The Lightroom Compare View makes comparing photos to find the best ones easy.
It seems hard to believe now, but back when I started out in photography I used to edit photos (as in select the best ones) by looking at 35mm slides on a lightbox.
Now Lightroom makes the process much easier. Why is this important? Let’s say you take 500 photos on a shoot. You wouldn’t want to develop them all in Lightroom. You would use your time better by picking the best 20 or 30 and focusing your attention on developing those to their full potential.
The Lightroom Compare View helps you do that.
To get the most out of Compare View you should use Collections to organize your photos, and Grid View to view thumbnails. Use the links below to learn more about both.
Learn more: Take Control of Lightroom’s Grid View
Lightroom Grid View
Grid View is the starting point for using Compare View. The first step is to select the photos you want to compare.
The first image you select is called (in Lightroom terminology) the most selected image. It has a lighter frame than the other photos in the selection. In the screenshot below the photo on the left is the most selected.
Next, press ‘C’ on your keyboard to go to Compare View. Lightroom displays the most selected image on the left. This photo is called the Select. The next photo in the selection is displayed on the right. This one is called the Candidate.
Press the ‘I’ key to display the Info overlay with each photo. This displays information such as filename and camera settings, as you can see below. This information helps you keep track of which image is which and see whether there is any difference in the photo settings.
Press the ‘I’ key again to cycle through to the second Info overlay, and again to make the overlay disappear.
You can learn more about the Info Overlay, and how to configure it to display the information you need to see, in my article Five Hidden Features of the Lightroom Loupe View.
Lightroom lets you compare the Select with the rest of the photos in the selection. Test it out by using the left- and right-arrow keys on your keyboard. If your selection contains more than two images, Lightroom cycles through the remainder of the selection, displaying each image as a Candidate.
Lightroom Compare View icons
You may have noticed some icons under both photos in Compare View. The key below tells you what they do.
1. Click on these icons to flag the photo as a Pick (left) or a Reject (right). You can also use the ‘P’ or ‘X’ keyboard shortcuts (or ‘U’ to remove the flag).
2. Click these dots to give the photo a Star rating.
3. Click the faint grey square to apply a Color label.
4. Click the X to deselect the photo. Lightroom removes it from Compare View when you do this.
The icons change to indicate the updated status of the photo.
If the photo changes when you click any of these options, it’s because Auto Advance is enabled. Turn it off by going to Photo > Auto Advance. You’ll probably find it easier to use Compare View with Auto Advance disabled.
The Toolbar icons
There are more icons displayed in the Toolbar at the bottom of the Compare View window (press ‘T’ on your keyboard to reveal the Toolbar if you don’t see it).
This is what the icons are far, working from left to right.
Compare View icon
This indicates that you are in Compare View. From left to right, these icons show Grid View (G), Loupe View (E), Compare View (C), Survey View (N) and People (O). You can switch between these modes by clicking on the icon or using the keyboard shortcuts (indicated in brackets).
When the padlock icon is in the locked position you can zoom into both the Select and Candidate photos at the same time by clicking on either one. The Zoom slider sets the magnification and both images move together when you use the hand tool.
This comes in useful when you want to compare two nearly identical images for fine detail like focusing accuracy. A good example would be looking at portraits to make sure the eyes are in sharp focus.
When the padlock icon is in the unlocked position you can move or zoom into either image without affecting the other. Click the Sync button to bring the other image into sync with the one you are zooming/moving.
There are also some icons on the right of the Toolbar. The list below explains what each one does.
1. The Swap button
The Swap button (X|Y with two arrows) tells Lightroom to swap the Candidate and Select images.
2. The Make Select button
The Make Select button (X|Y with one arrow) tells Lightroom to turn the Candidate image into the Select. The Select is removed from the display, and the next image in the selection becomes the new Candidate.
You could use the Make Select button when you decide that the Candidate photo is stronger than the Select, and you want to compare it to the others in the selection.
3. Arrow keys
Click the arrow keys to navigate through the selection (or use the arrow keys on the keyboard).
4. The Done button
When you click the Done button Lightroom takes you to the Loupe View and displays the Select image. You can also use the ‘G’ shortcut to return to Grid View.
5. White arrow icon
Click the White arrow icon in the bottom right of the screen to add or remove icons from the Toolbar. If you can’t see any of the icons listed above, you can enable them here.
Using Lightroom Compare View
As mentioned earlier one purpose of Compare view is to let you compare similar image so that you can decide which ones you want to process in the Develop module.
Another could be to compare photos that you’ve already developed, or partly developed, in the Develop module.
Use the arrow keys to cycle through the images in your selection, and the Swap and Make Select buttons to compare different images. If this is new to you, it won’t take much practice before you settle into a rhythm. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can work you way through even hundreds of images using Compare View.
Some photographers use Star ratings and Color labels to help organize their images. But I feel the simplest method is to use Flags.
Here’s how it works. If you decide to develop an image, click the grey flag icon underneath the photo (it’s on the left) to flag it as a Pick (or, quicker still, use the ‘P’ keyboard shortcut).
If you decide not to develop it, leave it unpicked. Then, when you have finished, all you have to do is return to Grid View and choose the Flagged option in the Filter bar to remove the unwanted photos from view.
Then go to Edit > Select all to select all the flagged images and send them to a new Collection that only contains the photos you intend to develop in the Develop module.
Don’t forget to read my article How to Organize Your Photos With Lightroom Collections for more information on using Collections to organize your photos in Lightroom.