This is one of the strengths of an image cataloguing program like Aperture – the ability to quickly find a specific set of images out of a collection of tens, or even hundreds of thousands. It’s where the limitations of Photoshop and Bridge become so apparent – they’re fine if you want to work on individual images and you know where you’ve stored them, but no good for managing your photo collection on the kind of scale that most of us do these days.

So anyway, back to smart albums. These aren’t like regular albums – you don’t manually select the images you want to include. Instead, you tell Aperture what image properties you want it to look for, and it does the rest automatically.

In fact, you can think of smart albums as saved searches. You enter search criteria, just as you might normally, but they’re saved to the sidebar permanently so that you can go back to a smart album at any time to see the matching images.

The other point is that smart albums are ‘live’. As you add new images to your library that match the smart album criteria, they will be included automatically. Similarly, if you change an image’s properties, such as its keywords or rating, it may be removed from a smart album because it no longer matches the criteria you’ve chosen, or added to a new one.

There are countless uses for smart albums which will depend on how you’ve got your photos organised and what you’re looking for; this is just a simple walkthrough showing how you can use the camera’s embedded EXIF (shooting) data to find specific images. Let’s say I want to find all photos shot with my Nikon D300s at an ISO of 1600 or above. Here’s how it’s done…

01 Create a new Smart Album

Aperture Smart Album

You can do this using the big ‘+’ button on the main toolbar and its drop-down menu, or use the shift-command-L shortcut.

02 Smart album basics

Aperture Smart Album

Aperture creates a new smart album in the sidebar with the title already highlighted for you to type in your own. I’ve called mine ‘Nikon D300s ISO 1600+’. Right alongside is a flyout panel containing a default set of search criteria, ready for you to type in the image information you’re looking for.

You don’t have to use all of these, however. The bottom four have ‘-‘ buttons to the right so that you can remove them and add different search criteria. I don’t want these four, so I’ll click the buttons to get rid of them.

03 Adding Rules

Aperture Smart Album

Now I need to add ‘rules’ for information that I am looking for, and to do this you click the ‘Add Rule’ button at the top right of the smart album panel. I’m looking for a specific camera model, and I know that this will be stored under the ‘EXIF’ category.