Searching and Finding Photos

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Photo Mechanic offers a number of ways to locate photos that you may be looking for. It's important to understand the differences between them:

The "Find" feature is for locating files in whatever Contact Sheet is currently open in Photo Mechanic. "Find" will not show you photos that are not already part of an open Contact Sheet.

The "Search" feature (also known as "Spotlight Search") is only available in Mac OS X 10.4 (and later) and can help you find files on your computer even if they are not in an open Contact Sheet.

The "Quick Search" can do either of these (on OS X) and operates from the search box in the upper right corner.

Let's take a look at each of these:

Find Photos

Keyboard Shortcut

Mac: ⌘-F
Windows: Ctrl-F

Find photos within the current Contact Sheet with the Find function.

Photo Mechanic allows the user to search through the photos in the current Contact Sheet looking for specified metadata within either Selected Photos or All Photos.

Photos which match the set criteria will form a new selection in the Contact Sheet view when the search is completed.


You can search in the metadata or in the file name for multiple words with an AND/OR option. You can choose which metadata fields to search and you can search through the current selection or the whole contact sheet.

For example, you could search the current Contact Sheet for all photos taken by particular photographers by checking the IPTC data box, typing the name (unchecking case sensitive) and clicking on Find. This will select all the images in the current Contact Sheet taken by that photographer. Very useful when editing photos from events where more than one photographer worked.

The Find dialogs can be left open since they are not modal dialogs which need to be dismissed before proceeding to other tasks. You can type in new search criteria and click Find as many times as you like. The ‘found’ images will simply be highlighted in the current Contact Sheet view.

Spotlight Search (Mac Only)

Keyboard Shortcut
Spotlight Search (Mac Only)
Mac: ⌘-Opt-F
Mac OS X 10.4 (and later) has a facility called Spotlight which catalogs all the files on your computer to allow faster and more sophisticated searches.

For sophisticated searches on your computer use Edit/Search which will bring up this dialog:

Spotlight search.jpg

You can set Spotlight to search in any metadata field using the first popup menu, and you can set how it searches in the second popup menu (default : ‘contains’).

  • Contains: The searched field text string contains the text string typed into the text box, but need not be exactly the same to return a result.

E.g. ‘Filename’ ‘Contains’ ‘Any’ ‘yosemite, glacier, yellowstone’ will find any image which has the text strings ‘yosemite’ or ‘glacier’ or ‘yellowstone’ anywhere in the filename.

  • Begins with: looks for text strings which start with the defined string. Ends with: looks for text strings which end with the defined string.
  • Is: looks for text strings which are exactly the same as the defined string. In the example above, there is a secondary search criteria set by clicking the plus sign to the right of the first row. This adds a second row just like the first which is treated as an AND statement. In other words both criteria must be met for a result to be returned. In this case “Caption” “contains” “Sydney”. Therefore only files with a NSW somewhere in the filename AND “Sydney” in the Caption field will be returned as a result.
  • Any, All, Exact: controls how text strings are matched. Any allows any of the words separated by commas or semi-colons to match. All specifies that all of the words separated by commas of semi-colons must match the field being searched. Exact matches the string exactly as typed, including any punctuation.

These tools allow quite sophisticated searches when combined in this way. Additional search criteria rows can be added by clicking the ‘plus’ sign at the right of the row. Unwanted search criteria rows can be removed by clicking the ‘minus’ sign at the right of the row.

Searches can be limited to specific hard drives or even folders on individual hard drives by using the ‘Limit searches to specific locations:’ checkbox and the list below it along with the set of buttons to the right of the locations list box. Use the ‘+’ button to add a folder or drive, the ‘-’ button to remove a selected path, and the ‘x’ button to clear the list entirely. If you don’t want to remove the paths but you want to search all drives on your system, you can simply uncheck the ‘Limit searches to specific locations:’ checkbox temporarily. To limit searches again to the set of paths listed, just set the checkbox again.

Results of searches can be opened into a new contact sheet or into the currently opened one by selecting your choice from the ‘Put search results into:’ popup menu.

Searches can be saved by typing in a name into the Name field at the bottom of the dialog and clicking “Add to Favorites”. This search will now appear as a folder icon (with a gearwheel badge) in the Favorites panel of the Contact Sheet view.

Double-clicking the saved search label will execute it within the current contact sheet window. Right-click (Ctrl-click) on the Search label in the Favorites panel to bring up more options:

  • Execute Search: Applies this search criteria and results are shown in current Contact Sheet.
  • Execute Search in New Contact Sheet: Applies this search criteria and results are shown in a new Contact Sheet.
  • Edit Search: Brings up the Spotlight Search dialog with the current settings displayed so you can edit them.
  • Saved searches are useful for keeping track of photos that meet a certain criteria and since they are dynamic, they can keep up with changes to the set of photos on your system. For instance if you want to keep track of the photos you have shot in the last week, then you can start a new search, change the criteria to ‘Captured’ and then set the second popup menu to ‘This week’. Save the search by adding it to Favorites with the name ‘This Week’ and then any time you want to see the photos you have shot within the last seven days, just double-click on ‘This Week’ in the Favorites and Spotlight will find all of the photos you shot over the past week. If you execute the search again next week, you will see a different set of photos than you see today. You can use this to keep track of photos shot between a range of dates, photos shot over the last year, photos shot by a particular photographer, or photos shot in a particular country.

You can combine several criteria to make very specific searches. For example, you could create a search that finds the photos shot by a particular photographer in the last week.

One note about Spotlight searches and speed: while most searches are very quick to complete, searches involving file attributes like filename, size and type can be very slow because the filesystem is consulted for this data instead of the Spotlight metadata database. If you want to have the fastest searches possible then omit criteria that uses the filesystem for the search.

Quick Search

Quicksearch .jpg

At the top right of the Contact Sheet view is the Quick Search tool, simply type in a text string and Spotlight will search the filesystem and display any thumbnails that meet the criteria. Clicking on the ‘Magnifying Glass’ button in the inner left of the text field will present a menu for controlling the Quick Search:


Use the list of ‘Recent Searches’ to search for terms you’ve searched for before. The ‘Clear’ menu item removes all items from the list of Recent Searches. The ‘Only Search Contact Sheet Items’ menu item allows you search only the folder(s) in the current Contact Sheet for the words you’ve entered instead of searching your entire filesystem.

If you’ve performed a Quick Search and had it set to ‘Only Search Contact Sheet Items’ and you wish go back to seeing the original contents of the Contact Sheet, then you can either click the circle with an ‘X’ in it to cancel the search, or hit the Esc key while the cursor is active in the Quick Search field, or you can press ⌘-. (period) while in the Contact Sheet. Any of these methods will cancel the Quick Search and return the Contact Sheet to viewing its original set of folders.