I'm a big fan of Aperture's Vault feature, with Vault-enabled FireWire drives at work and home to make sure my photo library is always backed up. These Vaults give me a decent amount of confidence about the preservation of my images, but I have to admit, no total assurance. The problem is, I have an inherent distrust of hard drives--enough of them have failed over the years to remind me that weird things can happen, even with redundancy.

I decided that I needed one more layer of protection, just in case. The thought of burning my best images (four and five stars) to DVDs, then storing them in a secure location was appealing. Granted, optical discs have their own issues, but combined with my existing FireWire Vaults, the total approach felt solid.

Here's the rub: I didn't want this workflow to be a big hassle. I knew that I wouldn't stick with it if the steps were too cumbersome. So I designed an Automator workflow that took advantage of Smart Folders, and came up with the system I'm going to show you now.

Getting Organized

At the heart of this workflow is my being disciplined about rating images. Every shoot that comes into Aperture needs to be rated as soon as possible. By doing so, I've taken the first step toward my DVD archive workflow.

Next, I set up two Smart Folders for each project, or for each folder containing multiple projects. Top-level folders are an ingenious Aperture feature. When you create a top-level folder, and put a bunch of projects in it, you can use Smart Folders to pull images from within all of the projects contained inside the top level folder. This proved to be very handy for this workflow.

The first Smart Folder is for assembling images that need to be burned to DVD, but haven't yet. I don't want to go hunting through all of my projects to find these highly rated pictures, especially since they will be changing week by week as I add new projects.

Figure 1
The two key fields in the non-archived Smart Folder are Rating and IPTC. Set your folder up like this.

You'll notice that I've set the condition for the keyword DVD to "does not contain". I do this because my Automator workflow adds the keyword DVD when the images are burned to disc. The second Smart Folder that contains the images that have been archived handle the keyword condition in just the opposite way.

Figure 2
Now the DVD keyword condition changes from 'does not contain' to 'contains'.

The next two screenshots show you how this system works. (I've stripped out the other keywords for these images to make things less cluttered.) In the non-archived Smart Folder, you see my four and five star images before I've run the Automator workflow to burn them to DVD. In the following screenshot, you see that those same images have automatically moved to the other Smart Folder labeled Archived Master Picks. Also notice that the keyword "DVD" is displayed for each picture. This was added in the Automator workflow. You might also notice another keyword was added during this process. This one tells me which DVD the image was burned to so I can find it easily in the future. So Aperture not only catalogs my images, it's also cataloging my archived DVDs.

Figure 3
Figure 4
This set of images moved from one Smart Folder to the other after running the Automator backup workflow.

The Aperture "Master Burn" Automator Workflow

The Master Burn workflow uses Actions that are available as standard preloaded Actions. You can also learn more about these at the Automator.us site. The actions flow in this order:

  1. Ask for Confirmation
  2. Get Selected Images
  3. Filter for Picks
  4. Assign Keywords to Images
  5. Export Masters
  6. Burn a Disc
  7. Move to Trash

You can also download this workflow on our Actions and Workflows page. Once it's assembled, it should look something like this:

Figure 5
The Master Burn Automator workflow.

You'll notice that all I've done here is take Sal's "Burn Masters to Disc" workflow that's available at Automator.us, and added two more actions: "Assign Keywords to Images", and "Move to Trash". This is what I love about working with Automator -- you can take a stock workflow that someone else creates and customize it for your needs in just minutes.

You only have a few more things to do before you run the workflow. First, set up a folder on your Desktop to send the exported master images to, then designate that folder as the Destination in the fifth action, "Export Masters". Once the DVD is burned, they will be discarded by the seventh action, "Move to Trash". Then, add the keywords you want to use to action four. I recommend "DVD" and the name of the disc that you will burn the images to. Next, type in that same disc name into the "Disc Name" field in action six. Finally, get a stack of DVDs ready to burn (or CDs for smaller backups), and you're ready to roll.

To initiate the workflow, open Aperture, go to a non-archived Smart Folder, select all of the images in it, and run the "Master Burn" workflow. Your Mac will proceed through a series of steps that will get those images, assign keywords to them, burn them to disc, then trash the (no longer needed because they have been burned to disc) exported masters.

Return to Aperture

Once you have finished burning your disc(s), return to Aperture and see how your pictures have moved from one Smart Folder to another. Your non-archived Smart Folder will remain empty until you add a four or five star rating to new images.

Since this is a redundancy archiving system, I recommend that you only burn discs when you've accumulated enough images to fill up a DVD (or come close). That way you won't be creating loads of discs with only a handful of images on them.

I would also think about where you store these discs. My preference is to have them in a location other than where my Vault FireWire drives are stored. And since discs don't take up that much room, you can even burn duplicates for additional locations.

I'm sure there's plenty of room for improvement in this workflow, or at least customization for your own needs. If you come up with something interesting, be sure to post a comment. And if you design a really sweet workflow, let us know so we can post it on the site for others to use.


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