Illustration tutorial: Process photos using Aperture

When it comes to processing photographs, Photoshop isn't necessarily the answer to everything. Mark Wood shows how you can do the same using Aperture.

As a total workflow solution for photography, Photoshop can be found wanting. That’s why we have Lightroom and Aperture. They both promise a workflow solution from camera to print.

We really appreciate the non-linear workflow of Aperture and how it integrates with Facebook, Flickr, iPads and the whole Apple eco-system. But Aperture has been maligned by those who mistakenly believe it doesn’t have the power, or savoir faire, to be used as a professional photo editor.

This tutorial jumps in at the point where Aperture’s masking and layering capabilities can be illustrated. We’ve used a passport-style shot, as portraits usually require subtle processing.


Select a suitable photograph. Press F to go into Full Screen Mode, press H to bring up the Inspector and press W to cycle the Inspector until the Adjustments tab is showing (floating on the right of the photograph here). Start by making any necessary global adjustments.


By increasing the exposure and definition the image will lighten and appear crisper. The Adjustment Inspector is divided into ‘bricks’ – expanded by clicking the disclosure triangles at the top left. Investigating the gear icons, top right, on each brick is essential to understanding Aperture.

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Now make your image monochrome. By default the Black & White brick doesn’t appear in the Inspector. Go to the Adjustments menu under the top histogram of the Inspector. Here you can add Adjustment bricks. For Black & White to stay in the Inspector click on its gear and select: Add To Default Set.


Accept the default Black & White setting. You can choose from premixed monochrome settings found under the Preset Menu, next to the Adjustments Menu. Or you can mix your own monochrome – when doing so ideally the sum of the RGB parameters in the Black & White brick should be 100%.


Brushes can selectively retouch your image. Click on the gear in the Black & White brick to select Brush Black & White in. In the HUD tick Detect Edges. Set Strength to 1. We’ve quickly painted over the T-shirt. Edge detection has preserved the T-shirt’s motif, but only where we’ve taken care.

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The smaller the brush the tighter the Edge Detection. Masking of the motif can be refined by alternating between Brush and Erase; icons found in the Brush HUD. A mask can be revealed by clicking on the Brush HUD gear. Here On White was chosen. This image mixes a colour layer with monochrome.


With the monochrome defined we can move onto changing the colour. We’ve expanded the Color brick by clicking the rectangular coloured icon in the Color brick. Then we chose the Magenta colour swatch. By moving the cursor over the motif we choose the colour required for adjustment by clicking it.


You can radically change the selected colour by moving the Hue slider left or right. By default the slider works within safe or tasteful limits. By clicking on the number value, and dragging left or right, you can override the safe settings and push many of Aperture’s parameters much further.

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Adjusting the Range parameter can restrict the colours affected by the Hue shift, but again we’ll use a mask to selectively paint our adjustment. From Color’s gear choose Brush Color In. Any adjustment you make will disappear until you paint it in. Set your Brush Strength to 1 and start painting.


You can also choose to brush an adjustment away rather than brush it in. Changing Softness and Strength will help you blend in selective adjustments. Precise masking of hair is probably best left to the advanced masking techniques used in Photoshop but, for many adjustments, Aperture is all you’ll need.


The T-shirt motif is now blue. Next we want to change the colour of the hairslide. Rather than fiddle about with the current Color brick we’ll add another. Use the Color brick gear to select Add New Color Adjustment. Using the new Color brick we have targeted the colour of the hairslide.

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Targeting the hairslide, we’ve pushed the Hue parameter to extremes using the method described previously. Hue is measured in degrees – you can move 180° to the left or right. Even with subtle adjustment Saturation and Lightness values may need to be adjusted.


Repeat the same process for painting in the new colour adjustment. Go the new Color brick’s gear, select Brush Color In and paint over your chosen area. We worked loosely, leaving Edge Detection on. We reject pixel perfect masks because, unlike graphic design applications, they’re not necessary here.


This image is a Raw file. The processing we’ve applied can be reversed at any time – today, tomorrow, next year. So we can return to this image and decide that we no longer care for the blue T-shirt motif. To change such a colour, locate its parameter in the Color brick and adjust the Hue.

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Indecision has driven us to change the colours again, but before making these new changes we Control-clicked the image and, from the resulting contextual menu, selected Duplicate Version. Duplicates only use a few kilobytes of space, rather than the many megabytes of duplicate bitmap files.


Mark Wood is a contributor to our sister publication, Macworld UK.