Technique: Photo selection with Aperture

After a shoot the most important post processing step is about comparing, selecting and rejecting, rating photos. This is especially true for wildlife photography when we sometimes shoot several hundreds photos in a single outing. Selecting becomes crucial as we materially don’t have the time required to process them all.

The market is full of great editing software but few, if any, is comparable to Apple Aperture to support the photographer during this phase. Let me review some of the available ways to optimally use Aperture for photo selection.

Photo Rating

Aperture offers 3 ways to rate and categorise your images, short of introducing tags or complex naming schemes. First you can simply toggle the flag indicator with the shortkey /. Second you can rate image with 0 to 5 stars (with short keys 0 to 9 respectively) and reject images with shortkey 9. Finally you can allocate color codes to your image: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, grey (Cmd-1 to 7 respectively) or no color (Cmd-0), not a rating per se but a coding you are free to use during the selection process.

For many years, my selection process was to reject images and to flag images for further process, I was then re-browsing the flagged images to determine which was to be processed. Due to the second pass (or more) this was a process a tad too time consuming, I am gradually moving to a more granular selection using the star rating which allows me to prioritise the post-processing treatment. But habits die hard, I often come back to just flagging… and regret it after when I need to review again my images to prioritise them. My personal learning can be of use: even if you only start processing and have only a limited number of images, try to take the right habit from the onset to avoid having to change habits later, it is much more difficult 🙂

Beyond the rating of images, Aperture offers very powerful functionalities to: compare images, use stacks to regroup similar images and select the best of the bunch and finally evaluate image on a virtual light table. I’m going through more details in the next section.

Photo Selection

As a first basic feature, Aperture offers a compare view which displays  a reference image and a photo of your choice (Opt-O). Both image are zoom-synchronized allowing you to scrutinize both images at the same zoom level (Either as a whole or at 100%). This works very well to select the best picture of a simple shoot. It is then possible to either directly rate the image from 1 to 5 stars or to reject the image (keyboard shortcut 9) alternatively you can simply flag the image (shortcut /) for further analysis.


For more extensive shoot, you can use the powerful Stack functionality. It allows you to group in a stack several similar photos which you can evaluate stack after stack to isolate the best image of each. The stack functionality comes with a wealth of functions, one of the most useful being the Autostack which, using the time stamp of each photo and a time interval, will automatically group images and create stacks for you of photos taken a short time apart. Each stack has a pick which is the one image selected to represent the stack when it is closed.

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 9.33.24 PM

Using Opt-T within a stack will give you a similar view as the compare view. This time the pick image of the stack will show on the left while one of the other image of the stack is on the right. Similar to the compare view, the views are zoom-synchronized making it easy to compare. If you think that the other image is better than the stack pick you can exchange it with Cmd- and continue until the end of the stack.

Note that stacks can also be used to group the composites of a HDR image or of a panorama, you can then take the resulting image to be the pick of the stack and any alternate versions kept tidily within the stack.

When stacks are all closed with Opt-; you can also compare their respective picks using the compare view.

Light Table

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 9.57.23 PMNow that you have selected the best unedited images of the shoot the question of which images will really deserve your time for further processing is still there. You might have various versions of you images with different compositions, light sources, etc and you’d like to know which one works best, Or you’d like to create a tryptic and check which candidates or in which order they are the best. For this you can use the light table functionality of Aperture. The light table is very unique to Aperture and allows to display your image on a virtual light table, similar to what old timer photographers where using with slides or film negative, which Aperture allows to make as big as you need it to be. It allows you to move images, resize them, edit them, and print the whole light table to get something similar the old contact sheet of the film era.

The light table is a pretty advanced tool in the photographer toolkit but with Aperture it is incredibly easy to use, manipulate and duplicate to experiment different versions and see which works best. Additionally, as you can even edit your images within the light table this function somewhat blurs the end of the selection steps and the early stage of edition which makes it an even more versatile tool.


With such capabilities to evaluate and select your photos Aperture is an ideal tool to make this crucial post-processing step a snap!

Technique: Photo selection with ApertureChristian C. Berclaz

5 comments on "Technique: Photo selection with Aperture"

  1. Vincent Ng

    Thank you Christian, I am going to take some time to read your article. Great work.

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