Today I had a call from William, a fellow London wedding photographer, asking for a bit of advice on his importing workflow. He’d been using Lightroom for the whole shebang and was finding it very slow going. Which it is! Lightroom is fine for importing a few photos but if you’ve got thousands of images from a wedding to download, doing the import and the first edit on Lightroom can take aaaages, even on a fast computer.

So I told him about how I use Photo Mechanic (buy it from Camera Bits here) to ingest and cull a shoot, and only then do I move the keepers to Lightroom for the next stage of the edit. Photo Mechanic is made especially for ingesting, rating, adding metadata and all that stuff and saves so much time! Photo journalists and sports photographers swear by it, especially for the speed and the metadata aspect, but for simply ingesting and culling it’ll still change your life if you’ve been doing it all in Lightroom so far.

While we were talking I realised it’s much easier to describe in writing and with pictures, so I figured I’d share on the blog. Here goes!

Step 0: some advance house-keeping

First I do a bit of prep. I always import my photos to my hard drive in a folder structure that looks like this: User -> Pictures -> Active Jobs – YYYY (e.g. 2017) -> Jobs -> YYMMDD Job_name.

Inside each job-name folder I have three more folders: All Raws, Working Raws, and Client JPGs. To make life easy I keep a template folder in my Jobs folder currently called ’17xxxx Template’ that contains these three sub-folders and before importing each job I duplicate that template folder and rename it appropriately.

I also have an external hard drive that serves purely to backup all my photos (and a second hard drive that is an exact clone of the first). This external drive contains two root folders: ‘Active Copy’ and ‘Archive’.

Active Copy contains a complete clone of the ‘Active Jobs’ folder on my computer hard drive. When I create a new (empty) job folder on my computer I duplicate it to the Active Copy folder immediately so it’s ready for the import process below.

Archive contains all my YYYY folders from every year going back to 2007. Yep, for realz. It’s a MASSIVE drive. I’m going to have to do something about this system soon because I can’t keep stockpiling everything on one drive, but I feel like if I start keeping, say, everything up to 2015 on one drive tucked away in a drawer that drive could decay and I’d never know until I power it up. Anyway, getting off the point here!

Photo Mechanic Lightroom import workflow file structure 1000x482 - For Photographers: my Photo Mechanic to Lightroom import workflow
The template folder I duplicate and rename before importing
Step 1: ingest to Photo Mechanic

Now I’m ready to import. In Photo Mechanic I go to File -> Ingest (or Command-G), then select the source, usually the memory card in a card reader. You can set a whole bunch of options such as importing to a dated folder, or to two folders at once, and renaming the files, and applying pre-saved metadata. Here’s what I do:

  • For the Primary destination I import to the All Raws folder in the appropriate job folder on my computer.
  • And for the Secondary destination folder I select the same folder on my Active Copy drive
  • I don’t rename the files because my two cameras name their files so I can tell which camera shot them, and I want to preserve that info for now. I know I could rename with the job and a camera-specific code but I take the easy route ;)
  • I don’t apply metadata yet because Lightroom will do that later, and the cameras already wrote my copyright into the files.
  • I definitely don’t erase the card after import. Never ever do this, just in case the import goes wrong!
  • I automatically eject the card after import to save any problems forgetting to do it manually.
Photo Mechanic Lightroom import workflow ingest screen - For Photographers: my Photo Mechanic to Lightroom import workflow
The Ingest options screen in Photo Mechanic. Lots and lots of options!

Then Photo Mechanic does its thing. I’ve got it set up to combine RAW+JPG files and always show the JPG, or if I shot raw-only to show the embedded JPG from the raw file, which helps speed things up later.

When it’s done it’ll beep at you and eject the card (if you set that up). If you’ve got a second card to import with the same settings check ‘Auto Ingest’ at the top of the Ingest dialog, stick your next card in and it’ll start automatically.

Step 2: cull in Photo Mechanic

Once all the photos are imported it’s time to do the cull. Everyone does this differently and PM has got a ton of options to suit you, including automatically advancing through the set when you change the tag, colour class or star rating of an image.

I rate using stars, which is set to numbers 1-5 on my keyboard. I whizz through them and give everything I like the look of 2 stars. Sometimes if I shot a bunch of one moment and a later version is clearly better I’ll skip back a few and 1-star my previous 2-star, but generally to keep things moving I go through everything 2-starring anything that looks good, until I’m done.

