Although Adobe's Bridge and Lightroom as well as Apple's Aperture are extremely popular and powerful image pre-processing and managment applications, Photo Mechanic is a powerful and intuitive application geared toward photojournalists and newsrooms. It handles about 95% of my image-management requirements while using fewer system resources than it's main competitors from Adobe and Apple. In short, it's the first and last thing that touches my photographs.
What Photo Mechanic is and what it's not
Photo Mechanic is an image browser which accelerates your workflow and powerfully organizes your images in a huge variety of ways. This can save you a lot time especially when you're short on it, like most news photographers are.
The software has importing, organizing, captioning, exporting, and uploading capabilities that make this tedious portion of workflow not so tedious. Photo Mechanic isn't an application that can pre-process like Lightroom or Aperture can. It's mainly for basic edits and organization.
Although it appears to be pretty crude, the level of organization and integration into your image-editing process is anything but basic. You can apply a whole bunch of metadata and other edits to your image, and it's all searchable, too. So, don't expect Photo Mechanic to replace your pre-processing applications, but it will enhance your workflow.
Have good habits
No kind of managing software will make you more efficient or reduce headaches if you have bad habits in your workflow. In my opinion, the absolute best way to sabotage your workflow and archives is to lack consistency in structure and naming conventions.
Once your collection gets big enough, you won't know what's where. That can cost you valuable time if a client or your editor contacts you for a specific image. So, have a consistent filing method and naming convention.
Don't have a consistent structure or any structure? Take time to make one and stick to it. Renaming folders, files, adding metadata, etc. can be a pain but it is well worth it. Being well organized adds countless professionalism points on the back and front-end of your photography. Besides, this is exactly where Photo Mechanic shines the brightest.
Photo Mechanic's simple interface: a folder tree and image browser.
Getting Photo Mechanic onto your computer and running is a lot faster and resource-friendly than any other digital-asset-management system (DAMS) that I've ever used. Firstly, the application takes up only a few hundred megabytes and is ready to run in about half the time it takes for Lightroom, Bridge, or Aperture to be ready. Because of its basic-looking user interface (UI), your computer can dedicate more resources to the important stuff, like rendering thumbnails and full-res previews faster.
Dive into the Preferences menu and get the program working the way you like. Spend some time adjusting your preferences as this will streamline your workflow later. Be sure to modify the Files, RAW, Launching, and IPTC/XMP tab preferences to your liking. Those tabs are heavily responsible in how quickly Photo Mechanic handles your images.
You can setup Photo Mechanic in various ways to suit your needs. They can be Exported and Imported for uniformity across computers or for each user to load his/her preferred workspace and methods.
Once you got your preferences established, you can save those settings. Saving settings and templates and having the ability to copy, email, and otherwise transmit that preferences file is a little gem of this software.
Templates, called "Snapshots," and saving workspace layouts isn't anything new, but Photo Mechanic has the ability to template almost every aspect of your workflow and instantly load it without needing to restart the application. This gives a huge level of power and flexibility as you can have different settings for different uses.
As a freelancer who could work for any media outlet from one assignment to the next, being able to create, save, and apply baseline formatting customized for that client is a huge time-saver because each outlet has it's own standards.
Associated Press (AP), Getty Images, ABC, Vanity Fair and more have their own ways of filenaming, captioning, and crediting. Being able to conform to their standards is also a sign of professionalism and gives you an edge over a photographer who doesn't. Additionally, Photo Mechanic makes it easier to repurpose the same image for many different clients with ease through it's robust and simple templating process.
Finally, having the ability to save these template files separately is convenient as well. If traveling, you can email these files to yourself or save them to a flash drive, or even CF/SD card as a back-up. So, should you need to re-install or your computer crash, you won't need to redo your templates from scratch. Simply load the templates and point Photo Mechanic to them.
The Snapshot button (lightning bolt) allows you to save/load a dialog box's settings. This symbol is found in many areas of Photo Mechanic.
Photo Mechanic allows you to save a template (snapshot) of practically everything:
- FTP (login, connection type, filenaming, etc.)
- Email (image size, compression, recipients, etc.)
- IPTC (captioning, keywords, copright, locations, etc.)
- Output (Flickr, PhotoShelter, Zenfolio, etc.)
- File-naming/handling (variables, sequencing, image-editing app, etc.)
- Snapshots (templates of templates)
Most users, including myself, won't need to get deeply into the true power of this application, but if you're managing multiple projects for multiple clients you'll need to leverage more of Photo Mechanic's organizational power. Having the ability to further customize a file for a client with ease is a bonus for you and your client.
