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Catalogues or Sessions in Capture One Pro?

Lee Harris's picture
October 19, 2015 - 7:00pm
Fresh Faces preparations, photo Lee HarrisFresh Faces model competition (Barcelona), pre-catwalk preparation

When I started moving most of my workflow to Capture One Pro from Aperture, I assumed I'd use the same file system for storing my files; the similarity of the ‘look’ was one of the attributes that appealed to someone who was still in shock at Apple’s announcement to kill off Aperture, and obviously being able to import my old Libraries was a real plus, and helped to convince me that Capture One was the way to go.

These days, I now only have one in-use Aperture Library, dedicated to a particular type of work — that is, shot as JPEGs (I dealt with this issue in my last post). I imagine this library will keep being used in Aperture until the bitter end; then I’ll decide what to do with it.

Everything else though is being switched over, and I am inspired to write this now because I have started the process of preparing my Aperture ‘mega-library’ that contains all past Libraries (by years) for Capture One.

What brought this about was my looking for some old images for a possible slideshow/exhibition, and when I found them, I got to thinking how they might look if they were reprocessed in Capture One.

I have said it before, but it’s worth reiterating that I really like what results can be achieved in just Capture One alone and how this also stops me from sometimes overdoing it, when I export out to say, something like Color Efex Pro.

But getting back to the topic of Libraries and their equivalent in Capture One (Collections) — I have actually found myself eschewing them in favour of Sessions.

I decided against using a Collection for current work, because though my plan is to mimic my old workflow, which means keeping the current year’s work on the computer, then archiving at year's-end to an external ‘mega-collection,' I actually feel happier and safer treating each new job as a Session.

Of course the advantages of Collections (Libraries in Aperture) is that you can search them and I have found time and time again, in the past, that if a client wanted an image of say ‘Barcelona’ I had to open the Library for each year and hunt; this was both boring and time consuming, so better to just have a everything in the same place.

Fan, the Fresh Faces winnerThe winning model, Fan, from China, Fresh Faces Barcelona competition

I find though that any work you have done recently is easier to remember and does not tend to get called upon in quite the same way, also I want to be able to work as fast a possible, so putting all the current year’s work into a single Collection might slow me, as well as the machine, down.

Mostly I don’t tend to be searching for stuff in the current year so much, so it just feels sensible to keep each job as a Session for now.

I do find Capture One a little unwieldy/unintuitive at times compared to my experiences with Aperture so this is another reason to keep it simple (don’t get me started on some of odd keyboard shortcuts that keep throwing me!).

I have started the process of prepping The Old Aperture Library for conversion, and have just imported all of the 2015 work I did before I switched to Capture One. The total size is about 1.5 Terabytes which is actually not a lot for 7 years of work, because I do tend to ruthlessly throw out stuff; I reckon it would have been at least twice that size otherwise.

When importing something this large you better be prepared to leave your computer attached to any necessary external devices, as I was getting an estimated time for completion that is over 20 hours!

So now on my computer I have a folder where all the Sessions are stored and at the end of the year this will be imported into the ‘Mega-Catalogue’ as a folder for 2015 work.

The next step is to then get properly familiar with the search functions, as it is another thing that does not feel quite as friendly as Aperture’s…

About the author, Lee Harris:

Pro photographer for about 20 years, from the UK, but I left London in 2002 to go live in Argentina. In 2007 I moved to Barcelona.

Primarily  a photographer of people, I also love doing architecture/interiors, but living in BCN is not the easiest place to get work, so I will turn my hand to anything if needs be.

Capture One Pro
Lee Harris

Excellent article. I have been testing out Capture 1 myself. I find it closer to Aperture than any other program I have tried. I will try using the Sessions to see how it fits my workflow. You mentioned odd keyboard shortcuts that cause you problems. Why not change them. One thing I really disliked about Lightroom was that I couldn’t customize the keyboard shortcuts. Looking forward to updates on your endeavors.



Hi there,

re keyboard short cuts I have added couple to work with my Wacom, the one that throws me is the hitting space bar and getting 2 up images and then no easy shortcut to het rid of them! Also like everyone I miss 'M' for seeing the original like in Aperture, they really need to have some easy way to see the original so you can flip quickly between the two stages.

Lee Harris, professional photographer based in Barcelona, Spain.

I've been actively converting over to C1 for my volume portrait business. We're just wrapping up the bulk of our fall run and I've had the chance to really put C1 through its paces.

Sessions is a great alternative. It's more convenient than the Aperture Library or C1 Catalog if you need fast access to selected originals or edited files. I absolutely love gaining this.

