I think having a good image browser on your computer is one of the most important pieces of “equipment” you’ll ever invest in if you want to improve your photography.
What an image browser gives you is instant feedback: how did that lens change you made work out? Did it give you what you were hoping for? What about that shutter speed “bracket” that you tried? Which of the resulting images conveyed the magic of the moment?
These kinds of comparisons can create an almost-instant critique for you, a feedback loop, if you will, that really will help you develop your shooting. It’s a forest view vs. down-in-the-trees view that I’m talking about here. While it’s possible to do an edit using filmstrip or thumbnail view on the PC, or the Finder Slideshow feature on Mac, you’ll never be able to do the critical side-by-side comparisons that a good image browser will allow when you’re winnowing down an edit.
I can hear some of you right now…what about Adobe Bridge? I have to tell you: I don’t like Bridge. Even on my super-fast new machine, it feels like such a big, slow behemoth. It takes a long time to load up, it doesn’t give me the edit views that I actually need, it just feels so….heavy….like a real drag on the computer system. My browser that I’ll describe below feels, by contrast, like a light, fleet, nimble little thing, almost no drain on my system resources at all…how they do it, I don’t know, but it’s wonderfully fast and quick. Quick is what you want!
Which one to get? Well, I don’t intend to do a full-fledged review of all the good image browsers out there. I’m going to just explain how I use the browser that’s been my mainstay for over 10 years. That browser is called Photo Mechanic, by a little company called Camera Bits. It’s available for Mac and PC. You may very well find another product that works for you, and that’s great. I just want to explain my workflow and why the browser plays such an important role in my editing.
Photo Mechanic allows you to “Open” any folder of images, or do an “Ingest” right off a storage card. If you use the Ingest feature, you can create caption/keyword information for all of the images in the shoot and have Photo Mechanic apply that data to each image on the fly. You’ll specify a destination location for the images and PM will create a folder at that location and put them all there for you. (Actually, you can specify TWO destination locations if you want, creating a backup copy from the beginning of your workflow.) The IPTC Stationary pad feature allows you to use any or all of the provided fields, getting as specific as you care to be.
Once your images are ingested (or you open up the folder of photos with “Open”), the real power of PM comes into play. Using the Preview feature (clicking on the camera iris icon under a photo will open up the Preview feature), you can click through all of the images in your shoot, using the Right and Left arrow keys on your keyboard. When you hit one of the images you want to consider processing, go ahead and click the small white square at the bottom right of the image, “tagging” the image. Once you’ve worked your way through the shoot, you can select “View> View Tagged.” This will allow you to create a new contact sheet view of ONLY the tagged photos, which you can now quickly click your way through, further narrowing down your selection. You’ll find this to be a tremendous timesaver!
Now that you have your selections pared down, go ahead and select all of your tagged images (Edit>Select Tagged or Cntrl-T on PC, Cmd-T on Mac) and bring them into Photoshop (Image>Edit Photos, or Cntrl>E on PC, Cmd>E on Mac).
There are lots of other useful features in the software, but these are the main ones I use to illustrate why I use an image browser. I can’t imagine doing a decent edit without one!
Photo Mechanic is available as a time-limited full-strength download from Camera Bits. It will work for 20 days before you’ll be required to pay up for a permanent key to keep it running. It’s currently $150 per copy which will also give you a certain number of free upgrades before you’ll have to pay anything else. More details on their website.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog