Compare vs Survey View: Choosing Between Images in Adobe Lightroom

  • Thread starter CampFireJack
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May 9, 2021
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If you take tons of photos like I do, you’ve surely dabbled with a few methods for choosing between your best shots. Sometimes it’s a challenge – flipping back and forth among photos that have few distinguishable attributes. In my case, after a while, I oftentimes just pick one, not knowing the real reason why I did. I guess I go with my gut. The thing is, there’s a better way – and it’s really very straightforward.

In this post, I’m going to go over a few methods for comparing photos inside if Adobe Lightroom. From my experience, two stand out – the Survey view and the Compare view. Below, I’ll cover the pros and cons of both.

Survey View​

If you take a look at my previous post on various view modes in Lightroom, you’ll see that I covered a good portion of how Survey mode works. It’s a really neat and helpful mode and it does a great job of allowing us to browse multiple photos at once. Below, I’ll give you some screenshots that show how I go about comparing a few images simultaneously.

The first thing I do is to head into Grid view, if I’m not there already, and select the photos I’m interested in comparing. I do this by using the Ctrl key and clicking on the random photos or by using the Shift key and clicking on a series of photos. I can choose the photos I want to compare from either the content panel in the center column or the filmstrip panel in the bottom panel. In the screenshot below, you can see which photos I’ve selected because they’re highlighted.


After I select my images, I click the “Survey” view button below the thumbnails. This displays the four photos I’ve chosen in the center content panel.


To get a larger view of my photos, I can click the “Tab” key on my keyboard to hide the side panels or the “Shift + Tab” keys to hide all panels. In my case, I hid all panels for the most room possible (within the confines of the Lightroom window). Again, to learn more about hiding panels in Lightroom, please see the previous post on the topic.


If you’ll notice the red circle in the screenshot just above, you’ll see two dimly lit icons. The icon on the left is a “Flag.” If I click this, I flag the photo as a pick. Once it’s flagged, I can unflag it by clicking on it again. The icon on the right is to “Reject” an image. The same is true – if I click it once, I can reject the image. If I click it again, I’ll un-reject it (if that’s a word).

While I’m not going to get into filtering images in this post, I will tell you that by heading up to the “Library > Enable Filters” menu, you can activate the ability to filter out all images, other than either the ones you flagged, rejected or both. Again, filtering photos is a larger topic that deserves a post all of its own.


Once we filter the way we want, we can view our flagged photographs all by themselves.


Compare View​

While Survey mode does a good job at letting us view and flag the images we’d like to work with, “Compare” mode is where Lightroom shines when attempting to complete a task like this. Compare view (or mode) offers more features that allow us to get an up-close look at just the areas that matter. And it does so a variety of ways. The difference between the two, though, is that while Survey mode lets you view multiple photographs at one time, with Compare mode, we’re limited to just two.

Let’s get back to Grid view and choose two images that we’d like to compare.


As you can see, I’ve selected the images I’d like to work with and they’re now highlighted. If I click on the “Compare” button that’s located beneath the thumbnails or click the “C” key on my keyboard, my two photos are transported to the Compare panel.


From here, I click “Shift + Tab” on my keyboard to give me a nice large view of the two photos.


If you haven’t already noticed, in Compare mode, we’ve got a few new tools at our disposal. The tools I’d like to point out are the “Lock” tool and the “Zoom” tool. These two tools are what really brings value to this view mode.

By default, both images are locked (a closed lock icon) when entering Compare mode. By being locked, if we use the zoom slider to enlarge the photos, they’re both enlarged at the same rate and at the same time. And if we move our mouse pointer up to one of the photos, click and drag, we can move both photos where we want – simultaneously. Now, that’s cool.


If we click on the “Lock” icon, it becomes unlocked, which allows us to work on each image individually. As you can see from the screenshot below, I unlocked both photos and enlarged and moved only the one on the left.


At this point, we can flag or rate our chosen images as we did in the previous section of this post. The flags are in the same location – under each photo to the left – and the star ratings are directly below. Again, I’ll cover how you can filter images in a later post.


At this point, I’d like to make you aware of a few more options we’ve got while working in Compare mode. If you look at the screenshot below, you’ll see some buttons circled in red.


The first “X/Y” combination button is helpful if you want the photos you’re comparing to swap places with each other. This may be valuable for portraits or for dog photographs, like the ones in my example. I use this button from time to time.

The next two buttons are used for selecting different images and navigating through the remainder of your imported photos. I find these tools confusing and have never used them. I suppose they hold value if you’ve got many similar photos that you’d like to slide through to flag and rate. But with the way I take photos, they aren’t useful.

Lastly, if we click the “Done” button, we’re brought to “Loupe” view, which gives us a nice large view of our selected photo.