Sessions do seem to really slow down on load. I'm running an older iMac 27 converted to SSD. The speed is usually reasonably fast but the older processor might be part of it. Still, it's downright sluggish to move around in your session once you get some real weight in there. I'm only dealing with a one day shoot but the edited variants might be the issue. 

Exports from C1 when you are ready to move out of the session is a bit of mess. I've found some interesting and disturbing bugs that I have reported and hope they address. The print module is similar. You can work around the bugs but you have to be careful. I ended up having to return to Aperture for some our last functions during this season. I really like C1 a lot and prefer it to Lightroom without hesitation. But returning to Aperture after months of living elsewhere proved heart breaking. Aperture was just an amazing tool with some capabilities that apparently are still not matched elsewhere. 

I too am still trying to get used to the export capabilities, I have that one job I do in Aperture and I love just hitting Shift Command E and getting the export box up.

C1 has the slightly confusing output module, the thing to get your head around is that whatever you have set in the process recipe is what happens UNLESS you then change something in the Output module, it's logical but feels clunky at times, the best thing is to maybe take real time to set up a lot of recipes you use and this might streamline it.

Lee Harris, professional photographer based in Barcelona, Spain.

I am experimenting with using both Sessions and Catalogues (UK spelling, sorry!).  Sessions for a job/event approach are generally more agile than large catalogues, especially on older hardware.  Once I am finished with the job I can import the selects with their adjustments into a catalogue (so keeping that smaller and more agile as well).  There is a useful blog post about this at

Andrew Macnaughton

Hi yes I saw that tutorial, I think sessions is the way to go for current work, then back them up/archive' them to a Catalogue (I prefer the English spelling as well!)

Lee Harris, professional photographer based in Barcelona, Spain.

Hi everyone thanks for the comments, I'll try and reply to any questions etc, if it's useful.


Lee Harris, professional photographer based in Barcelona, Spain.

Just switching to Capture One, reluctantly, from Aperture.  Hope to learn a lot from your articles.  I noticed you keep using the term “Collections” when (I think) referring to Catalogs.  Is that a typo?  Confusing because I thought Collections were actually Albums and the like.

Hi there,

Well spotted! That article is quite old now and I wrote it in my early days with Capture 1, not sure why I kept putting collections but anyway, yes, read that as Catalogues.

(I don't think I can edit it now it's on the site)

I may as well add that I now only work with Sessions, with a mind to maybe creating Catalogues for each year, which kind of follows my old workflow with Aperture, which I am still using for one particular type of work!

Regarding my experiences with Capture One these days, they're mixed, I made the mistake of 'updating' to a new iMac and the performance is all too often unbearable, I should of just hung onto the 3 year old MBP.

Lee Harris, professional photographer based in Barcelona, Spain.

Well thanks anyway for responding so quickly!  I’m having a hard time understanding the real differences between Catalogs and Sessions.  It seems there’s not much different except in concept.  For example what’s to stop me from having a catalog for each separate photo shoot, and then importing them into a larger catalog per month, year, etc. Seems they’re basically interchangeable.  No?  What are the real differences between them?


If you're coming from Aperture, Catalogs are a close equivalent. C1 will create its own folder structure and track the managed and/or referenced images within that structure. As with an Aperture library, you can crack that open with a right click and poke around. It's really just a special folder like an application in OSXfolder. But it is meant to be used and dealt with as a file.

One advantage of C1 over Aperture is that you can open multiple catalogs at the same time though you'll need to chose the Open in New Window setting in the General preferences.

Sessions are like catalogs or libraries except they are a lot more open. No need to crack it open using OS tricks. Just click open the folder. Your capture, selects, outputs, and trashed images can be readily accessible inside the folder structure. If you let C1 do the management, it keeps everything neat and clean. Even your Photoshop and compatible plug-in edited files (usually as TIFFs) are right there. So view it as a library or catalog you can you can poke around in as much you need to for your own needs.

In practice I would look at them this way. Sessions are very portable and ideal for each client or project for a client. Do your immediate work there and move the session folder around as you need to. I use these like I used to use smaller libraries in Aperture. They are easier to copy and share and I now prefer C1 sessions for this purpose. If I need to harvest a batch of Photoshop files, I can find them easily. I would look at Catalogs as your longer term archive. After you have sorted and weeded your session captures, import your selects (and possibly outputs) folder into a C1 catalog. 


That's a very comprehensive response and I agree with your assessment, I prefer Sessions for day to day work. Thanks for the great response.


