How to Use Photo Mechanic to Speed Up Lightroom Culling

photo-mechanic-logoLast week I published a video on the Improve Photography Youtube Channel showing that Lightroom import is 600% slower than other competitive programs.  Dozens of you wrote back and asked how photographers can use Photo Mechanic together with Lightroom for the fastest possible workflow.

I've been testing out this workflow and I've actually found it to be extremely fast and simple.

Photo Mechanic is a third party app that is primarily used by professional sports and event photographers who want to quickly import, tag, and rate photos.  Photo Mechanic is not an editing app, so it's not a replacement for Lightroom or Photoshop.  It's simply a companion app that does fast culling (sorting through photos from a shoot).  I've never been won over by Photo Mechanic because it costs $150 and I was concerned that it would mess up my workflow too much, but I've actually found it to be a very easy addition to my workflow.

The idea is that you import the photos from your SD card to the computer using Photo Mechanic.  Then use Photo Mechanic for only tagging and star rating your photos.  Then you pass all the photos to Lightroom to continue the edit.

The PhotoMechanic / Lightroom Workflow

  1. Put your SD card in the computer or card reader
  2. Open Photo Mechanic and choose File > Ingest (It's their word for import.  I guess they like to be unique.)
  3. The photos will import like LIGHTNING!  I imported 100 raw photos and had full screen previews in under 9 seconds
  4. Flip through the photos with ease and rate the pictures by pressing Control (Or Command on the Mac) and a number key 1-5 to give each photo a star rating.  My star rating system is below.
  5. Do Control (Command) A to select all of the photos
  6. Drag and drop all the selected photos from Photo Mechanic onto the Lightroom icon.
  7. You now have the imported and culled photos in Lightroom for editing.

Jim's Star Rating System for Culling Images

  • 1 star – Completely useless photo.  Can be deleted if I ever need to clear off space.  These are photos that are so badly exposed that they can't even be seen, where I bumped the shutter button and took a picture of my foot, etc.
  • 2 star – It's at least a visible and not completely blurry photo, but it's not great at all.
  • 3 star – Might be an okay photo if I can do some work in Lightroom and Photoshop.  Save this photo to edit.
  • 4 star – A photo that I consider worthy of being published.  Good work.
  • 5 star – One of the best photos I've ever taken.  A photo that I want to include in my portfolio.

Matt Kloskowski has a great video out showing how he uses Photo Mechanic and Lightroom together, and it's the exact same workflow that I've been using in my testing.

I'm still not certain if Photo Mechanic is worth the $150 price tag for me.  After all, I could just be patient and wait for Lightroom's sluggish import process, but I really have enjoyed testing the software.

16 thoughts on “How to Use Photo Mechanic to Speed Up Lightroom Culling”

  1. Thanks for the useful info Jim! I agree, probably not worth $150 for me, but worth considering. Does LR still have to build its own previews after you import the photos into LR, or does it use Photo Mechanic’s previews?

    1. Nice job on Photo Mechanic. How exactly do you drag photos into Lightroom, and where do then end up on the hard drive?
      I missed something here, as I usually use Lightroom to import from a camera card. Thank you.

  2. Try fastrawviewer instead of photo mechanic. It’s only $20.00 I believe. Read the whole review at photographylife.com.

  3. You’ll save more time if you skip the 5 star rating system and just keep or delete. In fact, I no longer have time to “cull” in the way you do. I flag all the good ones and delete everything else. EVERYTHING. There is no time or space in my world for “not great at all” or “might be an okay” images.

    Back to Photo Mechanic, I no longer use it as I found it to be an overpriced ingest and renaming tool. I simply select all and ctrl-c all the images on the card, then ctrl-v them in folders on my desktop and external drives.

    For browsing and DAM I use Photo Supreme. I gave up on waiting for Camera Bits to release their own cataloguing and database tool. As much as I think they are great people, I am not going to hold my breath.

  4. Would love to hear your opinion on ON1 Browse 10. It has a more affordable price tag than Photo Mechanic and it looks like they do the same thing.

    1. I bought that product before the current version and it worked like charm. Upgraded to v10 and won’t even run without crashing. It was a fast program until this version and seriously sped up my workflow.

      Now I am back to using LR. Their tech support is stumped. So am I.

  5. I am a newcomer to Photo Mechanic as well as a culling tool for lightroom. I tried a half dozen other tools and think I am settled in on it as the most complete (I didn’t trial On1 as above as they wouldn’t give a trial without personal info). Anyway….

    I’ve found that I also get even more speed by cropping and straightening in PM. The crop there is very fast. This gives me two benefits; if the photo really needed nothing else, I don’t even have to go into the (slow) develop option in Lightroom. And even if I do, the crop tool in Lightroom is fairly slow, much slower in comparison.

  6. Exactly my sentiments. I also have no time for images that are not speaking to me immediately. It’s either there or not (5 or 0) in LR in terms of whether it is kept or deleted. This process of culling should be as uncomplicated as possible – mind you I have just invested in a 5K iMac so it zips along with culling my D810 files. For years this was a real slog with my previous Mac.

  7. Does Photomechanic offer a view mode like what’s called survey mode in LR (shortcut “N”)??
    For me it’s way better to choose your picks by comparing a number of images rather than flipping through them one by one. I use this method since i saw Jared Platt demonstrating this method.

  8. Brian W Lewis

    I would like to understand better getting the photos to Lightroom rom PM. I have not used lot of other options but have mainly done most of my digital work on PM.

    So, if someone could go back over a good flow and how to get photos to Lr it would be great.

    I have been having a problem of using LR and having it go to a white screen and become unresponsive. Any ideas?

  9. Instead of the 5 star rating, I sort through photos with PM using the T key (for tag).
    Then I can view Tagged photos, A couple of passes and I can get the selection down to the desired number.

    This is a super fast front end flow. From there, I can go to LR or Photoshop.

    Using this for auto races, and I can sort over 1000 photos down to the best 50 in less than 30 minutes.

  10. the reason most sports/agencies/pro shooters use this is the tagging and code allowed in efficiently and lightning fast culling. Images for Pro Sports, the AP, Getty and other top line agencies use this as a industry requirement. The AP even has their own code- For the weekend shooter, it’s overkill- for the pro shooter with deadlines in the field when speed counts- it’s a must.

  11. (2017): Adobe changed how apps accept images from other applications.
    New work flow Photo Mechanic to Lightroom?
    Old way no longer working for me.
    Lightroom culling is now competitive, Photo Mechanic worth it?
    Bill Harris

  12. I’m using the free trial and “injested” 2,000 photos. By your math this should take 3 minutes. I was really excited about that speed naturally. However It’s been 40 minutes and I’m only 3/4 the way through import…. no faster than lightroom?

    is there something in settings I should adjust to speed things up? So far I’m not impressed.

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