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Review: Photo Mechanic for Windows and Macintosh

by Bob Smith | August 1, 2004

© Bob SmithScreenshots used with permission. When I talk to photographers who have made the switch to digital SLRs, a common theme revolves around the question of what to do with the images after the shoot. “I’m a photographer; I don’t want to do the editing afterwards!” But it’s worth taking a look at how that editing process can be streamlined to work for you. For me, the process was streamlined with Photo Mechanic software.

When I made the switch to digital with my first digital camera, I just copied my files from the CompactFlash card to a folder on the hard drive of my computer, then opened each image in Photoshop. At the time I was shooting JPEG fine mode, which made the process relatively quick. Then I had the opportunity to attend a workshop in Jackson, Wyoming. There I was introduced to a program that put me on the road to a digital workflow process. That program, Photo Mechanic (www.camerabits.com), offers a number of functions that I find invaluable in processing images from my digital camera.

When you look at the file names of images recorded on the storage card of a digital camera, you find they are named DSC_0001.jpg, DSC_0002.jpg, DSC_0003.jpg, etc. Not only boring, but not very descriptive after a long day of shooting! I prefer a little more information in the file name. I will want to find a specific image later, so just as with filing my transparencies, the naming scheme of digital files will matter. I use a simple naming scheme for my images, generally being subject_date_seqno. An example would be Brownbear_051602_315. So, how does Photo Mechanic assist me in this process?

Let’s look at the steps I go through, then examine each in more detail:

  1. Copy the images from the storage media to the hard drive
  2. Using the Photo Mechanic image browser, open the folder of images
  3. View the images in a lightbox type display, rotating for correct orientation
  4. Rename the images according to my preferred naming scheme
  5. Add keyword, caption, and other important information to each image
  6. Tag the images I feel are keepers
  7. Delete any images that are not acceptable

Now, you may say that takes a lot of time, but I can complete steps 1-5 in approximately 10 minutes for any folder of images, due to the batch capabilities of Photo Mechanic. Choosing the best images of the group can take more time, especially if I shoot in RAW mode, which I do 95% of the time.

Ingest Mode

Photo Mechanic offers its Ingest Mode from the file menu, which automatically copies the files on my compact flash storage card to my destination folder of choice on the computer’s hard disk. I connect a Firewire or USB 2 card reader to my computer for reading the CompactFlash card as those offer the highest transfer speeds. I have the option of having general data inserted into each image (location, city, state, photographer, exposure info, etc.) that will be used later in my database program for searching files.

Viewing Images

Photo Mechanic provides a lightbox-type display of the folder of images, showing 15 images at a time in a scrolling window. Here I can view a thumbnail of the images in a slide context, and using the arrow buttons around each image, rotate the verticals instantly to the correct orientation.

Image details

From this window, I can choose to view a larger preview of the image, or access the keyword information window. The larger preview window also shows the exposure information for the image, including aperture, shutter speed, ISO, lens, white balance, focus mode, date, and time.

A very important feature here is a button to open the image directly in Photoshop for further editing. The integration of Photo Mechanic and Photoshop is a key element in my digital image workflow. With the latest version of Photo Mechanic for Macintosh or Windows, I can specify the application chosen for the edit function.

Image preview

Rename Images

Once I have the lightbox display of a folder of images open on my computer screen, I like to rename the images immediately, applying my naming scheme so the files are always referenced that way in any later processing for prints, email versions, or web site. The file menu offers the Rename Photos command. When chosen, a dialog box allows one to set the file name and include a sequence number. This allows me to sequentially number a series of images in the folder so each is uniquely identified. Reference my earlier example of subject name_date_seqno (Brownbear_051302_256).

Add IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) Data

Basic file information, such as caption, keywords, credit, etc., referred to as IPTC data for one of the groups responsible for the standard, can be embedded within the image file data itself. I consider this a very important step if I am to later search a database of images to locate an image for a client or my own purposes. Using the “i” button on the lightbox view of images, I can access a large dialog box with the IPTC data fields listed. Here I insert the location the image was taken, keywords for the image, the camera I shot it with, the caption data, and the copyright information. All of this information will show up in the “file info” dialog box in Photoshop and in database programs that access the IPTC fields. I can build lists of cities, states, locations, keywords, etc for commonly used values, which prevents me from retyping the data after every shoot.

IPTC data

Some might ask, why not put this information in through Photoshop with an action? This is time consuming, even through a batch operation in a Photoshop action. Photo Mechanic does not open the file and then resave it, but instead writes the data directly to the header of the file (or the resource fork in the case of a Macintosh file), which is what makes it so fast at this operation.

Tag the Keepers

One last operation in Photo Mechanic is to tag the images at which I have looked and feel are the best. Yes, I probably keep too many marginal photos, but I look at this operation as a timesaver also. Because I shoot mostly RAW images and they take time to open and review, I tend to scan through the images and choose a few to view in detail or create an email version for a client to review (like magazine initial submissions). A small box to the right of the name in the lightbox window allows me to put a check mark on the photos I have reviewed and chosen as keepers.

I can use the edit menu command Select Tagged to select only the tagged image files in the folder, and look at only those in sequence, or I can then Select Others (invert) to select all the other files not tagged in the folder. With one press of the delete key, I can delete all the non-keeper images from my folder, leaving me with only the best of the day.

Another feature in Photo Mechanic worth noting is the slide show, which is very useful both for reviewing your images and choosing the best, or for actual presentations of your work to clients or those family gatherings. Also, the print command will print a contact sheet of your images for filing or putting with a CD, if you burn the images. The program offers access to variables, which include all the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) data stores in each digital image for use in your captions, filenames, or exported text lists.

Moving Beyond Photo Mechanic

Now I’m ready to start working with my images in Photoshop, creating prints or web site pages. But WAIT! Before I do anything else, I make a backup of my original images, re-named with keywords attached.

You will find that many programs for working with digital images have similar features. Photoshop offers the file browser capability and the batch editing functions through actions, web gallery creation, and contact sheet printing. IView MediaPro offers batch processing of images, web page creation, contact sheet printing, etc. This overlap creates some confusion. I focus on the best function(s) of each program: Photo Mechanic for initial review of the images, renaming, and keywording, Photoshop for image editing, and IView MediaPro for image database and retrieval.

About the Author

Bob Smith is a frequent instructor at digital photography workshops for Rich Clarkson & Associates, Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures, and Lindblad Expeditions. He is currently working as the director of Mangelsen Stock in Jackson, Wyoming.

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