom
  • DxO Optics Pro (though not the Elite version)
  • Capture One Pro 7
  • PhotoLine
  • Pixelmator
  • Acorn

The first RAW converter I bought after Aperture was DxO - because I thought I would need the opical correction and the (then) better noise reduction and because the rebate made it look affordable. In real I didn't really use it. It was dog slow and I actually didn't absolutely like the look I got from it. It got better though with the time and I think the current versions are at least alot faster.

Pixelmator, Photoline and Acorn were replacements for Photoshop. I had it until CS2, but I didn't like how Adobe handled the Mac at this time. So I didn't update. Pixelmator looked the best from the interface and is a quite nice program - but it did miss things like 16Bit/channel and adjustment layers and smart objects/filters. I didn't try PhotoLine for a quite some time because the website and the screenshots looked ugly. After some time I gave it a try and it was clearly the only real Photoshop alternative.

So why did I then buy Photoshop CS6 later? I did a lot of small print jobs (marketing material) for which I needed spot colors and PhotoLine didn't support them at this time. There is also always the risk when delivering files not created with one of the “standard applications”. Further I was unhappy with the workflow between PhotoLine and Aperture: While PhotoLine can store and open PSD files - most of its features are lost when doing that. With Photoshop I could use Smart Objects and more complex files without fears to lose something. Then there was a very good rebate for Photoshop CS6 on Amazon (You may see a pattern here ;) ). I still like PhotoLine better for many things though.

When the CC came I thought about how apps like Illustrator may work much better together with Photoshop than the other vector programs I used. So I did a one year test of the CC. After that year I came to the conclusion that the mediocre level of integration is not really worth the price for my purposes. It was still too cumbersome for the price. When the “photographers cloud” came I switched my plan to that.

I did try Lightroom before several times LR2 was actually unusable for me LR3 a little better. LR4 started to get interesting - now it mainly was the interface I didn't really like and I still were quicker and better with Aperture. I got it through CC 2 years ago though - so I actually gave it more and more chances and even started to like some things. It didn't really stick though.

I've tried Capture One Pro several times because I actually wanted to like it. Particularily V7 does handle difficult light situations astonishingly good. I still miss to much things from Aperture though.

So I actually got alot of software together - but for nearly all of my photos I just used Aperture and here and there some Photoshop. I'm putting much work in lighting and scene planning - so most of the time there is not much to do in Aperture. Many photos could easily get used without touching a slider. This is actually one of the things many people underestimate: I knew Aperture (and my cameras) well enough, that I can predict the look I want very much. Most of the other programs were there because of “gear aquisition syndrome” or curiousness - often combined with rebate actions. ;)

Hi Joseph. You talk about Apple committing to support Aperture at minimum through OS X Yosemite. Do you think that includes new camera model support (i.e.. the new Nikon D810)?


At least according to DPreview Aperture will get support for Digital Camera RAW V6.

RAW support is built into the operating system, not Aperture. So you can rest assured that Apple will continue to support new cameras in the future as it does today.

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Correct! :) - it could happen though, that a future Camera Raw version is no longer supported within Aperture. If DPreview is right there should be no problem though - if Aperture gets Camera RAW V6 it should get any updates V6.X.

That’s good to hear Jochen, if DPReview can be believed. I’m hesitant to even upgrade my camera to the D810 if my beloved Aperture doesn’t convert raw files. Lightroom is horrible in comparison. Not a fit for me at all.

Removed due double entry …

I’m only an “enthusiastic amateur” but I have used Aperture and learnt to appreciate just what a fantastic bit of software it really is over the years. This has taken a lot of reading, experimenting and viewing Joseph’s excellent training courses. I have invested in a good selection of plug-ins (NIK; Photomatix; Perfect; Topaz; Tiffen amongst others)
I have several times made abortive excursions into the world of Adobe but never got on with their logic or GUI. I will never subscribe to a monthly software subscription so they are off the list. Tough!
Like many others I was devastated at the news that Aperture would be no longer be supported and decided to look for some alternatives to tide me over.
One of the things that has always niggled is that my RAW imports into Aperture always needed adjustment. (Yep! I know I could have made life easier by making a preset for each camera)
I downloaded the trials from Dxo and Capture One last week and the results immediately blew me away. I decided to go with Capture One after a few days and I am delighted with the results.
At the moment I am keeping the RAW files in C1 (backed up) and exporting TIF’s (via Hot folder) to Aperture for cataloguing.
If Photos turns out to be the answer I feel nothing lost and I’ll bring the RAW files into Photos.
I realise for the Pro’s they need to think carefully over the future with huge libraries and I can well imagine their disappointment having hung so much on Aperture over the years (and defended it to all the detractors)
I hope that things turn out well for Photos but in the meantime Capture One has been a great find. Thanks to Apple.


Looks promising. Apple seems to be doing this right. We’ll see.…

Great to see promotions from within. This hasn't always been the case at Apple. 

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