How to Speed Up Your Lightroom Workflow with Photo Mechanic

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Photo Mechanic

Last week I looked at various ways in which you can speed up the Lightroom import process. All of them have something in common – no matter which method you use, you still have to wait for Lightroom to build 1:1 previews of your images before you can both view and zoom into them. Even then, Lightroom is not as fast as it could be for viewing your photos.

Enter Photo Mechanic. This program allows you to view and zoom photos at any time, even before you import them. You can even view your photos while they are still on your camera’s memory card. This is great news if you ever get so excited about a shoot that you can’t wait to see how the images came out.

It works by using the JPEG preview embedded in the Raw file (the same one you see when you view your photos on the camera’s LCD screen). Lightroom takes longer because it ignores the JPEG preview and builds its own previews from the raw data, taking into account any settings that you have applied at the import stage using a Develop Preset.

Photo Mechanic is much more than a photo viewer. You can use it to import photos (that is copy them from a memory card to an external hard drive – in Photo Mechanic this process is called ingesting photos), search images and add keywords, star ratings, colour labels and other metadata. It also integrates neatly with Lightroom, or with Photoshop if you are not a Lightroom user.

Photo Mechanic in action

This screenshot shows Photo Mechanic’s Contact Sheet. It is similar to Grid View in Lightroom. To get to here, select a folder using the Navigator pane on the left and double click to open it as a Contact Sheet.

Here I have set Photo Mechanic to show the filename, camera and lens, exposure settings and date and time under each thumbnail.

Photo Mechanic

Double-click on any photo in the Contact Sheet to open it in a Preview window. You’ll see thumbnails of all images in the same folder on the left (use the up and down arrow keys to move through them) and metadata on the right.

Photo Mechanic

Press the Z key to zoom in. Set the zoom level using the slider on the right. Press Z again to zoom out.

Photo Mechanic

You can remove the right panes to create more viewing space.

Photo Mechanic

If you set Curser mode to Loupe Photo Mechanic displays a zoomed view of the selected photo when click on it in the Contact Sheet window. This lets you zoom in to check focus without leaving the Contact Sheet.

Photo Mechanic

Practical uses for Photo Mechanic

These are the ways you can put Photo Mechanic to use.

Viewing photos saved on your hard drives. This applies to all photos (supported file types are listed here) not just those imported into Lightroom. Photo Mechanic is a faster viewer than any other program that I’ve used.

Importing (ingesting in Photo Mechanic terminology) photos from memory cards to hard drives. Photo Mechanic has more advanced metadata options than Lightroom, plus it allows you to view photos (and start selecting the ones you want to process) right away, so you can start viewing your images while the rest are still being imported. You can then select which photos you’d like to import into Lightroom (more on this in a bit).

These are the metadata fields that Photo Mechanic lets you add to imported photos. You can use it to add copyright data, as in the example below, or for more complex tasks. See the Scott Kelby article (linked below) for more details.

Photo Mechanic

Viewing photos from a shoot to decide which ones you want to process. It’s not quite as sophisticated as Lightroom in this respect. There’s no Survey view (for viewing multiple images at a time) and you are limited to a side-by-side comparison showing just two photos. But it’s very fast.

Photo Mechanic

The real benefit occurs when you are short on time. Imagine that you are away from home for two weeks, whether on holiday or assignment. If you have a laptop you can use Photo Mechanic to import / ingest photos from your camera’s memory card to an external hard drive (backing them up) and to view and select the ones that you intend to process. You can do all this without opening Lightroom at all if you want to. When you get home you’ll save time because you have already viewed and culled your photos.

For sports photographers and photo journalists to speed up their workflow. Sports photographers often need to import, view, select and process photos very quickly, before sending them by wireless internet to their agency.

Scott Kelby has an excellent article on this which will help you see what’s involved, and how Photo Mechanic can save you time.

For speeding up the Lightroom workflow. Let’s take a look at that last point in more detail.

Using Photo Mechanic to speed up the Lightroom workflow

Here’s a simple workflow using Photo Mechanic to speed up the process of importing and viewing photos.

