How to move images out of the Aperture library and into Mac OS X folders

First published on: Monday, 23 March 2009

Perhaps you are running out of space on your Mac’s internal hard drive and the Aperture Library has no more room to grow.

To get around the problem, you buy a new external hard drive, and intend to move the original images from being managed within the Aperture Library, and place them on physical folders on your new hard drive.

I will assume that you want to maintain your Aperture Library on your Mac’s internal hard drive, and just move the originals to the new external drive.

This is what you will end up with after you’ve moved the images:


  1. The Aperture Library on the internal drive will contain the image thumbnails and previews, together with related metadata such as IPTC, ratings, captions and such.

  2. The new hard drive will contain the original photos in a physical folder structure which you will determine.

Let’s continue with the steps.

Step 1 — Determine which images you want to move

In Aperture, locate the Project or images you want to move.

You will know whether an image is managed or referenced when you right-click on the image. Managed images will not have the “Show in Finder” option, while referenced images will.

Managed vs Referenced images in Aperture

Step 2 — Select the Project or images for moving

There are two ways to making a selection prior to relocating the images to a physical folder.

The easiest way is to simply right-click on the name of a Project, and then select “Relocate Masters for Project …”. This relocates all the images within that Project.

You will have repeat this, and the following steps, for each Project.

Right-click on a project's name, and then select Relocate Masters for Project

If you want to export only some images within a Project, or multiple (or all) images from different Projects, you will have to select the images from the browser, and then navigate to File > Relocate Masters … on the menu. Unfortunately, the right-click approach will not work in this context.

Select one, some or all images in the browser, then do a File > Relocate Masters from the menu

Step 3 — Prepare the destination folder and specify Subfolder Format and Name Format

The next step is to specify the destination folder on the external drive.

My current organization structure in Aperture is Year (Blue folder) > Month (Blue Folder) > Event (Project). My physical folder will mirror this structure. For this example though, I will only have Year > Event.

So, I will first create a folder for the year in Finder, say 2002.

I will then let Aperture create a folder for the Project whose images are being moved and have it automatically assign the name of the Project to that folder. I leave the image filename alone. Here’s what I enter:


  1. Subfolder Format: Project Name

  2. Name Format: Master Filename

You’ll need to assign the appropriate values to those fields to suit your requirements.

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Selecting the destination folder for the original images

When everything’s ready, click the Relocate Masters button.

Step 5 — Verify that images have been successfully moved

Do a quick check using the Finder that all the files have been properly relocated on the new disk according to the structure you want.

You can cross-check the count of files in the Finder and compare that with the count in Aperture’s browser.

Verify that the files have been successfully transferred to their destination folders

Step 6 — See what images are Managed vs Referenced

Occasionally, you might want to know which images in the Aperture Library are Managed, and which are Referenced. The Query HUD tool can help you with this task.

For this example, I’ll be using the Query HUD on the browser pane, so I’ll make sure there are no conflicting search criteria in the Query HUD next to the Library name in the Inspector.

First, call up the Query HUD in the browser pane by navigating to Edit > Find on the menu, or press command+f, or click on the Query HUD button.

Then click on the Add Filter pop-up menu to select File Status as an additional search criteria.

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Call up the Query HUD to search for Managed or Referenced images

In the File status field, select Managed. This will reveal all the images whose masters are managed in the Aperture Library.

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Select Managed in the File status field

To view photos whose original files are referenced and reside outside of the Aperture Library, select Referenced in the File status.

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