I'm getting busy, which is a good thing. I need to be able to batch process raws, or rather make global edits, to increase efficiency. I've heard that Aperature and Lightroom are both good at this but also force you into proprietary folder structures and can make a mess of your hard drive in terms of locating files outside of the programs. Is this true? Can I use these programs and keep my folder structure the way it is? Also, I bounce between Bridge and Photomechanic now as PM's IPTC encoder is easier and more robust than Bridge's, but I like Bridges viewing and export/batching capabilities. Does anyone have experience with both programs? Where should I put my money?


7 Answers 7


Aperture will allow you leave the files in your own folder structure.

I can't compare it with Lightroom as I use Aperture exclusively.

Aperture stores all the meta data on a photograph in an Aperture Library folder. By default it will import masters into the library. However, when importing you are offered the choice of:

  • import masters into library;
  • leave masters in existing folder, or
  • import the masters into a folder of your choice.
  • \$\begingroup\$ How does Aperture interact w/PS? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 9, 2010 at 17:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Rob: You can configure PS as an "external editor" in Aperture. Then you can use a keyboard shortcut that creates a new version of the file in the PS format and opens it in PS. You can use Aperture to manage both the original version and the version that you have edited in PS. It seems to work reasonably well (if your typical workflow is compatible with this approach). But of course you will need a lot of memory to have both Aperture and PS running simultaneously. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 9, 2010 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the input. I was wondering if they worked together. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 9, 2010 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another point on the Aperture/PS integration: layers can be preserved, so you can come back and keep editing the same file. \$\endgroup\$
    – Agos
    Commented Oct 10, 2010 at 23:48

I'm a Mac user with Lr, and I have my files structured how I want (YYYY/MMM/DD/).

What I would say, though, is download the free trials of both applications, as they're both workflow management tools and have a fair degree of structure which they impose on you, and see which one suits your workflow best. You can get the free trials from here and here for Lr and Aperture respectively.


As a heavy Lightroom user, I can't recall any time where it has enforced any particular folder structure on disk. It has its own catalog where it stores metadata, original masters, and whatnot, but you can choose where to store that. When it comes to photos, I import wherever I choose. Particularly with Lightroom 3, you have some pretty rich options around which folders to import into, what file names to use, etc. You can create custom folder and file naming configurations as well, so you can reuse certain patterns each time you import.

I can't say much about Aperture, as I'm not a Mac user. I've played with Aperture, and I really love its non-modal, non-linear workflow. You can do anything any time anywhere, which is pretty nice. In Lightroom, you have to first select the correct module, which can hamper workflow a bit. When it comes to importing, I couldn't say whether you are restricted to a certain folder structure.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista...You and I both live in Denver, love photography and have groovy avatars...we should hook up some time. What do you think? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 9, 2010 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rob: Sounds good to me. :) I haven't met many other photographers out here yet. We should hook up in the Photo.SE chat @ chat.meta.stackoverflow.com and plan something. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Oct 9, 2010 at 19:29

Yes you can preserve your directory structures in Lightroom, even though it is database driven. You can actually make it more robust by relying on keywords and renaming patterns to let Lightroom create reasonable and predictable directory structures. Here is a real world example; it is a bit arbitrary but works for me as a hybrid between a keyword-based and a directory-based workflow management.

While I do use metadata, keywords and smart collections, there is a drawback to them: what happens when I want to look at and search for my files on a computer that doesn't have Lightroom installed for example? How can I share my photos on my network with new devices like modern video game consoles or old pieces of electronics that only support a directory-based structure, as opposed to a database? What if I need to quickly send my photos with my phone, or create a ZIP files for friends or clients?

In my directory structure and database I keep track of both the RAW files and exported JPEG copies. The JPEG files are stored in a subfolder organized by broad category first (say Celebration, Concerts, Sports, Urban Exploration). At the second level I use a strict "What - Where - When" naming convention automatically generated by Lightroom (most DAM apps support this feature). The RAW files are stored by year, then by date with a short description.

Here is how it looks like from both the catalog/database/library point of view and a Windows File Explorer (this is only a subset of course):

            St. Patrick's Day - Albany, NY - 09, Mar/
                St. Patrick's Day - Albany, NY - 09, Mar - 01.jpg
                St. Patrick's Day - Albany, NY - 09, Mar - 02.jpg
            4th of July - Albany, NY - 09, Jul/
        Urban Exploration/
            Hudson Cement Factory - Kingston, NY - 10, May/
            2009-03-22 (St. Patrick's Day)/
            2009-07-04 (4th of July)/
            2010-05-12 (Hudson Cement Factory)/

Here is how I get there. When I import my RAW (CR2) files, I let Lightroom convert them to DNG and store them automatically in a RAW/year/year-month-day folder, based on the date the photos were taken on. I manually add a suffix to that directory with a quick description (say St. Patrick's Day or Hudson Cement Factory, etc) for my own benefit. I select all my RAW files and update their metadata by setting the Scene attribute to "what" the subject is (here St. Patrick's Day or Hudson Cement Factory, which I conveniently had in my Copy/Paste buffer from the previous step). I also set the Location attributes, i.e. the City, State and Country. The earlier you set this type of metadata, the better.

