Aperture vs. Photoshop in B&W Post Production: More Notes From Scott

Aperture Finished File

Aperture Finished File

Photoshop Finished File

Photoshop Finished File

Note: NO, we didn’t have too much eggnog and accidentally re-publish a post from just before the holidays… We did, however, get a TON of reader requests from a lot of y’all who are using less and less Photoshop, and asked Scott if he could get similar results in Aperture or Lightroom. Short answer is YES. To that end, Scotty re-worked this image using Aperture and wanted to share his process with you here. Take it away Scott!

Update: I just heard that this black & white work from Seattle 100 was just featured today in Communication Arts! I’m a huge fan of Comm Arts… very humbled and very stoked. Please check it out here. [thx Lou Maxon!]
The above file on the left was processed entirely in Aperture. The above file on the right is the Photoshop version that we discussed before the holidays. One can certainly nitpick to find details that are different between the two, I know I did, but that would be missing the point.

Speaking of the point, let me get to it. These two images were processed with different RAW algorithms, retouched, adjusted, smooth, and sharpened with different tools with different abilities and nuances. People will rant and rave ad nauseum online about the differences between software offerings. Yet despite all of the obvious discrepancies between the Aperture and Photoshop methods, the net result is very much the same. The vision is important, the method is not. Join me after the jump to learn more.

Lest I come off ungrateful, let me make clear that I love the tools. Photoshop is a brilliant program that has literally set the bar. Aperture has more features packed in than ever though possible even a couple of years ago, and continues to encroach on ground that has historically been squarely in Adobe’s court while providing usability and integration that is absolutely groundbreaking. These two, and a number of other programs offer the photographer and retoucher a set of tools that provide almost limitless possibilities. These are fun times.

In the spirit of sharing and transparency, I’d like to run through the process that I went through in Aperture in order to create the final image, as long as y’all promise not to get too caught up in the details.

Original DNG in Aperture

Original DNG in Aperture

Step 1. Light cosmetic retouching with retouch brush and skin smoothing brush.

Step 1. Light cosmetic retouching with retouch brush and skin smoothing brush.

Step 2. Converted to black and white using the Aperture Black and White tool.

Step 2. Converted to black and white using the Aperture Black and White tool.

Step 3. Curves to increase overall contrast.

Step 3. Curves to increase overall contrast.

Step 4. Curves brushed in to increase brightness in her eyes.

Step 4. Curves brushed in to increase brightness in her eyes.

Step 5. Levels to darken shadows and midtones while maintaining bright highlights.

Step 5. Levels to darken shadows and midtones while maintaining bright highlights.

Step 6. Levels to push whites in exterior areas to bright white.

Step 6. Levels to push whites in exterior areas to bright white.

Step 7. Highlights and Shadows tool brushed in to increase hair texture.

Step 7. Highlights and Shadows tool brushed in to increase hair texture.

Step 8. More of the same with the Highlights and Shadows tool.

Step 8. More of the same with the Highlights and Shadows tool.

Step 9. A little dodging brush in the eyes, a light vignette to keep the hair on the far edges from blowing out, and some moderate sharpening with the sharpen tool.

Step 9. A little dodging brush in the eyes, a light vignette to keep the hair on the far edges from blowing out, and some moderate sharpening with the sharpen tool.

That’s it. Cool, eh? Let’s all go forth and play. Any software, any hardware. Just bring your creativity, it’s all you need.

BTW, if you haven’t seen the snazzy Seattle 100 site developed by our friends at TheSuperformula, there are about 900 more B&W images, plus a whole lot more. Check it out here and click around a little–it’s not to be missed. Happy New Year! -Scott

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Devorah says:

hi scott,
great couple of posts. i’m enjoying the book enormously. i’m so curious — in the actual printing (but i don’t see this on my computer & yes it’s calibrated) is a very interesting tone to the blacks — there’s a wonderful brownish warmth to them (to my eyes) that doesn’t get into sepia as it doesn’t affect the whites at all. it’s seems like just a really nice absence of blue that so often happens with b&w. i’m working on environmental portraits for a book, and would like to achieve a similar warmth. could you enlighten me? i’m using aperture and nik’s suite. thanks!

