Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has a lot of image management strengths, not the least of which is its catalog database. However, there are some things that Lightroom doesn’t do quickly, and one of those things is previewing images at 100%. To view images at 100% in Lightroom, you need to render 1:1 previews from the RAW files, and that takes serious time. When you’re trying to judge images for critical sharpness, you need to view them quickly, make a yes or no decision, and move on. That’s exactly where a browser like Photo Mechanic can help out and save you serious time.
I came back from a bird photography trip to Trinidad with over 2500 captures. That’s a lot of shots to review, especially when you have to judge sharpness at 100% quickly.
I use Photo Mechanic, from Camera Bits, for my first-pass review and to cull rejected images before I import them into Lightroom. Doing so reduces the amount of images in my Lightroom catalog and keeps my workflow streamlined. I’ve used Photo Mechanic for years, and it’s a really good file browser and image keywording tool. I use it to do all sorts of stuff, including image import, but here I’m just going to focus on the image review aspect of the program.
The big difference between Photo Mechanic and Lightroom is that Photo Mechanic doesn’t render your RAW images when you zoom in. Instead, it displays 100% previews using the preview JPEG embedded into your RAW files by the camera. For Nikon cameras, this is a full-resolution image, so the quality is more than enough to judge critical sharpness. Because JPEGs are fairly small, Photo Mechanic can display them super-fast.
Tip: I always set my Nikons to use an in-camera sharpening value of +3 or +4 so that the embedded previews are sharpened adequately for review.
Before you begin: Synchronize Preferences
If you intend use Photo Mechanic with Lightroom, there are a few best practices to consider. First, make sure that Lightroom is set up to write metadata and edits into XMP sidecar files. This not only helps to synchronize metadata between LR and Photo Mechanic, but Bridge, too. Next, go into Photo Mechanic’s preference panel and make sure that it’s set to write XMP sidecar files, too. I don’t recommend embedding XMP metadata. If you do, you risk getting your file metadata out of sync, as LR reads but won’t overwrite embedded metadata.
Use Tags to Select Images in Photo Mechanic
In my situation, my first criterion for selecting images is whether or not the subject’s eye is reasonably sharp. If the image isn’t sharp enough for me, there’s really no point in bringing it into Lightroom. Therefore, I use a simple binary approach during my first review pass. I check the focus and sharpness at 100% and tag the sharp ones as keepers. To do this, I use Photo Mechanic’s “Tag Photo” function.
Before I begin, however, I’m going to go into the preferences and set up the application to automatically advance to the next image whenever I change the tag. This speeds up my workflow tremendously. As I review each image, I check sharpness. If it’s sharp, I’ll use the keyboard shortcut Cmd (Ctrl)+ to tag it and then I’m automatically advanced to the next photo. If the photo isn’t sharp, I use the keyboard shortcut Cmd (Ctrl)- to “untag” the image, even if it isn’t tagged already. Doing this advances me to the next image, too.
Side note: If you use a Nikon camera and “protect” an image in the camera using the lock (key) button, it shows up in Photo Mechanic as “tagged.” That can be an extremely useful way of finding images that looked good on your LCD after you download them to your computer!
Bringing your selects into Lightroom
Once the selected images are tagged in Photo Mechanic, I’m ready for the next step: bringing the images into the Lightroom catalog. Keep in mind that still I haven’t evaluated the shots for composition, exposure, etc. You can do this in Photo Mechanic if you want, or move directly into Lightroom. For my exercise, I had culled 2500 shots down to about 650 acceptably sharp ones, and decided to do the rest of my work in Lightroom.
In Photo Mechanic, filter the images in the contact sheet on their tag state. I select View: Tagged, and now only the images I marked are shown.
Next, I select all the tagged images and drag their thumbnails to the Lightroom Library Module (Mac users can drag the thumbnails to the LR icon in the dock). Upon doing so, Lightroom automatically launches the Import dialog and shows the selected images as “checked” for import. That means I don’t have to sort through each file in the Lightroom import dialog to figure out which ones were the selects. At this point I can continue my editing workflow in Lightroom without the need to judge critical sharpness at 100%.