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Adobe Digital Imaging How-Tos: Comparing Similar Photos

Lightroom excels at comparing photos with similar composition and exposure values, side by side, in order to determine which shot has the best detail and color, and it's arguably the most important part of working in the Library module. Dan Moughamian shows you how to compare similar photos in Lightroom 3.
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#13 Comparing Similar Photos

A critical task for any serious photographer is comparing photos with similar composition and exposure values, side by side, in order to determine which shot has the best detail and color. Lightroom excels at this task, and it's arguably the most important part of working in the Library module. After all, if you don't start with your best shots before moving to the Develop module, you may have already lost the battle. The first step is to select two similar images (Figure 13a).

Figure 13a

Figure 13a Using the Grid view, select two image cells to begin your comparison.

Next, you need to jump into the Compare view by pressing the C key, or by clicking the button near the bottom of the Lightroom window, with the icon marked X|Y, 01pe-adobeimaging_xyicon.jpg . Once clicked, you will see your chosen images side by side in the main viewer (Figure 13b).

Figure 13b

Figure 13b The Compare view makes it easy to pick the best image from a series of similar shots by zooming in to check their color, detail, and focus.

From this point, you have several options for controlling magnification, which images occupy which side of the preview, and the ability to apply attributes that identify which shots have been picked, flagged, or rejected. Take a look at some of the options that follow.

Magnification Options

Once you have two images side by side, zoom in and examine the details. The first order of business is comparing focus. If you have two shots that were taken at identical or nearly identical focal lengths and from the same vantage point, it's easiest to compare them using the same magnification. Lightroom sets this up by default by locking or linking the zoom for both images, 01pe-adobeimaging_zoomlock.jpg .

You can use standard keyboard Adobe shortcuts to zoom into or out from the photos; or you can use the Zoom slider, and drag on either image to pan (or slide) them both in unison, to identify areas of differing focus, color, or detail. Some situations may require that you unlink the zoom magnification ratio for the two images. For example, this might be the case if you've photographed the same subject, from the same vantage point but with different focal lengths, or from a different distance but with the same focal length.

The end result is that in order to view the subject in both images that you are comparing at a similar level of magnification, you'll have to use different zooms. To do this, click the Zoom lock to unlock it, click on each preview, and zoom in or out independently (Figure 13c).

Figure 13c

Figure 13c Zooming into each image independently helps when evaluating similar shots, where focal length or distance to subject vary. The image at left shows a 1:3 zoom ratio while the image at right shows a 1:2 ratio.

Swapping Photos

There are several ways of swapping out the images you are currently looking at with new shots, but the method I find most intuitive is what I call the "click and click" method (not the catchiest name ever, but it will do). Rather than use the automated switching controls, 01pe-adobeimaging_switches.jpg , and trying to figure out "who's on first," I use the following process with Grid view as my starting point:

  1. Making sure no other cells are selected, choose two images and press the C key.
  2. After you have made the comparisons, and you are ready to compare two new images, make sure the left side of the Compare view (called the select shot) is active by clicking it (look for the white highlight around the edge). (The image on the right side of the Compare view is called the candidate.)
  3. Click a new image in the Filmstrip. This becomes the new select shot and the Filmstrip cell for this shot displays a small white diamond (upper-right corner).
  4. Click the candidate photo on the right side of the Compare view (look again for the white highlight), then go to the Filmstrip and click a new image to replace it. Repeat this process as needed, selecting either the candidate or select shot, then using the Filmstrip to replace each.

Calling the Shots

The final step is to mark up "the winning photos" with attributes, so that if you have to walk away from Lightroom for a while and come back, you can pick up where you left off. There are two easy ways to mark your images with flags, labels, and ratings attributes.

  • Right-click either photo, and choose Set Flag, and/or Set Rating, and/or Set Color Label, from the context menu to apply your settings (Figure 13d).
    Figure 13d

    Figure 13d Right-clicking the select or candidate images in Compare view opens a context menu that makes it easy to flag, rate, or label the picture.

  • At the bottom of both the select and candidate previews, are controls to set flags, ratings, and labels directly, by clicking the relevant settings for those options (Figure 13e).
    Figure 13e

    Figure 13e You can also flag, rate, or label the select or candidate shots by clicking the built-in attribute controls, found directly under each image preview. From left to right: Flag status (white means flagged); Rating (3 stars); and (color) Label (yellow). Clicking the will remove the image from the Compare view.

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