April 12, 2021

How to Use Photo Mechanic

Speed Up Your Workflow with Photo Mechanic

As a photographer, you know how much time gets spent on a computer—as much as we *love* being outdoors with our couples, it’s simply part of the job that screen time needs to happen. But, if you’re anything like me, you’re always searching for ways to streamline the backend work so you can spend more time doing what you love—being outside!

This is where Photo Mechanic comes in—this is one of the programs I use EVERY SINGLE SHOOT and rely on to ensure my work stays organized. After years trying basically every organizational method to make my workflow fast, easy, and efficient, I’ve found that Photo Mechanic is one of the steps in the process that saves me the most time.

How Photo Mechanic Works

Photo Mechanic uses a fast-loading method of previewing your RAW files that loads much quicker than Lightroom previews. You don’t have to wait for images to load to check focus, and culling your gallery can be done more quickly so you can move on to the editing process ASAP.

Basically, it’s the fastest way to view all the RAW files so that you can choose which ones you want to upload into Lightroom. If you’ve been culling without using Photo Mechanic, pay attention to how much time each RAW loads—maybe it’s just moments, but those seconds add up when you’re flipping through thousands of RAW files from a wedding.

Photo Mechanic loads RAW file previews instantly. You no longer need to wait a second or two for the image to become less pixelated and determine if the focus is spot-on. As quickly as you can flip through the files, you can see them accurately for what they are and decide whether they are of quality to make it into the “chosen” list of files to edit.

My Photography Workflow & Common Questions

To better help you understand how Photo Mechanic can be used in your own workflow, let me share exactly how I use the program myself. Now that Adventure Instead is a team of three photographers with a full-time in-house editor, my workflow looks a little different—so let me backtrack to show you how I used Photo Mechanic as a solo photographer:

Step 1: As soon as a photography session is done, I upload all the RAW files from the SD cards to an external hard drive.

Step 2: Working off that external hard drive, I cull through the RAW files using Photo Mechanic.

Step 3: I create a new Lightroom catalog for each shoot. 

Step 4: Import the chosen RAW files into Lightroom & edit the gallery.

Step 5: Upload the edited jpegs to an online gallery & send to the couple.

Step 6: ZIP entire photography session’s folder (RAWs, Lightroom Catalog & jpegs) & upload to Cloud storage.

When I am completely finished with a shoot and the images have been delivered, I will have the entire shoot backed up on my external hard drive and the Cloud—plus high-resolution jpegs that exist in the online gallery. With storage becoming more affordable, there really isn’t any excuse for not having multiple backups, which are essential to ensuring that you never lose any images—especially because, depending on what your contract states, losing images can be catastrophic for your business. 

Situations like these are why it is so important as a photographer to have not only backups for your images but also a solid contract. You’ll want to include a Limitation of Liability Clause that would protect you if you lost your images. I would also recommend having a contract clause that gives a definitive timeline for ensuring access to the gallery. Paige Griffith of The Legal Paige & I collaborated together to create adventure photography contracts that includes both a Limitation of Liability Clause and the Delivery of Images & Online Gallery Clause—and you can find the full contract or the clauses separately on Paige’s website if you’re interested in checking them out.

Another benefit of keeping the photos backed up in several locations long-term is that tragedies inevitably happen, and I’ve had couples reach out years after their wedding for additional images of loved ones that have passed away. Being able to send them some photos of those loved ones, especially photos that they’ve never seen before, can be a deeply meaningful experience.

What Cloud storage do you use?

We use Amazon Web Service, but there are many different cloud storage account options—I highly recommend choosing one that fits your financial/storage needs. The choice often comes down to a monthly subscription or paying a lump sum based on the size of the files you need stored.

Why do you create a new Lightroom catalog for each shoot?

Some people choose to work from a single catalog for an entire year, but I personally find this method to be too messy for my workflow. I like to keep entire shoots (RAWS, catalog, & jpegs) in their own folders without mixing anything. I’ve also found that larger catalogs can crash more often, and keeping an entire year’s worth of images in one place is risky. If the catalog corrupts or crashes, an entire year’s worth of edits is lost. 

What external hard drives do you recommend?

I always recommend choosing an SSD if possible. They tend to be more expensive but last a lot longer and load a lot faster. They can also handle more general wear and tear, so if you’re traveling a lot, they will more likely survive the stress of possibly getting bumped around.

What else can I do to speed up the culling process? 

The three most important tips to speed up your culling process is to use positive selection, to remove distractions & set a timer, and to trust your gut & be ruthless. I break down each of these methods in this blog post!

Benefits of Using Photo Mechanic & Developing a Consistent Workflow

You’ll Save a Lot of Time

This is a BIG deal—saving time in one area of your workflow allows you to prioritize other parts of your business, give yourself more time to focus on tasks outside work, and ultimately develop a sustainable work/life balance that allows you to keep doing this job without burnout. I hear photographers all the time talking about how they work 18-hour days, or never take weekends off, or balance a second job to make ends meet. While all that might be necessary to start a business for some, it’s not a lifelong sustainable pattern. The first step to creating a sustainable business model is prioritizing your time—investing in programs that save you time can have the greatest impact on the growth of your business.

You’ll Never Lose Images

If you follow a consistent workflow pattern that develops multiple backups for each shoot, you’re much less likely to lose images. Very quickly the number of RAW files from shoots can add up into the thousands, or tens of thousands, and it is essential to get ahead of this before it becomes an unorganized mess. Be sure to label your harddrives, get all the files from your weddings into accurately named folders, and follow the steps of your workflow EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Don’t assume you’ll remember the exception you made for the one shoot you put in a different folder or think you’ll remember to go back and label things correctly. The best bit of advice I can give you is to stop making excuses and do this right from the beginning—you’ll thank yourself numerous times over the years if your sessions are all treated the same. It all comes back to the amount of time you have—by saving yourself time along the way, you have the ability to really craft a well thought out workflow that works for you.

You’ll Be More Organized

I use Photo Mechanic as step one in my workflow because it speeds up the process of organizing my images. If culling took hours (or days), that’s a lot of time to lose something from a session or misplace one of your SD cards. The faster you can get your files into the appropriate places on hard drives, move on to the editing stage, and finalize your gallery for your clients, the less likely that something will go wrong along the way.

All the benefits of a well-organized, time-saving workflow go hand in hand. By saving time you have the ability to become more efficient, which will help you become more organized, which means you’ll be less likely to lose images. Photo Mechanic is simply one very useful tool in a series of processes that can have cascading effects on your ability to run a successful photography business. It’s not a solution to all your problems, but it is a program that can beneficially affect each following step in your post-processing workflow.

Written by

Maddie Mae

Award-winning Destination Elopement Photographer + Business & Marketing Coach

Founder of @adventureinstead

I help wedding and elopement photographers discover what sets them apart—and make that their “secret sauce” to building a thriving business.

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