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Fast, Custom Importing in Aperture 3

PhotoJoseph's picture
June 3, 2010 - 7:53pm

A recent post in the forums asked a very specific workflow question, but I’m sure many others have or will come across similar workflow needs, so I wanted to respond to the question as a tip.

You can read the complete question here, however the simplified need is to:

  1. Import only the best photos
  2. On import, label them sequentially with a custom name
  3. Export the photos, keeping the custom name intact

1. Import Options

You have basically two choices when you import—to import all, or to import some. And there are several tools to help you import just the ones you need.

The first is easy, of course. To import all, it’s as simple as inserting a memory card into the reader, selecting (or creating) a Project to import them to, and clicking the Import Checked button.

However he’s asked about importing selects. That means there’s two stages to importing; viewing the photos to choose which ones are worth importing, then selecting only those images for import. Aperture 3 added some really great features to the Import window to facilitate this, so let’s take a look at those.

Viewing the Photos

First off, you can make the thumbnail in the Import window quite large by dragging the scale slider. Here it is at the smallest size…

…and again at a larger scale.

The problem here however is that these thumbnails don’t seem to resolve at the higher resolution, so ultimately you’re looking at a low-res thumbnail that’s been scaled up. This may differ depending on what camera the images come from or even what format they are in, but in my experience, really large thumbnails in the Import window aren’t terribly useful.

However what is terribly useful is the fact that you can now double-click on a thumbnail in the Import window to open it up quite large—to the size of the Import window, in fact!

It’s quite cool when you do this, as the image resolves at the full size of your window, and also shows the exposure metadata underneath it. You can’t zoom in or open the loupe, so the bigger your Aperture window (and your screen), the larger you’ll see your photo. Double-click again to go back to the thumbnail view.

To Import, or Not To Import

From the thumbnail view (or the larger full-window view) you can choose whether the image will be imported or not by enabling/disabling the checkbox under each image.

There are a few tips to speed this up as well. Notice at the top of the Import window, you have Check All and Uncheck All buttons.

That way if you’re only going to import a few images, you can start with none selected and check-on the ones you do want to import.

TIP: If you select multiple images (click-drag, command-click, whatever) and click the checkbox on one of them, it will toggle the checkbox on and off for all the selected images.

Now you’re ready to import—unless of course you want to add any metadata, change the names, or take advantage of any of the other tools in the Import window.

Do You Really Want To Import Just Some?

I might suggest however that unless you’re going to not import a large portion of the images, it might be faster to just import them all, and then discard the rejects after import. Taking the time to view each image at the larger size (which still isn’t anywhere near 100%), then select it off or on could take longer than importing and rejecting after the fact. Again it depends on what portion you’re going to import vs not import, I suppose. It’s definitely worth checking out though to see what works best for you.

2. Sequentially Naming the Photos on Import

Next up is applying names on import. If you’ve read any of my eBooks, you know I’m a big advocate of renaming files on import and including all sorts of information in the filename itself. Aperture makes it easy to customize the name, and in the case of this user’s question, even apply sequential numbering on import. In fact, there’s already a preset that will do exactly what he needs.

In the Import window, from the Rename Files Import Setting, next to Version Name is a pulldown menu full of options, and one of those is Custom Name with Counter. (If you don’t see the Rename Files option, go to the Import Settings menu at the top right of the Import window, and enable it.)

You can enter a custom name in the Name Text field, like the job name, client’s name, or whatever makes sense. After that name, a series of sequential numbers will be added to it. You can preview the imported name by looking at the red Version Name in the File Info at the top of the window.

TIP: Notice that you can also choose to Rename Master File when you do this. I usually recommend this, as it means that the actual files in the Finder will have these custom name as well, making it easier to identify them later if you ever need to locate them in the Finder, without using Aperture.

Let’s take a closer look at this preset though to see exactly what we’re getting with it. Select that pulldown menu, and choose Edit… at the bottom, and this will open the File Naming preset manager.

If you’ve never been in this window before, the short explanation is that you can create and delete presets using the (+) and (–) buttons on the bottom-left, and customize the preset by dragging those Naming Elements (the button-looking things) into the Format field at the top. These can be in any order, and you can even place the cursor in that Format field and type in custom text (like your name, for example, to always have your name included in the filename of every photo).

For this preset, notice that it’s using the Custom Name and the Counter elements. And towards the bottom of this window, you have the Custom Name field where you can type in whatever you like (and you can also change this in the Import window without having to open this dialog; see two screenshots back, where it says “Client Job”). The next two options there are both part of the Counter element, You can choose which number the counter starts at, and also how many digits it includes. If it’s set to 3, that means the file will have a name with 001, 002, etc in it.

TIP: Yes it’s true, if you look at the top of this window at the naming Example, you’ll see that it does not include the defined three digits. This is a bug; when you leave this dialog and select a thumbnail to import, you’ll see the red Version Name preview in the File Info box showing all three digits.


With that preset selected and a custom name typed in, click Import Checked to import the selected images and rename them with their custom name and sequential numbers.

Importing the Next Batch

This counter is quite clever in that it will remember the last number used, and on the next import, pick up where it left off. So if you imported images 001 through 123 on the first batch, the next time you import using the same preset, the first image will be named 124, and so-on.

If (when) you want to reset that counter to zero, simply click the curved arrow in the Rename Files Import Setting (notice the tooltip that pops up if you hover the mouse over it for a second reads “Reset counter.”).

Starting From a Custom Number

If for any reason your import gets out of sequence, or you simply want to start a batch at a different number, open that File Naming preset manager again and change the Incrementing counter starting at setting to any number you like.

3. Exporting Photos With Custom Names Intact 

This is the easiest step. Since you’ve already named the files on import, there’s no need to rename them on export. When you do export the images (File > Export > Versions…), simply set the Name Format to Current Version Name. 

Additional Advice

For the case of this user, it sounds like he’ll be shooting in a pretty controlled environment. He may want to consider coming up with a set of adjustments in advance, and saving them as a preset. He can then apply that adjustment preset to the images on import in the Import window, saving yet another step before exporting them.

Got any other import tips? Share them in the comments, or post them in the new User Tips section of the site!

Apple Aperture

Aperture 3 can import much more than pictures - it can now import videos - any codec that QuickTime recognizes (including wmv and Flash, if you have corresponding plugins). You can also import .pdf files, although only the first page is viewable. This can be handy however for things like shot lists, scripts, and signed model releases.

Rob Chinn


I actually am using the same workflow and have set up a few of the File Naming presets, but I did learn something which will save me some time ! I actually didn’t know about the Reset Counter button at all !!!

I always went into the Filer Naming preset to reset the number on my preset and continue from there. This little tip is actually VERY useful to me. I wonder how I didn’t notice that Reset Counter button earlier …

Keep up the good work !

Regards from Belgium,


For the repetitive steps (with or after the Aperture part) , can Automator be used to create a Droplet whereupon one just drops the imported photos onto the Droplet?


Automator can be used quite a bit in Aperture. You can also create Applescripts that run on import; just select the script from the Import Settings > Actions.

Open Automator and check the built-in Aperture library for all the options that are in there.

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