Speeding up your Lightroom workflow with Photo Mechanic
As powerful as Lightroom is, it is a dog as far as speed goes when culling or browsing through photos. I found that adding Camera Bit’s Photo Mechanic to my workflow saves me tons of time. Despite it’s $150 price tag, the time savings is more than worth it.
Let’s start with an overview of my culling workflow:
- Delete all of the undesirables from the memory card. Typically, these are out-of-focus and redundant shots. The benefit of doing this first is that it reduces the importing time.
- Apply basic edits and delete any newly identified non-keepers that made it this far.
- Give star ratings to the better shots. Many photos get no rating. I figure if I keep the photo, it is implicitly decent and rating a keeping-for-the-helluvit photo is a waste of time.
- Apply any additional processing to the rated photos.
- Apply a Pick flag to any photo that will be put on my website.
That was a 10,000 foot view of my process to give you an overall understanding. Here’s my full culling process in more detail which describes how I fit Photo Mechanic into my workflow.
- Insert your memory card into your computer. Note that my process is to delete photos directly on the card to save import time. If you wanted to be safe, copy all of the photos to your hard drive first, so you’ll have backup copies. (I don’t do this, but if you were doing a wedding or something important, it would be a prudent step.)
- Now, open Photo Mechanic. If the open a contact sheet dialog doesn’t immediately appear, choose File > Open Contact Sheet. (Note there is a preference setting on the General tab to show this dialog when the program starts.) Navigate to the memory card folder with the photos and click the Select Folder button. With blinding speed, Photo Mechanic will quickly show a page of thumbnails.
- You may get a warning when opening a contact sheet and you can click Yes. Photo Mechanic by default does not save your work when using a Contact Sheet in this manner. As such, make sure you don’t close the program before completing all of the steps below.
- Go through each photo using the arrow keys on your keyboard. If you find a photo you want to delete, press the T key to tag the photo for eventual deletion. A checkmark will appear in the bottom-right beneath the thumbnail. The only thing you’re deciding right now is whether the photo stays or goes.
If you want to see a larger preview of the image, just double-click the thumbnail. A preview window will appear with a larger version. To quickly close the preview window, just double-click the preview image. If you have two monitors, you can drag the preview window to the other monitor and leave it open. If you want to zoom in, hold the Control key down and click the preview. Control+click again to return to normal size.
- After all of your rejects are tagged, press the F3 function key (or View menu > Tagged) to just display the tagged photos. Press Control + A to select all of them and then press the Delete key. Click the Yes button to confirm the deletion.
TIP: If you are tagging a lot of photos for deletion, you may want to perform this step every once in a while to minimize the impact of something unforeseen happening and you lose all the tags.
- You can close Photo Mechanic now.
I know Photo Mechanic can do a lot more, but this is all I use it for. I used to import all my photos into Lightroom first and then delete the non-keepers. Since I probably delete many more photos than I save, I reduced the Lightroom import process tremendously. Note that I do not “ingest” (i.e., import) the photos into Photo Mechanic.
- With your memory card contents slimmed down considerably thanks to Photo Mechanic, import the photos into Lightroom as you would normally. I’m assuming you already know how to do this, so I won’t belabor this step. I’ll only mention that when I import, I copy as DNG (I shoot RAW format) and apply a custom preset that does the basic edits I do to most every photo. I may also add a keyword, if appropriate and once in a Blue Moon, I’ll add to a collection. I save things by date in Year\Date folders (e.g., 2016\2016-09-02).
- Next, I’ll add my star ratings: three for good, four for outstanding and five for portfolio. (Keyboard shortcut 3, 4 and 5 keys, respectively. The 0 key removes any stars.) There will be many photos without a rating. I’m only rating the better ones which will be processed further. If a photo still needs to be rejected, I hit the X key to flag it as rejected. (To take off the reject (or pick) flag, press the U key.)
- After I’ve rated all the photos, I delete all of the photos flagged as rejected. Choose Photo menu > Delete Rejected Photos and follow the prompts.
- Next, I filter by greater-than-or-equal-to three stars.
- I go through just the rated photos and perform the needed edits. Most, if not all, at least need to be cropped and have their white and black points set. If a photo will be posted to my website, I’ll hit the P key to flag as a pick.
- At this point, sometimes you will find you need to alter a photo’s rating or even delete it. Deleting is somewhat rare so I’ll skip the reject flag and just right-click the image and chose Remove Photo.
- Apply any needed keywords.
- Display only the photos with the Pick flag (i.e., those that will be uploaded to my website). To do this, on the Library Filter bar, right-click any of the Flag icons and choose Flagged Only from the menu that appears. Alternatively, you could click off the Unflagged (middle) and Rejected (right) icons, but the menu is faster. (Read my post on Lightroom Flags for more information.)
- Press Control+A to select all of the picked photos. Right-click and choose Export > Export to start the export process.
- That’s it!
Working Away from Home
If I’m using my laptop (actually a SurfacePro 3) away from home, I will skip the steps above where I actually delete the rejected photos in Lightroom. I’ll perform the removal step only after I export and import the library into my main library at home. Why? I keep shooting on the same card and if I deleted the rejects from Lightroom, they would get re-imported every time I import. Note that I still do the initial deletion process in Photo Mechanic.
It would be nice if I could use Photo Mechanic to do the initial rating, but as far as I can tell I either have to enable the (not-recommended) option that modifies the files on the memory card or take the extra time to import (aka ingest) the files into Photo Mechanic.
Well, I hope you take something away from this little tutorial. Have fun!
2017-02-12: Since getting my D500, the copy process form the XQD card is so darn fast, it’s no longer a bottleneck. I’ve started to use Photo Mechanic a little differently. Instead of tagging photos to delete, I tag the photos I want to keep. Then I copy them to a temp folder on my HD and import into Lightroom from there. I feel a little safer