Photo Mechanic Tutorial: The Preview Window
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One tool I enjoy the most with Photo Mechanic, and that I use just as often as the IPTC Stationary Pad, is the Preview Window. This window allows me to quickly view the selected photo fullscreen on my computer at the actual pixel size, which is crucial for determining if a photo is in focus and sharp enough for print use. Along with tools for zooming, cropping, a histogram, and all the EXIF data easily displayed, the Preview Window is a great tool.My digital workflow is probably about the same as anyone else’s: download, backup, enter IPTC information and keywords, rename the files. From this point, I want to determine which of my photos I want to select for moving on to the next step of color balancing. When I first became serious about photography I wasn’t using Photo Mechanic, and so without any means of easily viewing photos I simply color balanced and cropped all the photos I would take and determine the keepers later. Never again.

One of the photo thumbnails in the Contact Sheet

Instead, the next step in my workflow is to use the Preview Window to determine which photos are my best. After selecting those best ones from my RAW folder, I copy them into my BALANCED folder. Below you can read about all the wonderful things the Preview Window can help you do with your photos.

You have three means of accessing the Preview Window from the Contact Sheet. The first is to click on the magnifying glass in the bottom-right hand corner of the photo thumbnails, as seen in the photo on the right. A second way is to select a photo and press the spacebar, however this command only works on a single photo at a time. A third and final way is to use another keyboard command by pressing Command-R, and unlike the spacebar this command will work on groups of photos or the entire album.

If you select a certain number of photos within a photo album and use either the magnifying glass or keyboard command to open the Preview Window, you will only see those photos you have selected. However, if you select a certain group of photos and press the magnifying glass of an unselected photo you will see all the photos of your album in the Preview Window.

Preview Window Layout

Preview Window Layout: the toolbar, info bar, photo viewer, and thumbnails

The Preview Window is divided into four different sections: Toolbar, Info Bar, Photo Viewer, and Photo Thumbnails. This is the standard layout of the program and you are allowed to customize this layout to some degree.

Clicking on the vertical divider between the photo viewer and the info bar on the right will allow you to determine the size of the info bar. If you wish, you can actually drag that vertical bar all the way across the right side of the window and make the info bar disappear completely.

The same can be done withe horizontal bar that separates the photo viewer with the photo thumbnails. If you drag it all the way down it will disappear, leaving you with more room for the photo.

You can also select a fullscreen option, which I will explain later, that will enable a one-button option for making the info bar and photo thumbnails disappear.

The Toolbar

The Toolbar in the Preview Window.

The toolbar, located at the top of the Preview Window, gives you a few options for working with the photos and the layout of the window. This bar is always present, even if you choose the fullscreen option.

The first set of buttons you come to are the navigation buttons. Clicking these will navigate through the entire album you wanted to view, or just the selected photos. You can also use the arrow buttons on the keyboard to navigate through the photos.

The next set of buttons rotate the photos. You can also use the keyboard commands Command – [ or Command - ] . This will affect only the current photos.

Next comes the IPTC Info button. Clicking this button, or pressing Command – I will open the IPTC Stationary Pad and allow to edit any of the info. When you close the Stationary Pad you will return to the Preview Window.

The next button is just awesomely useful and I use it all the time. Clicking this button, or using the keyboard command D, will allow you to remove a single photo from a selection. Let’s say you went through your photo album and selected ten photos you wanted to see in the Preview Window to determine which are the best. As you flip through them in the fullscreen window you see a photo that is out of focus, blown out skies, or someone blinked at the wrong moment. All you need do is click the button or use the keyboard command and that single photo is removed from the selection. Keep in mind: this does not delete the image from the photo album, it merely removes it from the group of photos you selected.

The button of the twin images is the copy button. Pressing this or using the keyboard command Command – Y will open the Copy Options dialogue box.

The button titled “Edit” is exactly that: allows you to edit the current photo. You can also press the keyboard command E to send the photo to your default photo editor.

The last of the photo commands is the delete button. Pressing this will remove the photo from your photo album, unlike the previously button which only removed the photo from the selection. You can also use the keyboard command Backspace or Delete to delete the current photo.

The next five buttons affect the layout of the Preview Window. The first button allows you to view one photo at a time, which you can access using the keyboard command O (the letter O for One). The second button allows you to view two photos side-by-side vertically for comparison, which you can access using the keyboard command H. This is helpful when you have two photos of the same subject or moment and you want to determine which you want to use. The third button allows you to view two photos side-by-side horizontally, which you can access using the keyboard command V. The next button will restore the Preview Window to the default layout as you saw above, which you can access using the keyboard command R. Finally, the last button is the fullscreen option which removes the info bar and photo thumbnails and gives you a much larger viewing area for the photos, which you can access using the keyboard command F.