When I'm done processing, keywording and geotagging my RAW files, I export sRGB JPEG copies (and upload them to Flickr from Lightroom later on). My export preset in Lightroom automatically creates files that follow the "Scene - City, State - YY, Mon - Counter" naming convention, using the metadata fields I filled previously (the date is found from the photo itself of course). I finally use Lightroom to quickly move the files to a subdir under a broad category subfolder (Celebrations, Urban Exploration, etc).

At this point I have is a catalog/database that I can explore by metadata (date, location, scene, keywords) in Lightroom, as well as a reasonably clear directory structure that I can drill without Lightroom. This directory structure tells me "what", "where" and "when" just by looking at the file names. My XBox will organize and present my photos the same way. A simple file search will quickly retrieve my photos based on these criteria.

This whole JPEG directory doesn't have to be managed by LR (i.e. be part of its catalog), but I found it pretty convenient since I still have a lot of JPG files that don't have a RAW counterpart. Why manage some, and not the others? Granted, keyword searching will return both the RAW file and JPEG file (since the JPEG file has the same keywords), but this can be easily worked out by adding a rule that will filter our either JPG or RAW/DNG files (in smart collections especially).

Anyway, this worked fine so far, but I have only 7000 photos in there.


I used to be all LR2 until Aperture 3 came out and I've given LR3 vs Aperture 3 a long hard trial and wound up using Aperture 3. The main reason I decided on Aperture 3 is if I opened a RAW image in both editors and either did no (or minimal, ie exposure) adjustments and looked at the exported JPGs side by side I always liked the look of the jpg that came from Aperture.

Can't put my finger on it exactly, something about the contrast and detail. I will say that I liked the workflow of LR3 more but ultimately the results are what I'm after.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What would you say about performance? On my 4GB 2.53GHz MBP it gets pretty bogged down in Lightroom 3 with 18mb RAWs. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 0:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Performance wise I have to hand it to Aperture, the UI is more responsive, scrolling is smoother, thumbs are generated faster on import and previews are generated faster. Also transitioning from browsing to editing is less jarring because Aperture just changes the toolbar on the left instead of multiple UI elements switching (LR3). However, I let Aperture use its special hoopdy 'Library', if you manage the file locations manually then its a little slower. MacPro 2xQuad 2.8Ghz, 12GB Ram, OS on SSD & library on RAID1. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shizam
    Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 1:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're not going to make any edit adjustments, why shoot RAW? \$\endgroup\$
    – ahockley
    Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 15:51
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I can't speak for Shizam, but the reason I shoot in RAW isn't so that I can edit every single photo I take, but so that I can have the RAW data in case I do need to adjust a photo beyond what I could do with the JPEG. It's hard when shooting to know when you'll need to highly edit, so switching back and forth doesn't make sense (for me). I don't mind the work to make minor adjustments to decent photos from RAW, so a program that outputs a nice JPEG from an only slightly modified RAW file would be nice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ How is this relevant to the question, which is about folder structure? \$\endgroup\$
    – Reid
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 17:31

I have used Aperture since it came out, I also used Lightroom a lot in the early betas and off and on since then to see where it is going.

So far I've stuck with Aperture because:

1) The full screen editing is better - one key to go to a true full-screen. The levels of "lights off" in LightRoom looks cool, but I find the frameless full-screen editing in Aperture nicer. I've not tried that for a few versions so LightRoom might have that worked out.

2) I like being able to edit instantly, at any time - LightRoom has different "modes" that you are in, that determine what kind of editing you can currently do. In Aperture for any image you can pull up an editing HUD and do any editing for a moment, then go back to what you were doing. I find this lets me more easily refine images for specific uses around them time I need them, with general editing up front when I'm culling images.

3) I really like the organizational approach of Aperture, it just seems richer... I like (and use) stacks, folders, albums and smart albums all differently. It also seems like Aperture may have a more advanced searching ability, though I'm not sure if that's true any longer. But I really like how I can group projects related to one shoot under a folder, and then have albums under a different hierarchy by topic unrelated to specific shoots.

4) I really like the book designer in Aperture.


Short answer: professional photo organizers like to be able to put images where they want abstracting storage mechanics, however you can override this if you like -- the "penalty" is that if you move the files, the software won't know where you put them and will have to ask.

Between the two, and I think the reasons are explained in other answers quite well, Aperture wins, but by a small amount -- both are very capable.


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