November 10th, 2007

It’s been some time since I have updated this page. During the last eight months, developers still haven’t managed to produce a single piece of software that can handle all my demands, however, one piece of software has simplified my photo-management life a great deal.

A company called Camera Bits developed Photo Mechanic, a photo management application I consider to be second to none. Photo Mechanic is by no means a complete solution, but is does make viewing photos and managing EXIF data that much easier. Perhaps I should first explain why I gave up on iPhoto and EXIF-Tool.

iPhoto served me well when my photo library was relatively small, less than 2,000 pictures. But as my albums grew in size, I found iPhoto to be increasingly slow and cumbersome. iPhoto is impractical for the following reasons:

-iPhoto loads your entire library
There has never been a time I’ve wanted to view my entire photo library. I go into iphoto looking for specific photos or albums. Once you have amassed a few thousand photos, loading and scrolling almost grinds to a halt, at least on my PowerBook G4, and all those photos were duplicates reduced to 40% of their original quality/size.

-iPhoto must “import” photos
I don’t want to have to “add” my photos to a library, have them indexed, wait for thumbnails to be created and have modified photos stored separately from originals. iPhoto should stick playing slideshows and building Christmas cards – let me do the organizing.

-iPhoto is bulky
iPhoto’s library is around 30% larger than a folder containing the original images

-Adding keywords in iPhoto is a painful process
Prior to Keyword Assistant, I wouldn’t have even bothered trying to assign keywords in iPhoto. (I would rank iPhotos key wording system as one of Apples worst creations to date.) Keyword assistant simplified the process however, iPhoto’s keyword database soon gets bogged down with hundreds if not thousands of keywords.

-iPhoto can’t write EXIF data
Even if you spend days adding keywords, iPhoto still can’t write the comments and keywords you assign to a photo without using third-party software or scripts such as EXIF-Tool. While EXIF-Tool is probably a great script for those of you familiar with terminal, command lines and such, it’s not user friendly.

But I haven’t taken iPhoto out of my dock yet and here is why:

-iPhoto is perfect for quick edits
Do you want to straighten your horizon, up the contrast, tweak your levels, add some sharpness and email the photo to your mom all in the time in takes for Photoshop to load? Then iPhoto is your best choice. I still use iPhoto to adjust and enhance the majority of my photos. I can’t be bothered having to learn all the shortcuts for the tool pallets I need in Photoshop. And I hate always being asked what quality level I would like to save my jpgs as.

Unfortunately, Photo Mechanic doesn’t offer any pixel editing abilities. I think rotating the image is about the biggest visible change you can make. Photo Mechanic excels at managing photos. The application offers a vast amount of features, the majority of which I don’t even use -- visit their web site if you’d like to learn more about those features. I will explain some of their features I DO use here.

Don’t import – just view!
View at your photos right off your camera’s memory card if you like. That’s what I do. Navigate through you photos just as you would navigate through folders. If you have more than a few hundred images in a folder than Photo Mechanic might take a few seconds to generate the thumbnails – still much better than waiting for just about any other program to ingest your photos.

Only your top pics
Don’t waste your time and space importing photos that never worked out. You can assign a color coded rank to each photo simply be pressing a number from 1-8. Then you can sort the photos according to their rank and delete the rest. Yes, iPhoto will allow you to rank from 1-5 using the “apple + 1-5” keys, but that’s one button too many for such a commonplace task.

Accelerate your workflow
Again, I can’t stress how easy Photo Mechanic makes selecting your best shots with the ranking system mentioned above. My girlfriend is a graphic designer and I was her photographer for a number of projects including this billboard that went up in a Major Seoul subway station. We literally had thousands of photos to choose from and Photo Mechanic allowed us to sift through and select our favorites effortlessly. I even used Photo Mechanic to preview what were to be animated .gifs simply by scrolling up and down through my frames!

Assign EXIF info you didn’t even know existed
The IPTC info editor is a large forum that allows you to edit every conceivable piece of photo information available. Just read through the various fields and you’ll soon see this was designed with serious photojournalists and such in mind. You can assign special instructions, load in assignment info and even link audio files with your pictures.

Photo Mechaic doesn’t have the same slick interface as iPhoto and at first it may seem cumbersome. Give it some time though. I suggest creating templates. I create a new template for each city I frequent. Copyright, source, photographer information and keyword variables all stay the same. All I have to do is enter my keywords and hit “save + next”.

Execute complex tasks simply using “variables”
Any field can be assigned a variable. For example, you could tell Photo Mechanic to append your camera’s make and model to the “comments” and “keywords” fields. In my case, “keywords” consists of the, {city}, {province}, {country}, {category}, {suppcat1}, {suppcat2}, {suppcat3}, {instructions} fields. This way I can keep the data meaningfully separated yet have it appear as keywords when uploaded to flickr. In the caption area I have appended my source, using a {source} variable.

Infuse your photos with your info
After investing so much time into managing and organizing your photo collection you need the data to stick. iPhoto stores all your important information in a separate file which is useless when the photo is removed from your library. This means when you send photos to friends, post pictures on photo hosting sites or, god forbid, ever have to recover a corrupted iPhoto library, you’ll have to retype all those keywords and comments again. Photo Mechanic not only writes all IPCT/EXIF information directly to the photos, it even writes in the color ranking you have assigned. This means another person using PhotoMechanic can see how you’ve ranked the photos – very handy for photo collaborations.

Just like finder
Drag and drop folders into and onto Photo Mechanic to see their contents. Move pictures from one folder to another or create and rename folders right from within Photo Mechanic. One click or drag and drop and you can edit you photos in your favorite photo editor.

-Other features I like
-Email reduced photos directly from Photo Mechanic
*Batch edit names and number them using any sequence you desire
*Batch edit just about any other photo information
*Batch Search and replace IPIC/EXIF info
*Many view options including by “color class” and “custom”
*Search for any photo using any data, the same you would use “find” in OS X
*Do horizontal/vertical comparisons between two photos
*View RAW photos - If JPGs accompany the RAWs, any title changes or deletions to you make occur to both photos

Photo Mechanic also has its drawbacks though...

Next Page --> Sample images and workflow

  • Discussion / Comments / Questions
  • How to write iPhoto comments and keywords to EXIF.