Sometimes you just need to turn around images really quick when photographing an event like a wedding or party, maybe a concert or show…even just a quick portrait session. Waiting for Lightroom can feel like an eternity, so we can use another program called Photo Mechanic to quickly browse and rate our images.
Photo Mechanic is a lightweight piece of software that actually displays the same JPEG preview image that your camera shows on the LCD screen. Lightroom’s raw processor is what generates the previews, but Photo Mechanic doesn’t have a raw processor because it’s using a camera-generated preview…so it’s blazing fast. There’s almost no waiting to view your images and the only time it’s been slow for me happens when my computer is running slow.
I use stars to rate my images and Photo Mechanic can write the stars to XMP metadata files. Inside Lightroom, I can read the metadata and voila…my star ratings from Photo Mechanic appear in Lightroom. Believe me…I know it sounds like a complicated process, but it’s very quick and easy to do.
There are two settings inside Photo Mechanic that you’ll want to check are enabled.
1. Under Accessibility, change the Single Key Shortcuts to be “0-5 sets Rating”. This means that pressing 0-5 works as it does in Lightroom and rates the images with a 0-5.
2. Under IPTC/XMP, make sure there is a check next to “Add embedded IPTC (XMP will always be written) and “Always create and/or update XMP sidecar file”. Both of these settings allow your ratings to be written into the metadata of the photo, which we can read from inside Lightroom.
Ok great…but now how do I put this workflow into place?
While you can use Photo Mechanic to ingest (another term for import), I’m going to assume your images are already inside Lightroom. This is the method that I use so Lightroom can apply my file-renaming structure, keywords, and copyright to the images. A lot of sports photographers that I know start with Photo Mechanic. But I digress…
Before we start, let’s make sure Lightroom is set to automatically write changes to XMP. This way, any of our metadata changes like keywords or copyright are written to each image’s XMP file automatically. From the Catalog Settings window (access via Lightroom menu on Mac, Edit menu on Windows), choose the Metadata tab. Make sure there is a check mark next to “Automatically write changes into XMP”. By default, this is unchecked. If we’re about to start working with images already inside Lightroom, this change isn’t retroactive so let’s hit Command-A or Control-A to select all the photos we want to use and then choose Metadata > Save Metadata to Files.
Now let’s begin… From inside Lightroom, right-click on the folder of images you want to open in Photo Mechanic and choose “View in Finder” (Mac) or “View in Explorer” (Windows). A new file window will open with your images. Click and drag that folder into Photo Mechanic and close Lightroom.
Now that your images are loaded, double click on one of the thumbnails and use the arrow keys to move to the next image. If you want to rate it with a star, press a number 0-5.
When you’ve gone through all the images, simply close out of Photo Mechanic and re-open Lightroom. Choose the same folder of images you had in Photo Mechanic and hit Command-A or Control-A to select them all, then choose Metadata > Read Metadata from Files.
Lightroom remind you that reading the metadata will overwrite the metadata in Lightroom. But that’s okay because we started in Lightroom and have already wrote the Lightroom metadata to XMP files before opening Photo Mechanic. In just a few seconds, Lightroom will have updated to reflect the same ratings that you set in Photo Mechanic and you can begin editing your rated images.
I’ve been asked if this workflow really speeds things up or not, but I don’t think it really slows me down at all. Once you try it a few times, the steps will become quicker and easier. I don’t love the idea that I need an auxiliary program to rate my images, but it sure is faster than waiting for Lightroom. Maybe in the future we’ll see some speed improvements.
Photo Mechanic 5 can be purchased for $150 from their website.