February 23, 2005

Workflow Adjustments

by psu
It's been about a year, and every new year it's a good time to evaluate your digital picture workflow and try to streamline it. Well, that is, if you are a complete dork. Anyway, I test workflow tools so you don't have to.

I had been using two basic tools to process my pictures: iView Media Pro and Photoshop. iView is a great cataloging tool, and Photoshop is very good at all kinds of image processing. But, neither of them excels at quick proofing and editing of photos. I was finding it tedious to import 300 shots, generate my proof jpegs, proof them, and then edit both sets of files down. So, where would I find a good browsing tool? Reading www.robgalbraith.com, I found that they use a program called Photo Mechanic, so I tried it out. Turns out, it is really good at browsing, editing, and tagging.


Once it loads your pictures, the Photo Mechanic browser is very very fast. It has a convenient import tool that lets you suck the pictures off the card, rename them the way you want and put them into a folder. For RAW files, PM conveniently lets you browse the pictures using the embedded preview thumbnails that are generally embedded in Nikon NEF files. For D70 files, these are full sized JPEG files, making browsing very nice. Generally I import pictures a few hundred at a time, which PM handles well, without bogging down.

So, where I used to bring my RAW files into iView just to run a batch conversion script, I can now browse the pictures directly in PM. This saves the import step and the conversion steps, and I can evaluate the pictures at full resolution. Which brings us to editing.


The editing UI in PM is great. As I said above, the browser is fast. It is easily 2 or 3 times faster than either iView or Photoshop. Also, it lets me edit full sized JPEGs and it has a nice side by side view for comparing similar shots. Love it.


Finally, Photo Mechanic has a nice tool for tagging pictures with meta-data. This is different than iView, where annotating pictures in the catalog was easy, but applying those annotations to the files was a multi-step process. PM has a "stationery pad" where you can enter the meta-data for a bunch of pictures and tag them all in one batch. It's easy and fast and supports all the prevailing EXIF and ITPC standards. PM, like all the other tools, does have problems with manufacturer specific EXIF tags. But this is all part of the meta-data problem on which I have ranted before. This won't change unless the manufacturers stop deciding to screw users.

The only annoyance with Photo Mechanic is that at the time I started using it, there was no way to fire off a batch script to Photoshop to convert a large mass of high resolution RAW and JPEG files into the little thumbnails I use for my web site and auxiliary catalog. I spent some time trying to solve this problem with Photoshop scripts (The Dr. Brown script is nice), Nikon View, Nikon Capture and Capture One. I didn't like any of these tools. I wanted to be able to fire off my old droplets using my browser.

As if to read my mind, the Photo Mechanic developer added this functionality to version 4.3.3 of the product.

New Workflow

Here's what I do now:

  • Copy pictures from the card to a dated folder using Photo Mechanic. Rename the pictures into a fixed scheme: prefix-date-serial-number.

  • Edit and tag using Photo Mechanic

  • Send the RAW files through my conversion droplet. Send the JPEG files through my resize droplet. This generates small proof JPEG files.

  • Import the small proofs into iView for further selection and web site work.

This is pretty much the same as the previous workflow, but with only one iView catalog. I found I was always using the thumbnail catalog for everything anyway because none of it was ever offline. I keep everything else basically the same. Lots of backups, web site generation and so on can stay unchanged.

So there you have it. Photo Mechanic for import and editing, Photoshop for image processing, iView for cataloging. Someday someone will make one tool that does all three of these things well. But until then this toolset is pretty usable. Now if only there were a convenient way to link the thumbnail catalog back to the original files. Maybe next year.

Posted by psu at February 23, 2005 05:04 PM | Bookmark This


Thanks for your review of image workflows. I am curious, how does photomechanic handle color spaces. I noticed that the Canon software that came with my 1ds m2 was significantly inferior in color space management than Photoshop. Have you tried an "unusual" difficult image and process in PM and PSD?

I am a psd browser convert. I love everything about it except for speed and its inablility to do b&w conversions within raw processing.

Btw, is PM 16 bit compliant and do you edit in 16 bit and then save as 8.

One thing I love about psd browser, is that the all raw editing is saved in a database, no matter where the file goes, hard drive or DVD. This has the characteristic of an "original" status, whenever I go back to the cr2 file in photoshop, all my changes are saved including file info data. The only exception to the saved data set is sharpening, which is best done to the .psd file.

I like the idea of having all data and adjustments in one source and generating duplicates from that source. I have not seen this in any other program.

My .02 on workflow. Your results may vary. Russ

Posted by Russ Widstrand at March 9, 2005 01:34 AM

Photo Mechanic does not do any editing at all, but from a display point of view it is pretty good about color space. In particular, you can set it up to display otherwise untagged files with a default color space settings. This is handy for people who use stupid cameras that do not tag their JPEG files.

I don't know if PM will display 16 bit files correctly.

Posted by psu at March 9, 2005 09:03 AM

Julie gave me the reference to this page and I appreciate it. I like Photo Mechanic but find it does not support all the standard IPTC tags - inlcuding the following three used to catalog in iView Media Pro - "Fixture" (event), "Location" and "Contact" (people). I realize all this info can be handled via keywords, but using the correct IPTC tags seems like a better approach. Have I missed something?

Posted by Stan Watt at September 19, 2005 02:24 AM

In the grand tradition of non-standard meta-data standards, it looks to me like iView has created those fields out of thin air, and is the only application that supports them without special plugins.

See the commentary here


Posted by psu at September 19, 2005 08:00 AM

According to this link on the same site, the fields are part of the standard - they just don't appear in any other program... see page 3

Also, thanks for the suggestion to try and move the tags "downstream." It did not yield anything new but was a good test.

Posted by Stan Watt at September 19, 2005 01:47 PM

This is a good writeup, thanks. With the new PM coming out, I'm interesting in tweaking my own workflow. I'm mainly using Adobe Bridge and iView MediaPro; but the hand-off between them is clumsy. Also, image ingest is poor too.

I'm curious as to why you use both PM and iVMP. Mabye it's only necessary with the current version of PM? Seems like the new one will have better searching and Spotlight. If the images are tagged well for Spotlight, maybe iVMP won't be necessary?

Posted by Doug Alcorn at October 25, 2005 11:27 AM

I use iView just to browse the jpeg catalogs quickly. Spotlight and PM are still a bit slow for that.

For example, if you open a folder of 5000 pictures in PM it takes a minute or two for the thumbnails to load and sort. iView does not have this problem.

On the other hand, I don't see myself picking up the upgrade to iView 3, since I don't really use it for much other than this one catalog function.

Posted by psu at October 25, 2005 01:01 PM

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