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Retoucher says:

you should check High End retouch – there was something simillar in the tutorial I think…

It’s perfect time to make a few plans for the longer term and it is time to be happy. I have read this put up and if I may I want to counsel you few interesting things or suggestions. Maybe you can write next articles regarding this article. I want to read even more things about it!

Great post, BTW , How do you always convert and use the raw files as DNG?

tim swanky says:

All this back and forthing, but no mention of Bridge..it seems to work for me, but will try Aperture again, have 2, but it just never took for me..I seem comfortable with Bridge..what am I missing here..thanks.

sam roberts says:

I use a Macbook and Aperture with PS Elements 6 for more involved edits (Rare). I love Apertures iPhoto like interface and it’s integration with OSX, but did try the Beta and eventual trial of LR3 and found the organisation and interface to be less intuitive but the editing tools to be better. As I had the full version of Aperture 3 I didn’t think the difference was big enough to own both, but may have bought LR3 if I had the choice between the 2.

Have been looking long and hard at Bibble 5.2 lately, it’s cataloging looks really fast as does it’s extensive editing. It has both layers and brushes as well as built in Noise Ninja and is non-destructive. Anyone use Bibble 5?

Bluestill says:

I am learning more and more about Macintosh, but in the meantime my knowledge is marginal. Subjectively looking at the two photos of Ms. Piece, I don’t see much of a difference in the photos, however I do notice that the highlight on the left side of the forehead, as well as the shadowing in the lower lip area seemed to be more pronounced in Apeture than in Photoshop. Maybe that is because I stared at one photo too long that I might be seeing that, but as I first stated, it’s a hard call.

Awesome post! I use photoshop raw editor and didn’t really see a difference between the two programs. But, It does look like the Aperture processed photo is a bit sharper, any reason why?

Photopoly says:

Nice post. i always do B/W processing in photoshop , it is awesome!

John Wormdal says:

Great post Scott!! Thanks a lot!

Nice post Scott. I’m a big fan of Aperture, but haven’t began to explore all of it’s possibilities.

Colin says:

Because I have not used aperture extensively, I will not try to compare it to LR in terms of raw processing. However, when it comes to workflow, at some point you may want to tweak a raw image you have been working on in LR using PS. With a DNG processed in LR, you can jump between the two, with the same raw conversion. However you have to output a Tiff or Jpeg to proceed from Aperture.

With most retouchers using PS, I find the ability to give them an actual raw file, with ‘style’ attached an overwhelming advantage (this goes for Capture One as well).

Also, do you shoot tethered into Aperture? I find Capture One so much faster with Nikon, and other Raw files.

Colin, you make a valid point about the metadata moving with the RAW file between PS and LR, that is a nice feature. Since our retouching is done in-house I am able to choose a tool and generally stick with it from start to finish. When I am working on a file that will have extensive work done in Photoshop, I’ll create a very neutral RAW file and make my heavy work happen in PS. If the whole process can be done with the tools in Aperture I’ll use that all the way to final output.

Aperture has been getting better at integration with Photoshop, for instance your star ratings move across formats, but we’d all benefit from even greater integration for sure.

We do shoot tethered to Aperture with great success, I’ve used Capture One a bit and it is a very sold program as well. Which brings me back to the original point: it’s all good!

Klaus says:

“Step 4. Curves brushed in to increase brightness in her eyes.”

I would love some tips on how to use curves to increase brightness in the eyes. I understand the whole “brushing in”-thing, but not how you would adjust curves in order to increase brightness in the eyes, rather than just using the dodge brush. Any tips would be greatly appreciated :)

Klaus, this is just a matter of brushing in a curve adjustment that is set to add brightness to the highs and mids. I like using the curve because you can be more precise about how much you’re influencing different light values within the adjustment area.

