Photo Mechanic; A Metadata and Ratings Alternative to Photos
The word is now out that Apple Photos.app for Mac OS X offers no ratings, color labels or flags, and only limited metadata editing. A user can mark favorites and add keywords, but not much else. Metadata is simply nowhere near as available as it was in Aperture. Ratings imported from an Aperture library are imported into Photos and converted to keywords, and it's unknown when or even if additional metadata features will appear.
But there are options for the user who is attracted to the accessibility and speed of Photos but can't live without their metadata. Long before Aperture became my go-to tool, I developed a workflow that incorporated Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits. Every image I shoot goes through Photo Mechanic before importing into Aperture. Even after studying the cool automation in Joseph's Live Training: Importing Your Photos video, I never had the desire to shift my workflow to an Aperture-only import.
Editor's note: Keep in mind that while you can add metadata to your images with Photo Mechanic, you won't be able to view all of it in Photos. By doing this you're essentially future-proofing your workflow, so if/when Photos does allow you to add and view this metadata natively, your perviously imported images will already have it in place.
I describe Photo Mechanic as a machine. It's like the blender in your kitchen. I don't find it to be a glamorous app but I don't spend enough time in it view it as anything other than a practical appliance. That said, it is my go-to photography appliance. What Photo Mechanic does really well is that it can “ingest” a folder or camera card of images, rename and back up the files as it goes, and apply any metadata you may need. Much of that metadata can be automatically generated from a huge collection of variables that Photo Mechanic makes available. Once done, Photo Mechanic makes quick work of viewing your intake, attaching your GPS data, and allowing you to rate your images. It does all of this with stability and speed.
So where could this fit into a Photos workflow? It's a little kludgy but a Photos user would move all renaming, metadata, and rating operations into Photo Mechanic as the first step. Photos apparently only renames ratings that come from an existing Aperture library so a Photo Mechanic user would have to select rated images and append stars, colors, or other keywords to the previously applied metadata. Fortunately Photo Mechanic makes this process quick and relatively painless. With metadata embedded in the image, the source images could then be imported into Photos where they would be searchable. Any modifications to ratings would have to be made manually in the Photos Info window. It's not as easy as doing it right in the application but it does make a relatively quick solution.
Editor's note: You could do your rating in Photos by assigning keyboard shortcuts to “1 Star”, “2 Star” etc., and creating Smart Albums to search for those “rated” (keyword) images. This would allow you the flexibility to do your ratings after importing to Photos, which seems more practical. The challenge you have to watch out for is if you rate/keyword an image “3 Star”, then apply “2 Star” later, it will have both keywords/ratings. You'll need to remove the old keyword/rating as you go.
As I mull over working with Photos, I am more satisfied with the Photo Mechanic portion of my workflow than ever before. It's fast and mostly automatic. But it is also platform and application agnostic. Beyond my Aperture libraries, my source hard drive is full of thousands of sorted and labelled RAW images that have made it through my full Photo Mechanic treatment. Whether I'm dropping those into Aperture, Photos, Lightroom, Capture One, or any other management tool, I'm already set with the metadata information I need. While I have admired the semi-automated approaches that users have applied to Aperture and other tools, I've never felt that they beat the power and speed that Photo Mechanic offers.
Photo Mechanic does require a little learning and configuration for your use. You have to make an investment at the beginning. But once that is done, it'll scream through your images.
This isn't a tutorial on how to use Photo Mechanic, but just a collection of screenshots with descriptions to highlight some of the capabilities, to give you an idea of what the options are.