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Photography

How To Get Started with Photo Mechanic: 3 Essential Workflows

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If you're happy using another photo editor you might be hesitant to learn yet another tool. But what if that tool could help you speed up your entire image processing workflow?

The main reason to use Photo Mechanic is for the speed it brings to a photographer's workflow. It doesn't correct or alter the look of your images; its purpose is to help you command an ever-growing image library. It's a powerful, fast photo browser for and file managing tool.

The good news is that Photo Mechanic isn't selfish. It doesn't want to own your entire library or swallow your files up into a database. You don't have to choose between Capture One and Photo Mechanic, or Lightroom and Photo Mechanic, for example; it Photo Mechanic complements nearly every other photo editor.

In this tutorial you'll learn three key uses for Photo Mechanic: as a powerful import tool, a reviewing tool, and a photo manager.

Photo Mechanic Interface
Photo Mechanic is beloved by high volume shooters for its rapid image rendering. If you need to make your way through a shoot quickly, Photo Mechanic is best in class.

Photo Mechanic is available for Windows and Mac, and features a free trial. Download it from the official website and try out some of the features I'll teach you about below for 30 days.

1. Use Photo Mechanic to Offload Your Image Files, Organize and Apply Metadata

The most popular use for Photo Mechanic is file importing. Photo Mechanic calls the import an Ingest, and the process is extremely thourough. Photo Mechanic includes file management and organization workflows that other programs just don't match for speed, ease of use, and flexibility.

To begin importing your images, go to the File > Ingest menu option. Under Edit > Preferences you can also set the program to automatically Show Ingest Disks dialog when you plug in a memory card.

Photo Mechanic Ingest Menu

The ingest menu features a ton of options, and is designed with power users in mind. Here are the important settings on this menu that I recommend paying close attention to:

  • Ingest disks: typically, I ingest an entire SD card at a time. Tick the Ingest Disks option and choose your memory card from the list of disks.
  • Destination Folder Roots: Click on Primary Desination to browse to the folder to write the images to. I put all of my images on an external hard drive. You can also tick the Secondary option to import a second copy to another location, which is a great backup practice.
  • Filter Files: it might be helpful to filter the second dropdown to Copy RAW Photos only if you shoot JPEG+RAW to avoid doubling your file count.
  • Copy Photos: this is best set to into dated folder then folder with name, which will copy your images into nice and tidy folder trees.
  • Rename ingested photos as: I always tick this box and rename my images based on the capture date. Photo Mechanic uses "variables" to rename each image based upon rules.
  • IPTC Stationary Pad: fill out the information, and then tick the Apply IPTC Stationary Pad to Photos to add basics like your name and contact information, or specific information like headlines, keywords, and persons shown, to each photo's metadata.

All of these settings can be a bit overwhelming, but they serve a useful purpose: organizing your images as they're imported, instead of creating a file organization nightmare. For a more detailed look at the metadata tools, including templating and variables, check out Daniel Sone's tutorial on image management with Photo Mechanic.

2. Make Photo Mechanic Your Reviewing Tool

Some of the best photo editing apps lack the tools to properly manage an image library. Take ON1 Photo 10, for example. It's a fantastic app for effects and correction, but it leaves a lot to be desired for managing an image library. The same is true for tools like DxO OpticsPro, RawTherapee, and other otherwise very capable raw-processing suites.

Photo Mechanic bridges this gap perfectly. It loads previews fast, faster than any other program I've used. In high-pressure, quick turn around situations, this is a great advantage. Many photographers use Photo Mechanic as their photo manager, and an external app to correct and refine the look of an image.

To use Photo Mechanic as your go-to photo manager, check out some of the following features.

Add Ratings and Color Labels

When you have a large image collection, you have to use metadata to make sense of it. Adding some data like a star rating for our favorite images or a color label as a reminder is a great way to keep the keepers at your fingertips.

Color Labels
You might be familiar with star ratings, but how about color labels? These are simple color tags that we put on top of an image.

Let's revisit the Preferences to tweak the keyboard shortcuts to add star ratings and color labels. On the Accessibility tab, change the Single Key Shortcuts to 0-5 sets Rating. This sets our star rating to the number keys 1-5. Now you can hold down Command (Control on Windows) on the keyboard and press the number keys to apply a color label.

Photo Mechanic Keyboard Shortcuts
I prefer setting the keyboard shortcuts to the "0-5 sets Rating" style. This allows us to use the number keys 1-5 to add between 1 and 5 stars. Color labels are then added by holding cmd on the keyboard (ctrl on Windows) and pressing the number keys.

In contact sheet view, use the keyboard shortcuts to tag an image with a star rating or color label. Both of these metadata tags are easily visible on the image thumbnail. Now that we've added these flags to our images, let's filter for specific pieces of metadata.

Filter Based on Metadata

The filtering controls for Photo Mechanic are in the lower right corner of the contact sheet view. Photo Mechanic's filters are based upon removing rules from the filter. All images are shown by default. Clicking on any of the metadata buttons will hide images that match the rule. For example, clicking on the blue color swatch will hide all images with a blue color label.

Photo Mechanic Filtering
Photo Mechanic filtering is based on turning criteria off. By default, you can click on a piece of metadata to remove it from the visible images. Clicking on the 3 star would remove any image with a 3 star rating.

If you want to filter to show only specific metadata, hold alt on the keyboard and click on one of the swatches. This filters for a single, specific piece of metadata. If you held alt and clicked on a 4 star rating, only images with a 4 star rating would be left standing.

Alt Filter Photo Mechanic
To filter to specific metadata, hold alt on your keyboard and click on one of the metadata filters. When I held alt and clicked on the yellow color swatch. It filtered to the lone image with a yellow color label attached to it.

3. Use Photo Mechanic With Your Preferred Editor

Photo Mechanic plays nicely with all kinds of other photography software, including Adobe Lightroom.

To connect an external editor to Photo Mechanic, access the Preferences menu and choose Launching from the dropdown menu in the upper left corner of the menu.

Then, you'll need to point Photo Mechanic to an external editor. Tick the box that says Assign, and then click on Choose. You can simply browse to the photo editor of your choice and select it.

Photo mechanic Preferences
On the Photo Mechanic Preferences > Launch menu, check the radio button that reads Assign default application. Then, choose an external editor by pressing Choose and browsing to your favorite app.

Once you've shown Photo Mechanic your favorite external editor, you can send a series of images to the editor by selecting an image (or several images) and Control-clicking on Mac (right-click on Windows) and choosing Edit Photos with > (app of your choice). The app we selected on the Launching menu should be in the context menu.

Edit photo with
Select an image or series of images in contact sheet view, and then right click (control + click on Mac) and choose Edit Photos with from the context menu. You should see the editor we added in the Launching menu.

Also, make sure and use the filtering tip from the section above to pinpoint the images you want to send to an external editor. Use Photo Mechanic to reduce your shoot to the finest images, and an external app to refine their look.

Recap and Next Steps

Photo Mechanic is a photo manager that many photographers are passionate about for its speed and batch features. In this tutorial, I've shown you some of the reasons that it's a mainstay in my workflow. 

Keep learning about Photo Mechanic by checking out my tutorial for using it with Lightroom, or the Camera Bits YouTube channel. In this tutorial, I've also touched on Digital Asset Management fundamentals, which Tuts+ has defined as the "organizing, sorting, storing, and sharing digital images and video files." Learn more about managing an image library in this roundup post.

Are you using Photo Mechanic with your image library? If so, how are you using it? Let me know in the comments below.



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