1. Start by going to Preferences in Photo Mechanic. Under Preview set Automatically advance to next photo when: to Tag is changed. Under Launching set Default application to edit photos: to Assign default application and choose Lightroom.

2. Go to File > Ingest to copy photos from your camera’s memory card to the hard drive where you save your Raw files.

3. Now it’s decision time. Do you want to import every photo from the shoot into Lightroom? If so select all the photos and go to Image > Edit Photos. If you set the Default application to Lightroom in step one, Lightroom will open and go straight to the Import window with the selected images. From here you can import into Lightroom as normal.

4. Alternatively, you can select the images that you want to import into Lightroom. Double click on the first image in the Contact Sheet to open the Preview window. Press the Z key to zoom into the photo if you need to check for fine focus. You can set the zoom level using the slider on the right, and use the square bracket keys to rotate images.

If you want to import the photo into Lightroom, press T. This tags the photo, which is like Flagging a photo as a Pick in Lightroom. You could also think of as the T standing for tick, as it adds a tick to the thumbnail in the Preview window.

If you enabled auto advance in step one, Photo Mechanic displays the next photo in the folder. If you don’t want to import the photo into Lightroom, press the down key to advance to the next image.

5. Once you have viewed all the photos return to the Contact Sheet, go to the Filter View by menu and select Tagged. Now you will only see the Tagged images. Select all and go to Image > Edit Photos. Photo Mechanic sends them to Lightroom, which opens the Import windows with the Tagged images selected. From here you can import into Lightroom as normal.

This screenshot show what happens when you send the Tagged files to Lightroom. Lightroom opens the Import window. Tagged photos are ticked, ready for import. Untagged photos are not ticked and faded out to show they won’t be imported.

Photo Mechanic

The main benefit of this simple workflow is that it helps you save time in the Lightroom import process by only importing the images that you really need. In turn this means Lightroom has to generate less previews (saving time) and means you have less photos in the Lightroom Catalog, which will hopefully improve its performance over time (Adobe says that a large Catalog should run no slower than a small one in Lightroom 6/CC – I haven’t tested Lightroom to see if this is true).

One task where this would be of immediate benefit is portrait shoots, especially if you are in the habit of using wide apertures for selective focus effects. You could use Photo Mechanic to eliminate any photos that are out of focus or would be rejected for other reasons (poor composition, bad lighting, model blinking or caught with unflattering expression etc) and import the best images into Lightroom. You will never need those rejected images, so there’s little point in adding them to the Catalog.

A secondary benefit is that you don’t have to change any settings to enable both Photo Mechanic and Lightroom (plus Photoshop and Adobe Bridge for that matter) to read and apply any metadata changes.

Of course, some of you will want to import every photo into Lightroom, and that’s fine, and some of you will be more than happy to let the Lightroom import process take as long as it needs to before viewing and selecting photos. Photo Mechanic doesn’t support Collections, therefore it’s not as good a tool as Lightroom for narrowing down a full selection of photos to the ones that you want to process (this process is explained fully in my book Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module).

But for those of you who need a fast photo viewer, or have more complex importing and viewing requirements (i.e. anybody who shoots high volumes of images, such as wedding photographers and photojournalists) then Photo Mechanic will be extremely useful.

Does Photo Mechanic cost too much?

The only drawback of Photo Mechanic is the price. It costs $US150, which is more than you might want to pay. But remember that Photo Mechanic does a lot of things better than Lightroom that are of interest to professional photographers, and that explains its market. It’s aimed at professionals, and reading around on the internet confirms that the professionals who use it think that Photo Mechanic is well worth the money.

Either way, you can download a 30 day trial of Photo Mechanic here, long enough to give you ample time to decide whether it is useful enough for you to buy.

Further resources

If you have any questions about Photo Mechanic or Lightroom then please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, you can learn more about Lightroom with these article and ebook resources.

How to Save Time When Importing Photos Into Lightroom

The Single Most Important Setting in the Lightroom Develop Module

How to Post Photos to Instagram from Lightroom

How to Use DxO Optics Pro with Lightroom

Mastering Lightroom ebooks

Mastering Lightroom ebooks by Andrew S Gibson

My Mastering Lightroom ebooks show you how to get the most out of Lightroom. They cover the entire workflow process, including post-processing in the Develop module. Click the link to learn more.



