How to Find Your Best Images With Lightroom 5’s Compare View

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Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

For decades photographers have faced the question of how to determine which of their images are the best. I’ve been through it all, from squinting at 35mm slides through a loupe on a lightbox, to creating contact sheets from negatives and marking the best with a red marker, to scanning negatives and slides through to the modern version of looking at Raw files on the camera’s LCD screen or in the various programs I have used over the last few years. Of those, there’s no doubt that Lightroom is one of the best for the task of comparing images and selecting the best ones.

Compare View

The tool I use for comparing images in Lightroom is the aptly named Compare View (I also use Survey View, to be covered in a future article).

To get the most out of Compare View, you should use Collections to organise your images, and Grid View to view thumbnails. Click the links to learn more about both.

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

Grid View is the starting point for using Compare View. Select the images that you want to compare. It may be just two, or you may want to compare more. In this example (above) I selected five images.

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

The first image that you select is, in Lightroom terminology, the most selected image. It is surrounded by a lighter frame than the other selected photos. In the screenshot above the photo on the left is the most selected.

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

Images selected, press ‘C’ on your keyboard to go to Compare View. The most selected image is displayed on the left. Lightroom calls this photo the Select. The next image in the selection is displayed on the right. This one is called the Candidate.

The idea is to compare the Select with the rest of the images 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.

Compare View icons

The icons along the bottom of the window in Compare View help you tell Lightroom what to do with either the Select or Candidate images. The first set is located underneath each photo:

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

1. Click on these icons to flag the photo as a Pick (left) or a Reject (right).

2. Click on these dots to give the photo a Star rating.

3. Click on the faint grey square to apply a Colour label.

4. Click on 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 image.

If the photo changes when you click any of these options, it is because you have the Auto Advance option ticked. Turn Auto Advance off by going to Photo > Auto Advance. I find it easiest to use Compare View with Auto Advance disabled.

The Toolbar icons

The rest of the icons are 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).

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

This indicates that you are in Compare View. From left to right, these icons show Grid View (G), Loupe View (E), Compare View (C) and Survey View (N). You can switch between these modes by clicking on the icon or using the keyboard shortcuts (indicated in brackets).

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

With the padlock icon in the locked position (above) you can zoom into both the Select and Candidate image simultaneously by clicking once on either one. The magnification is set by the Zoom slider and both images move in tandem with the hand tool. This is useful for comparing two near identical images for fine detail such as accurate focusing or noise.

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

With the padlock icon in the unlocked position you can zoom into either image without affecting the other. Press the Sync button at any time to bring the second image into sync with the first.

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

These icons are perhaps the most important in Compare View, as they help you navigate around the images in the selection.

The two arrows on the right are straightforward. Click on them to navigate through the selection, just like you did with the arrow keys earlier.

The Swap button (X|Y with two arrows) tells Lightroom to swap the Candidate and Select images. Use it when you decide that the Candidate is the strongest image in the selection, and you want to compare it to the others.

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.

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

If you press the Done button Lightroom takes you to the Loupe View and displays the Select image. Alternatively, you can use the ‘G’ shortcut to return to Grid View.

Click the White arrow icon to add or remove icons from the Toolbar.

Putting it together

The main 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 (you can also use it to compare photos that you have processed, or partly processed in the Develop module – but that’s another topic). 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.

While some photographers use Star ratings and Colour labels to help organise their images, by far the simplest method is to use Flags. If you decide to process an image, click the grey flag icon underneath the photo (it’s on the left) to flag it as a Pick. If decide not to process 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 images from view. Then go to Edit > Select all to select all the flagged images and send them to a new Collection containing only the images that you want to process in the Develop module (using Collections to organise your images is covered in this article).

Mastering Lightroom Book One: The Library Module

Using Lightroom 5's Compare View

My latest ebook Mastering Lightroom Book One: The Library Module is a complete guide to using Lightroom’s Library module to import, organise and search your photo files. You’ll learn how to tame your growing photo collection using Collections and Collection Sets, and how to save time so you can spend more time in the Develop module processing your photos.

Read more from our Post Production category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer and traveler. He's written over twenty photography ebooks and is the founder of The Creative Photographer, where you can subscribe to the Mastering Photography newsletter and receive three free ebooks!

  • This is a great explanation Andrew. I have always used Survey view to do my image selection, but I’ll give Compare a try now based on this. It’s always good to find new workflow tips!

  • I agree with Gary, I primarily use Survey view but often find that when comparing more than just a few images, the thumbnails become too small to be useful. (even with a 22″ widescreen monitor) I’ve always been confused by the Compare view, not knowing what was truly meant by Select and Candidate or how to navigate within the selection.

    I’ve begun the transition of adding catalogs to my workflow. While it does take some time and foresight to get set up, once it is functional, it is WAY easier to keep my images organized and easier to find. Based on this post, the Compare view will likely slide into my workflow on regular occasion.

    I would be interested in seeing a comparison between the Compare view and the Survey view (why you would use one over the other) in your future article.

    Thanks as always, Andrew! I’ve come to enjoy your regular posts for DPS!

  • Edward Anderson

    Great article. I’m just a little confused (I think) on one point. It sounds like the Swap and Make Select buttons do the same thing. Does one completely remove the original select image from the selection group? Is that the difference?

  • Yes, you are right. The difference is that the Swap button changes the Select and Candidate images around. Both remain on the screen, but the order is reversed.

    If you use the Make Select button the original Select is removed from the screen, and the Candidate becomes the Select. The next image in the selection then becomes the new Candidate.

    Hope that makes it clearer.

  • marius2die4

    excellent tips and a good article. Congrats!

  • posco

    please do a video on this, i couldnot understand. thanks

  • BuckCash

    Look at the examples above cross-eyed, and they’re pretty interesting 3D images. 🙂

  • Gustav

    Buck Cash, it really works ha ha… x)

  • MorelloNoIdea

    Hi, I’m unable to compare the same image, I mean on the left the original and on the right the one with the ettecs…Can you help me please ? In the older version of Lightroom there was the choice to select from x-y to x-x …Thanks

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