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When to Use Auto Enhance in Aperture 3.3

Thomas Boyd's picture
August 10, 2012 - 5:00pm

Since Aperture 3.3 hit the streets in mid June, I’ve shot and imported over 29,000 images into my Aperture library. Of those, I rated about 2,000 images with one star or above. Of those 2,000 images I made adjustments on just over 540 images.

I’d say for the first few hundred of those adjusted images, I hit Auto Enhance on every single one of them. From that, I learned when it does and when it doesn’t makes sense to apply Auto Enhance.


In a nutshell, when there are dark areas in a photo you want to remain dark, do NOT apply Auto Enhance. However, if you have an image you want to look clean and bright, Auto Enhance is the place to start. In many cases it’s all you’ll need to do. This is true if the unadjusted image is overly flat as well. Auto Enhance does a very good job of setting a curve that creates nice blacks and contrast as long as there are not large dark areas in the image.

Auto Enhance moves the Shadows slider to the right and opens up the dark areas. It also brightens the rest of the image. Often, this is a desirable effect.

So, when I see an image I know I want to maintain nice dark shadows I won’t hit Auto Enhance; I will instead start with Auto Levels. This will set the black and white points without opening up the shadows.

On the other hand, if I apply Auto Enhance and it’s really close but maybe a little too flat and bright, I’ll experiment with the Mid Contrast slider and see if that creates a little snap and pop to my liking.

If it’s really close, I’ll even back off the Shadows Adjustment which also works very well.

If it’s not close, I’ll undo Auto Enhance and start over with Auto Levels or create my own curves adjustment manually.

Sometimes Auto Enhance is a bit heavy-handed with the Shadows adjustment for my taste.

The details

With every image, the first step for me is getting the overall exposure set where I want it and in many cases, Auto Enhance is a great place to start. It’s also important to recognize when it’s not going to help and then being aware of when to use the other tools to get you where you want to be.

If my exposure is way off from a shooting error, I’ll start with the Exposure slider and get it in the ballpark. From there I’ll either try Auto Enhance or Curves to fine tune it.

Overall, I think it’s a powerful tool if you need to get through a lot of images quickly and they are the right kind of images that look good with a clean and bright treatment. It just takes some experience to know when it will work well and when it won’t.

The first image is helped quite a bit by Auto Enhance by the curves adjustment that added contrast without blowing out highlights. There’s not much else I’d do to this.

I think Auto Enhance was a little heavy handed with the Shadows adjustment on the bottom image. I would probably want to back that off a little.

In both cases, Auto Enhance provided a good starting point.

This is a RAW image without any adjustments.

This image has had Auto Enhance applied. 

This is a RAW image with no adjustments.

This image has Auto Enhance applied.

Apple Aperture
Thomas Boyd


That’s a huge amount in such a short space of time!!

That’s what happens when you shoot ten days of Olympic Trials, four days of a Nike soccer tournament, a two day music festival and daily assignments between them.

That’s an unusually high frame count, even for me.

Thanks for the tips Thomas! I’m not sure where I developed a bad taste for “auto” anything, but it continually makes me forget that in Aperture you can click on the auto adjustments settings AND then fidget with the specific adjustments from that point. I can vaguely remember a time when you applied “auto” settings and you’re screwed - that’s all you get. Maybe because that happens in these iOS apps like Instagram.

It still amazes me how powerful Aperture is! Thanks for all the great online content!

I think the average professional photographer in NZ would consider himself very lucky to get that much work in 6 months!!

Auto Enhance is a great go-to tool for pics taken in similar settings too. I’ve found I can apply it to a few hundred images in one fell swoop as a first step, then go through and adjust accordingly.

Thanks for the tip on the shadows adjustment. I always went straight to the exposure and black levels to adjust Auto Enhance effects, but that makes more sense!

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