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5 Responses to “How to Speed Up Your Lightroom Workflow with Photo Mechanic”

  1. Matt O'Brien says:

    I have a PhotoMechanic licence, purchased to optimise my workflow specifically with Lightroom, but ……. I have abandoned PhotoMechanic.

    Main reasons.
    1. I cannot preview what I am about to ingest, ie prior to the copy and rename of files. I have communicated with the vendors on this topic several times, they agree they have many requests for same, but no move to implement.

    2. The interface and GUI is seriously in the dark ages.

    3. The incremental sequence number, critical for my workflow, would regularly be reset. With no preview option, I often only discovered this too late after hundreds or thousands of files have been ingested and renamed.

    I have written my own app to import and rename my files from card to my disk. I also do a lot more.

    Apart from previewing where the files will reside and their new file names I also check that I have a raw file for every jpg and visa versa. I provide the option to import by file type, so I can include only raw for some scenarios and only jpgs for others. I also analyse the potential files to be imported by date and summarise them in a window by date and file type. So if I have 2 shoots on 2 different dates, I can easily select to import by date range. This is a major shortcoming of the Lighroom import and an opportunity ( so far ignored by PhotoMechanic). I could go on.

    I stayed with PhotoMechanic for years hoping that there might be some movement from them… but also… nada.

    PM has one advantage in that it works on both Windows and Mac.

    • Hi Matt, what exactly do you mean when you say you can’t preview what you are about to ingest? I didn’t understand that part.

      • Matt O'Brien says:

        PhotoMechanic (Pm) has some superb features, especially the ability to rename both folders and filenames based on tags. This is very important to me.

        I can explore a folder or card before I “Ingest” using Pm, but that is of no use to me. What I would like to do is have the ability before I “Ingest” to have a preview which lists the original file name, new folder name and new filename. I store my images by Project/Job with Year. I have a custom file naming structure. I use tags of Date, Year, Camera Serial Number, Job Number, Job Name, Image SequenceNo. The Seq No. is particularly important to me, because I do not want duplicate filenames or a sequence number used twice for different images.

        Occasionally, Pm loses the Sequence Number. Sometimes, I may have a typo in a Job Name or select the most recent Job in error. Sometimes I am Ingesting images where the camera date is incorrect (I may be working on some one else’s images).

        Once I hit the Ingest button then Pm will copy hundreds or thousands of images. If I discover errors later (smetimes weeks later), I will then have a massive job to correct any errors, or find where the images are now copied to and remove and restart again.

        A Preview feature is a safety check, which will allow me “pre-visualize” what Pm will do with my images, allowing me to spot any obvious errors before I commit.

        A very good example of a tool which provides a good preview feature is Downloader Pro at I used this for many years. Unfortunately, it only works on a Windows pc. I was looking for a solution which will work on both my MacAir (for travel / fieldwork) and PC (my main workstation), so that I have a consistent Image downloading routine regardless of platform used.

        CameraBits have all the code already in situ (ie their own renaming engine) to make this a usable feature. They just need to put some effort into doing this.

        If you wish to contact me directly, please feel free to do so.

        • Hi Matt. Understood. The fact you can see the thumbnails in Lightroom in the Import window and also see what the file name will look like (if renaming) are big differences between Lightroom and Photo Mechanic. You are right, it probably isn’t difficult for Camera Bits to add these features if they wanted to.

  2. Matt O'Brien says:

    1. I got fed up waiting for PhotoMechanic.
    2. Also, Lightroom has a major gap in terms of usability of their import module. They should allow me filter in/out by file type (ie I may only want to import raw or jpg) or by date (ie isolate a project when I have multiple projects on a card, or forgot to format my card between projects).
    3. By writing my own import code I seriously optimise my real world workflow.

    Very very disappointing that the perceived market leaders in the field give lip service to the concept of truly efficient and practical workflow.

    Thanks for writing the article.

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