Lee Harris, professional photographer based in Barcelona, Spain.

I guess the bottom line is C1 is a RAW editor and they really don’t care so much about being a good DAM, so I’ll never really have a good Aperture replacement.  

C1 is a perfectly fine DAM with some options than we previously did not have in Aperture. I still miss the elegance of Aperture but life moves on. C1 has proven to be an outstanding replacement for my business, personal, and teaching purposes. I run thousands of images (and hundreds of users) through C1 each year. The DAM features effectively match what I had previously in Aperture with additional options I never had. I had to back up and revisit my previous workflow with C1's approach and the new options in mind. But now that I've been using it for a while, I don't regret switching over. A lot of people went to Lr and Adobe attempts to make a compelling case based on their ecosystem. I don't enjoy using Lr but I do enjoy working with C1. I'd recommend it to any past Aperture user.

I think they have different formats, catalogs allow for folders etc, which though more like Aperture actually seemed less agile; there are quite a few good video tutorials from Phase One that explain things better, for me Sessions just seems better on a day to day basis to keep things simple and Catalogs maybe work better for archiving and searching for older work, but it really is a matter of personal taste and there is no need to  worry that you are not doing it the right way.


Lee Harris, professional photographer based in Barcelona, Spain.

I’m not particularly worried about right and wrong methods, but I still don’t see any clear concept of what Folders, Albums, Collections and Groups are meant for.  It seems like they were trying to please everyone and made a mess in the process.  Maybe I’m spoiled by Apple’s forced hierarchy but I really do see the value of having a clear vision of how things should be organized.  The real problem I have is the way the different containers are displayed in the browser, with folders split away from collections, and the inability to keep photos at the root level of a project.  It’s at once fractured and redundant.  If I’m organizing in a Catalogue, I don’t want to have to root around in a Finder folder hierarchy.  It’s a mess.

It looks a little different from Aperture. Apple continually strives for simplicity and C1 is more busy. It's not Lr busy but it is in that sometimes overengineered “Adobification” direction. Let me see if I can sum this up quickly with the caveat that I don't get super complicated with nesting in my own work so someone else might clarify further. 

Collections mimic Aperture's Library, Recents, and “Projects” hierarchy. So you can have Catalog collections (Library and Recents) and User Collections (Projects). It's a different view point in C1 but there is no real advantage or disadvantage here. Just a different take on it.

Projects can hold albums and you do need at least one album to view or add images to a project. So photos are at the root level assuming they are in an album under the project. Not as simple as Aperture but I find it does make more sense to some users. It also encourages more organization in a project. 

Albums hold your images. No big changes here either. Smart Albums are as you would expect EXCEPT you can't currently launch an external edit from one. Philosophically that makes sense but I prefer Aperture here. 

Groups hold sub projects and/or albums. View that as an Aperture folder. It's sort of like a Ps view of a folder for layers. Groups are folders for a catalog and are named as such to prevent confusion with system folders (below).

Folders are really your system level folders and it is named differently from Groups because you don't have this in Aperture. Direct access to your drives, network, etc. Changes to the “Catalog” folder appear in the collections discussed above as do things you create directly via system folders (albums, etc..). I prefer to work managed so I don't use the folders section much but I guess you'd view it as Aperture referenced or how Lr references your images. So even managed, you have direct access to the drive and additional content. Potentially pretty powerful and handy for looking at, organizing, and moving images on the machine. Also sometimes confusing for beginners when they think they are importing but they are actually just using C1as a viewer. 

Sessions have their own folder structure (Capture, Selects, Output, Trash), a Session Albums section, Session Favorites (which can be any selected folder from the system), and System Folders (like Folders discussed above). As mentioned earlier, sessions can be accessed directly and they auto-refresh. For me, that means I can run out to any plug-in that functions stand alone and it will basically round trip cleanly in C1. Almost any app will do. This does not work as cleanly in a C1 Catalog so I do lean heavily on Sessions if I am using plug-ins where I'm skipping Ps as the host. There are some huge advantages to this in C1 for batch workflows. 

Sessions do share more cleanly than Aperture libraries. The ability to export a sub library of Aperture, work with it on another machine, and then merge back in was very nice but occasionally it broke or got corrupted. With the ability to open multiple sessions and catalogs in C1, I no longer need this functionality. I usually copy a Session to the other machine and then overwrite it back to my local copy when I'm done. I haven't tested sessions with a Mac OS X merge in the Finder but that might just work correctly. 

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