Variables and coding
Variables and coding in Photo Mechanice is one of those features I rarely use, but sports photographers use a lot. Variables are bits of code that you can input into most sections of your file-management process. Coding, called "Code Replacement" are special abbreviations you can set up, that in the final output displays the expression. These can be huge time-savers when captioning images of sporting events, especially if the player has a challenging name.
The Variables pane. These variables can input into the filename, folder name, or even various fields within the IPTC metadata.
For example, if I were slated to cover a game for AP, I would load a Snapshot with the baseline metadata conventions particular to AP. That way, once my images are imported, the byline, copyright, date and time, city and more is already embedded leaving only the details to be filled in.
I would also look up each team's roster and create (or load) the Code Replacement file too. That Code Replacement file allows me to write a snippet such as "/CC17/" rather than "Chicago Cubs center-fielder, Dave Sappelt," into each photo where he appears. This is an obvious time-saver for typing. You can identify someone easily by their jersey number which is usually more visibile than their name or face anyway.
Input: "/CC17/ makes a diving catch in the 9th inning at /CHIBB/."
Output: "Chicago Cubs center-fielder, Dave Sappelt, makes a diving catch in the 9th inning at Wrigley Field."
Combining Snapshots, Variables, and Code Replacements into your workflow can save you tons of time in getting your images out to your client as well as your personal image-management. You never know when you'll need to find a particular photograph quickly, and by having nearly every aspect of your file a searchable term, you can zero-in on it within seconds.
Importing, called "Ingest...," is another powerful and easy to use feature in Photo Mechanic. Here you can ingest multiple cards simultaneously and save them to multiple locations all while applying IPTC metadata, file names, etc., all while they're being saved onto your computer and/or back-up drives.
A lot of control to be had here. By applying as much metadata as possible now, saves time later.
"Live Ingest...," is Photo Mechanic's take on tethered shooting. It's not actually tethered shooting, but monitors your destination folder and copies your images to whichever destination you choose and can apply renaming and metadata just as in regular ingestion. So, if you're using Capture One or Lightroom to shoot tethered, you can use Photo Mechanic to further manage those files.
My workflow with Photo Mechanic
Once I was introduced to this software and realized how organizationally powerful and fast it was, I fell in love with it. It has been part of every shoot I've done since. I've also used it fix some of my bad habits of filing when I switched to digital back in late 2003. My workflow with Photo Mechanic is pretty much the same whether I am doing news, wedding, fashion, or personal work. I simply utilize different Snapshots to suit each client's needs.
Once I'm done with a shoot, I launch Photo Mechanic and plug in my card(s). The application automatically detects the card and launches the Ingest dialog. There I load the Snapshot I created earlier for that client. Usually, this is baseline metadata and file renaming. I can also load or create a custom IPTC template to be applied to that shoot upon import.
If I'm using multiple cameras - which I usually do - I may use a Variable in the filename or folder to make it easier to identify. I usually don't like separating the same shoot into separate folders according to camera model because in the heat of deadline editing, I may forget a great photograph is there because it's not readily visible.
Once the ingest is complete, I begin my edits, going through and rating or checking-off which photos I like. Photo Mechanic's simple GUI and super-fast thumbnail and preview generation lets me go through this editing process a lot faster than Bridge, Lightroom, Capture One, or any other similar software out there. The software keeps up with me. I can then filter the set by rating, selection, or a combination of parameters for easier evaluation.
Choosing my photos.
After I get my photos picked out, I copy them to another folder, usually named "Selects". All the metadata goes along with it. I can then go into each photograph or group of photographs and input captioning or other details, utilizing the power of Variables, Snapshots, and Code Replacement if necessary to save time.
Once all that back-end work is done. I can launch Photoshop right from within Photo Mechanic for post-processing. I can save these processed images to a third location with all the metadata tagging along with it.
Selection filtered and ready for captioning, additional metadata, and Photoshop.
Finally, I can email, FTP upload, export a slideshow, or even burn a disc for final delivery. With each of these steps, I can modify the metadata, image characteristics (compression, size, etc.), and other aspects using Snapshots and Variables. For each FTP client, slideshow, email or disc, I can save and load a Snapshot to make things move smoothly and quickly.
I can have various snapshots and other templates for each uploading method. I can send the same photos in different ways to different places in just a few clicks. Amazon S3, Zenfolio, Flickr, and SmugMug are just a few included services supported by Photo Mechanic.
Photo Mechanic is great piece of software used by a lot of photographers, especially photojournalists, for their image-management. The IPTC metadata is recognized by many web galleries, removing the need to re-input the information. Its speed and robust annotation are its strong points, letting me focus on editing until I am ready to actually process my images.
Download a demo or purchase Photo Mechanic at CameraBits.com.