I actually do this process using a wired Xbox 360 game controller so I can sit back and whizz through using just my thumbs in a comfy position. I’ll write a blog post about this one day…

Then I might do a second pass. I filter for all the 2-star photos and this time I 1-star anything that isn’t quite as good after all. Sometimes (often!) I skip this step and just go straight to Lightroom.

Photo Mechanic Lightroom import workflow filter for 2 star 1000x631 - For Photographers: my Photo Mechanic to Lightroom import workflow
Use the filter bottom-right to hide 0-star and 1-star images

And then I’m done with the cull and ready to import to Lightroom.

Step 3: import the keepers to Lightroom

What I want to do is MOVE my keepers (as selected in PM) from the All Raws folder over to the Working Raws folder.

In Lightroom I open up the Import screen, in my main Catalog. Some people have a new catalog per job and I just don’t think that’s necessary unless it suits your workflow (perhaps you have clients watching you edit, and you want privacy for other clients). Some people do a catalog per year but I’ve never bothered. Whatever works for you!

In PM I filter for all my 2-star images and Select All. Then I drag-and-drop them over to the LR Import window. To make it easy you can arrange the apps on your screen so you can see both windows.

Photo Mechanic Lightroom import workflow drag and drop to Lightroom 1000x563 - For Photographers: my Photo Mechanic to Lightroom import workflow
Drag-and-drop the culled images from Photo Mechanic to the Lightroom import screen

LR will take a moment, then it’ll bring up that All Raws folder with just the 2-star images selected for import.

The next bit is key: at the bottom of the LR Import screen I select my custom ‘PhotoMechanic Move’ import preset.

It has my basic import settings (File Handling, File Renaming, Apply During Import), and most importantly it ensures Move is selected at the top (where it says ‘Copy as DNG, Copy, Move, Add).

Photo Mechanic Lightroom import workflow PhotoMechanic Move preset 1000x533 - For Photographers: my Photo Mechanic to Lightroom import workflow
I’ve made a Lightroom preset for importing PM-culled images that ‘Moves’ them instead of copying or adding


Photo Mechanic Lightroom import workflow Move 1000x525 - For Photographers: my Photo Mechanic to Lightroom import workflow
I make sure that ‘Move’ is selected so they’re moved, not copied, from All Raws to Working Raws

Then all I need to do is choose an appropriate metadata preset in Apply During Import, and then select the Working Raws folder in the Destination panel.

Now I’m ready to Import. Sooo much faster than importing the whole card into Lightroom!

Once the import is done all the 2-star culled photos I selected in Photo Mechanic have been moved from the job’s All Raws folder to the Working Raws folder. The only images left in the All Raws folder are my ‘rejects’, and I can dump them all simply by deleting the All Raws folder.

I usually wait until I’m completely done with the edit and have delivered the finished JPGs before I do that, though, just in case!

A few notes:

  • I usually select Standard Previews, as I rarely need to zoom right in on an image and if I do I’ll wait a second or so for that to render. But this is way faster than creating and working with 1:1 renders, especially for high res screens.
  • I make Smart Previews and have LR set up to edit with those to keep things faster
  • I don’t create a second copy or add to a Collection – although I will create collections later for the final working raws and the final exported JPGs
  • I still don’t rename the files yet, I wait until I’m ready to export to JPG before I do that
Step 4: edit in Lightroom

By this point if it’s a long event shoot I might want to give myself a break so I leave everything for at least a couple of hours, maybe even a day, and go do something else while previews render.

Then I get started editing in Lightroom! I’ll often decide to 1-star a few of these ‘keepers’ as I’m working through them in LR, but having done the vast majority of the cull in PM the LR edit goes a lot faster and is a lot more enjoyable.

Once I’m done editing just before exporting to JPG (to the Client JPGs folder I’ve already created back at the start) I filter for the remaining 2-star images and rename them all with a client-friendly name and sequential number. I do it at this point so that there’s no missing numbers in the set, where there might be if I’d renamed while importing to LR and then culled a few more during the edit. I know it’s often advised to rename at import with a recognisable name, but I figure so long as the folder they’re sitting in is named appropriately I’ll be fine. It’s up to you!

Okay…. that’s it! Go buy Photo Mechanic (I get nothing for promoting it, I just love it!) and make your imports fly like the wind!

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