Alvin says:

Nice one scott, proves that you can achieve anything with anything (does that make sense? lol). I’ve always do ‘basic’ color correction, b/w conversions and all the she-bangs with aperture I find it much simpler and straight forward for photographers, pro and amateurs alike.

Dave says:

It seems to me, it’s the artist, not the tools that make the difference. Thanks for the post.

Leon says:

Great post, I actually use LR most of the time, popping over to PS when serious retouching is required. Interesting to see the Aperture side, think both LR and Aperture are both amazing products and you can do wonders with either – just preference really.

Neil Kristiansen says:

Interesting article Scott. How about a book on getting the best out of Aperture 3? There are only 2 or 3 out there and non of them really help you to get the best out of Aperture in my opinion. Now a book by you guys who use it as part of your regular workflow would be great :-). Just a thought- Neil

Jeff Flindt says:

I like Scotts post production!! Great job Scott!! Funny, you can now buy Aperture 3 at the Apple app store for 80 bucks. How much is “Photochop” and Lightroom?


Mike says:

Aperture 3 + Nik Complete Collection is the bomb!

Ingrid says:

Couldn’t agree more about the Aperture/Nik combination. It rocks.

I do see some things in the Photoshop version that I like better, especially in the eyes, but I would imagine you were spending a bit more time on that one for the project over the Aperture one – for the most part they are strikingly similar. As a Lightroom user, 95% of what I do now is in Lightroom, and only stuff that would be better served with layer adjustments go into PS these days. The ability in Lightroom to sync global adjustments to a whole series of shots for a studio shoot is a thing of beauty! I’d be interested in knowing how much time you could save in your work-flow if you were to use Aperture for the majority of photo editing as well as management.

Brence says:

Scott, I would be interested to know how long it took you to do this in Aperture vs Photoshop? I see lightroom and aperture as fantastic tools that allow us to do many of the things we have done in Photoshop up till now, however, I find that these tasks can be done quicker in Photoshop (and with more flexibility because of layers).
I find the tools a little more clunky to use in Lightroom, but I don’t have specific Aperture experience.


I don’t really have a fair comparison since when I was initially working this image up in Photoshop I was developing the aesthetic as I went so there was some trial and error. When I did it in Aperture I was matching the file I already had, so it was quicker.

I used to be a lot faster in Photoshop than Aperture when making complex adjustments, but now it’s probably about even, it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with the tools and workflow.

Regarding “The vision is important, the method is not”, the method does play a part in what it costs to use it… once you get proficient with an integrated workflow tool like Aperture (or in my case, Lightroom), you’ll be substantially more productive after a shoot than having to exit your workflow to Photoshop on a case-by-case, one-by-one basis. It “costs” less to quickly play around with an image (or a 100 images en masse) in Aperture than in Photoshop, allowing you to explore more images more creatively in less time and with less commitment to a specific idea that may not pan out.

None of this really matters if you’re given a specific task for a specific image, but coming back after a shoot with 1,000 images, you’ll be able to explore and probe and experiment orders of magnitude more with Aperture, opening yourself up to some serendipitous surprises.

David Dvir says:


I’m very glad to hear that Aperture is an option for something like this. There are times still when I need photoshop, but I prefer to stay in Aperture as much as possible and I think this is pretty neat!!

BTW – by DNG do you mean the NEF from Nikon? Or do you convert the NEF to DNG like for the H3D?

Thanks for time/work on this post!


My bad, we keep the Nikon files in the NEF format and the Hasselblad files are converted to DNG.

Luke says:

I would love to see a side by side of a Lightroom and Aperture photo done by Chase and his crew. Since apple opened up the app store and lowered the price of Aperture to $79 I decided to give it a try the other day. I found a trial version and did my own side by side and thought the results were way better in Lightroom. The only thing I didn’t like about aperture, was the speed, and processing. Everything else was beautiful. The other thing is that I have thousands of photos in my Lightroom library with some sort of processing done to it, major and minor, on almost all of them. I don’t think there is anyway to switch those over and keep all the changes.

