Friday, April 5, 2013

Photo Mechanic

Recently I've added Camera bits' Photo Mechanic into my digital photography workflow. It has become my first step, getting the images off my memory cards and into the computer.  People try to compare Photo Mechanic to Adobe's LightRoom or Apple's Aperture they are separate tools and excel at doing different tasks. Photo Mechanic (PM) has not replaced the use of LightRoom (LR) in my overall workflow, it just proceeds it in my order and replaces some of the task I was using LR to preform. 

  PM is a image browsing tool that is used by most photojournalists who are normally under the gun to get their images to their editors quickly and with accurate IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) metadata. Their images must be captioned/tagged with Location, Date, Event information, Photographer's name, Subject's name etc...  along with any keywords that will be used by their wire service data base.  Selecting a few of their best images and properly documenting them must happen as quick as possible, for sports photographers often at half time or between periods of a hockey game for instance. PM is one of the fastest image browsers on the market, and allows reviewing full size or even 100% zoomed RAW images instantly as they appear on your hard drive (or you can point PM directly to your memory card).

 The PM application does not provide any photo editing ability and even with all of its metadata capabilities it does not provide any cataloging features either. It does however provide a lightning fast way for you to import, browse, sort, document, star rate and keyword your RAW or JPeg images. You might ask, but Lightroom (LR) will do all of that and allow me to edit images and it creates a database catalog of my files, why would I use PM?  Again simply for its speed, the main advantage PM has over LR is that you can start scanning through your images as they are being imported and unlike LR you do not have to wait for each image to be rendered before it can be displayed full screen. Flipping through your images is as fast as you can hit the next key (right/left arrow key), try that with LR. Sure LR might be able to keep up if you selected full size rendering on import, but you could wait hours for the import process to complete. PM will allow you to import ("Ingest" in PM terminology) from multiple memory cards at once (naturally you must have multiple card readers), create unique directories, make a backup copy to a 2nd drive, rename files and apply IPTC metadata all at once. If the files on your memory card are split up into multiple directories PM will combine them into a single directory on your hard drive, or you can request that the directory structure be retained when copying your files over to the hard drive.

  Speed was the main aspect of PM that sold me on using it, the other was its metadata features. Being able to leverage the existing EXIF data created by your camera along with an easy to use interface to update the IPTC information was a bonus. PM creates variable names that reference in whole or in part the contents of each EXIF data field created by your camera. You can use these variables to auto populate any other IPTC data field or to create the file destination directory name used during the ingest (import) process. Also using the IPTC Stationery Pad (dialog box) you can quickly set default copyright, usage permissions, photographer's name and web site information. Other fields like caption, location, client information and keyword fields can also be set in the Stationery Pad before you ingest your images into your computer.

 Key wording is important for photographers who sell their images on stock or wire service sites and is mandatory for photojournalists. The average hobby photographer may not want to spend the time adding keywords to their photos but if you post your images on line, keywords may help generate traffic to your site since they are often used by search engines. PM comes with a stripped down version of a commercial keyword catalog available from Controlled Vocabulary which can be upgraded to a full version for a fee. You can add your own keywords to a master list via the interface using the IPTC stationery pad or by creating tab formatted hierarchical text files which can be imported into PM directly.

 I have built some keyword catalog files for myself that you may find useful for your images. In my next post I'll explain where to find these FREE files, how to move them into Photo Mechanic and briefly explain how you can build your own using a simple text editor such as notepad. The keywords you build into these files not only save you time but they provide a consistent entry of correctly spelled words and allow you to include synonyms like scientific names that represent a species of flora or fauna.

   Photo Mechanic may not be for everyone but being able to quickly delete the garbage images and flag, tag and keyword the keepers before importing them into LightRoom for me was well worth the $150 price tag. Download the trial version and see how you can flip through your RAW files at lightning speed, you will be blown away I'm sure.

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