The Photo Viewer

The Photo Viewer section of the Preview Window.

The Photo Viewer is the area of the Preview Window where the photo appears. If you opt to view in fullscreen you will, of course, have a larger area of the screen for viewing the photo.

You can see some information directly in the Photo Viewer: in the bottom-left corner you’ll see the photo’s rating, and in the bottom-right corner you’ll see the photo’s color class and whether or not it is tagged.

Info Bar

Info Bar: EXIF data, cropping, zooming, and a histogram

The info bar is the section on the right side of the Preview Window that contains loads of information about each photo. This bar is optional; if you choose the fullscreen option, you will not see this bar, and you can also collapse this bar manually if you just don’t want to see it or use it.

The info bar contains four types of information or tools for you to use: the photo’s EXIF data, a crop tool, zooming in the photo viewer, and the photo’s histogram.


The first section contains all the EXIF data about the photo. From here you can easily read the file creation date, type of camera and lens used, your focal length and shutter speed, everything down to your white balance setting and if a strobe was fired.

The “+” and “-” symbols in the top-right corner are used for extending the area of the EXIF data. I have my info bar set so I can see all the information at once, which forces me to scroll down through the EXIF data. However, you have the option of collapsing any section of the info bar you don’t want to see. Then, with the extra room you will now have, you can use the buttons to extend the EXIF data box so you can see more at once.

Crop Tool

This tool allows you to create a crop box in the photo you are viewing. This crop box does not affect the actual photo, but rather is used as a guide for when you are editing a photo later. The primary use of the crop tool in Photo Mechanic is to allow a photographer or a senior member of an editing team to determine how they would like a photo to be cropped, save the file to a server, and then someone else comes along later to image the photo and apply the cropping using a photo editing program.

In order to use the crop tool, you must first press the crop button (in the photo to the right, you can see the crop button depressed in the top-left corner). You have the option of applying a shield to your crop. The shield is simply a darkened area outside the crop box that helps you visualize the crop a little better. You also have the option of applying a constrained crop, which allows you to save certain aspect ratios such as 4:5 or 2:3.


The photo viewer at default will adjust the photo to be viewed entirely within the boundaries of the photo viewer window. However, using the zooming tool you can increase that to full resolution so you can better judge focus and sharpness of an image. The very top of the Preview Window is a line that contains the current photo’s filename, dimensions, and then it’s zoom level. As you select different levels, the information at the top will change instantly to let you know when you have reached 100%, or full-resolution, on your monitor.


The histogram is another valuable tool for determining the quality of a photo. Despite the advances in Photoshop and other photo editing programs in the last decade, an underexposed image is still underexposed. A quick glance at the histogram will let you know if you have a serious exposure problem with a photo.

Photo Thumbnails

Photo Thumbnails at the bottom of the Preview Window

Last, but not least, the photo thumbnails pane appears at the bottom of the Preview Window. These thumbnails show you the other photos in your album, or those in the selection if you only chose certain photos to view in the Preview Window. You can click on any thumbnail to take you directly to that photo. The “All” and “Selected” buttons on the left side allow you to determine which thumbnails you view. As I stated earlier, if you select some photos and click on the magnifying glass of one of the selected photos, you will only see those selected photos in the Preview Window. However, if you select a group of photos and then press the magnifying glass of one of the unselected photos you will instead see all the photos in your album in the Preview Window. By clicking either the “All” or “Selected” buttons you will then be able to move between all the photos in your album or just the ones you have already selected.

The Preview Window

The Preview Window in Photo Mechanic is an integral part of my digital workflow. Without this tool, determining which photos are my best would take considerably longer time, time which as photographers we just don’t have. With all the tools available through the Preview Window, it is invaluable and a great component of the program.

Important Links

Photo Mechanic Tutorials – See a list of the other tutorials I have written for Photo Mechanic

Camera Bits – Visit the Camera Bits website, the makers of Photo Mechanic, to read more information about the program and make it your next purchase

About Jason Barnette

Jason Barnette is an internationally published travel photographer based in Abingdon, Virginia. From here, Jason explores the Southeastern United States shooting photos of the travel industry, tourism, and beautiful landscapes. His photos focus on telling the story of a destination from beginning to end throughout all four seasons, highlighting landscapes, people, food, lodging, and entertainment. Through this blog, Jason publishes his best photos from specific assignments, travel destinations, parks, and projects.

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