Chris says:

Im not going to lie, to my eye I can’t really tell the difference (I can see small differences!) But great to know photoshop isn’t the only option anymore, with Aperture being so cheep in the mac app store now it really gives photoshop some competition in terms of features vs price!

Great blog!
(Saved me from going insane doing spanish!)

Johan says:

Very inspiring!
Do you always convert and use the raw files as DNG?

Johan, we keep the Nikon files in their DNG format. This image was shot with the Hasselblad H3D. We convert the Hasselblad FFF files into DNG before we do the raw work.

Oops, I mean we keep the Nikon files in NEF format.

DBueckert Photo says:

Thanks for using your platform and position of respect/authority to say something that needed to be said.

Steve G says:

So this is about Photoshop and Aperture, how close to the above image would LR get? Is it on a par with Aperture?

Stefan says:

That would really be interesting! I think a LR/Aperture side to side comparison would be a suggestive addition

Jay says:

This is great. When one considers that you can get Aperture 3 for $79.99 from the app store vs. $700 for Photoshop, it’s an excellent way to go for those new to the craft or on a budget. That price is just an absolute STEAL. In addition, Aperture has the feature of organization and also the ability to import video.

And I say this as somebody that uses Lightroom for org and workflow.

Trudy says:

GREAT post. I use both products and I am a fan of both. I do find that I prefer Aperture 3 more but only because the images already are there in the database ready to go. Now Photoshop still is great for my collages, adding my watermark (which isn’t a typeface) and retouching. I prefer it for that. Both both tools are great and I use both for specific reasons. Thanks for sharing this post.

Blake Murphy says:

Nice post. B/W processing

Lainer says:

I love using Photoshop. I never warmed up to Aperture and was actually thinking of using Lightroom instead. Even when Aperture is supposed to be more for pro photographers. i find it all confusing.

I don’t think that use of Aperture over Lightroom says you are a professional. Both produce great work guided by the user. The tools are there it is just which one you prefer.
Personally, I use Lightroom, but I have Aperture and was there on Day 1 with both.

Aperture’s new price via the Mac App Store brings it into the realms of all.

Rabi says:

Nice post. B/W processing is something I always do in Lightroom as opposed to Photoshop – I find LR to be a lot simpler for that purpose.

Ian says:

This post clearly illustrates you can achieve the same kind of results in Aperture as you can in Photoshop. So not only do I get the organizational tools of Aperture, but I can finish the images within Aperture and know my files are as good as anything I can do in Photoshop.

pixelmixture says:

i dont want to spam but i wrote a little article about why i think aperture is a real game changer:


hope it helps

DanielKphoto says:

I’m not an aperture user, simply because I do not own a Mac (I would like to, but they’re quite expensive and I don’t have that much spare money…), but this is definitely an interesting post. Thanks for sharing Scotty :) Result is very nice.

Joe says:

Daniel, Macs aren’t that much more and, if it breaks with Apple Care (recommended especially for Macbooks, iPads, iPhones), Apple will pretty much fix anything as long it was not a drop or dent. I buy refurbs from Apple to save money too. When I have had a refurb (or a new device) go bad (wireless mouse, DVD drive in Macbook, some other things) I reserve a time online at the Apple store, take it in, then the Apple people confirm it is bad and hand me a NEW wireless mouse no charge! If you pick up a refurb of a model that was older, sometimes they hand you the next new version. All this can also be done via quick turnaround FedEx to Apple.
Plus, no viruses for 20+ years.

Joey says:

Well, nearly any respectable computer manufacturer takes warranty issues seriously. What I love about Dell, though, is that you get a technician at your door the next business day, fixing your computer. Definitely beats mailing hardbare back and forth ;-)

No viruses since I’m using a computer. Mostly on Windows, too ;-)

Mike says:

Awesome post Scott-

Just wondering, were you working in Aperture 2 or 3? I’m still running the old one.

And to Joe, there are actually viruses written for OS X, you’re just less likely to come across them because pc users are a way easier target.

Peter says:

About viruses. Well. If you get Apple then every grandma can hack your computer because you even don’t need a password to get in according to this article.

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