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Inside Lightroom 5
(Pt. 2): ranking & selecting images

October 2013

With Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 5 photo editing software now bundled, via a DVD in the box, with two of Canon’s EOS DSLR cameras - the EOS 6D and the EOS 5D Mark III - CPN is taking a closer look at the capabilities of this software. Throughout a five-part series of articles and video tutorials Richard Curtis (a Principal Solutions Consultant in Digital Imaging for Adobe UK) will examine the key features of Lightroom 5 to give you a solid grounding and a good understanding of how to get the most out of working with the software. In Part 2 of this series Richard Curtis explains the ranking and selecting of images in Lightroom and, in a special video, he reveals how to select and rank your pictures for editing later on. Please click on the play button in the window above to watch the video...

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Library screen in Lightroom 5 with the Filmstrip along the bottom. Note the differing 1, 2 and 3 Star ratings along the bottom.

In this article I will show you how to use Lightroom to help to select your photos for editing using two methods:

  1. The Pick and Unpick method (which is also known as the ‘Flag’ system).
  2. The Star Rating system.

To find out more about the process and some of the available options for selecting and ranking images in Lightroom just click on the section headings below OR simply click on the play button in the film window at the top of this article to view the video tutorial on ranking and selecting images in Lightroom 5.

Your Photo Import is complete - what’s next?

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Develop screen in Lightroom 5 with the Filmstrip along the bottom. The Filmstrip is available in every module of Lightroom so that your images can always be viewed and rated.

In part 1 of this series I explained how to import your images into Lightroom and, once your images have been imported, the next activity is to start working on them. Normally most photographers won’t be working on all of the images from the import; they will usually want to reduce the number to an edit that’s more reasonable.

There may be different reasons why images will be edited: it may be that they are part of a body of work or a series of pictures that tell a story. Either way Lightroom can be used to make your pictures look amazing.

The Lightroom Filmstrip

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Library screen in Lightroom 5 with an enlarged Filmstrip along the bottom. Note the Flag markings on the images that have been picked in the Filmstrip.

Lightroom has a Filmstrip built into it and this is available in every mode (i.e. Library, Development, Print etc). We will use this tool for this tutorial. The Filmstrip is a fast way to refine the pictures that need to be worked on in the final edit; it also shows visually what is happening to the pictures.

Auto Advance

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A screen showing how to select the Auto Advance tool from the drop down Photo menu when in the Library module of Lightroom.

Lightroom has been designed to make the processing of pictures really simple and includes automated tools within it. One of these tools is the Auto Advance feature. Auto Advance will automatically move the picture that is being shown in Lightroom to the next one when a key is pressed. To turn on Auto Advance go to the Menu toolbar and choose ‘Photo’ then ‘Auto Advance’ (from the drop down Photo menu) whilst in the Lightroom Library mode.

Two methods for selecting and choosing your pictures

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A section of a Lightroom screen showing the Pick and Unpick (two images on the left) and Star Rating (image on the right) systems for selecting and choosing images in Lightroom.

There are many different ways to select and refine images for the edit; the ones I am going to explain are just two of them. The two methods we are going to look at for selecting and choosing the pictures to work on are:

  1. The Pick and Unpick method.
  2. The Star Rating system.

The Pick and Unpick method will allow the quick selection of images and can be used to show the ones that are great or the ones that are to be rejected.

The Star Rating system will give greater control, as well as a customised approach to the image selections and ranking. The Star Rating system can also be used to see how your photography is improving.

Hide the Lightroom panels and hood

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

An enlarged image shown with 100% hidden all around it in the Lights Out mode of Lightroom.

To make it easier to select images in Lightroom the hood and panels in Lightroom can be dimmed using the in-built Lights Out mode.

Lights Out has three states that are enabled by pressing the ‘L’ key multiple times:

  1. Default - not applied.
  2. ‘L’ Is pressed once, 80% dim around the image.
  3. ‘L’ is pressed twice, 100% hidden (at 100% everything is hidden around the image).

The picture that is shown in the middle of the Lightroom interface may not be large enough to see properly so, to increase the size, you are able to hide all panels by pressing the Shift+Tab keys (pressing Shift+Tab once more will re-show the panels). If there are many pictures in the view and just one is wanted, the ‘E’ key in the Library mode will move Lightroom into the Single Image view and the ‘G’ will move Lightroom into the Grid view.

Full Screen mode

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

An image shown in the Full Screen mode that was introduced in Lightroom 5.

Lightroom 5 introduced a true Full Screen mode, which can be turned on using the 'F' key at any time. It displays the image full screen and hides the panels, Filmstrip, modular picker and toolbar – all at the stroke of one key. Using the arrows keys you can then scroll through a series of images in Full Screen. This is a very slick way of seeing the picture in its full glory.

The Pick and UnPick method

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

An image to be flagged as a ‘Pick’ in the Library module of Lightroom. Simply pressing the ‘P’ key in Lightroom allows you to pick an image.

The Pick system is a useful tool to mark pictures for the edit. Images can be selected for UnPick and removal using this method.

The Pick system is available at anytime whilst inside Lightroom by pressing the following keys: ‘P’ for Pick, ‘U’ for UnPick and ‘X’ for Reject. This system can be used when inside the Full Screen mode, or when the hood and panels are hidden, even when using the Lights Out mode.

The Star Rating system

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A screen showing the ‘Set Rating to 5’ option within the Star Rating system of Lightroom.

The Star Rating system is more flexible than the Pick and UnPick method and is therefore slightly more involved, but can be highly effective.

The process will be used twice over the same set of pictures (however, this is entirely up to you, as you may decide that once is enough). The first time looking through the images will be a quick selection using an emotional response to the picture (i.e. you like it or you don’t). The second time around will be more of a critical approach, looking at the picture quality, composition etc. I find that the second selection process enables a refined selection and, thus, only the best pictures will be selected for the edit.

The Star Rating system inside Lightroom has 5 stars and is enabled using the number keys 1-5 on the keyboard. All of the 5 stars can be used to rate the pictures however, an alternative approach is to leave room for growth by just using 1 to 3 stars: i.e. assigning 1 as OK, 2 as good 'B' roll (maybe to work on at a later stage after the main edit has been completed) and 3 star images are to be included in the main edit. Thus the stars 4 and 5 are left for the future growth of your photography.

Change the Filmstrip view to show just the selection

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A screen showing the ‘Custom Filter’ option on the right hand side of the screen within Lightroom. From the Custom Filter drop down menu you can choose either ‘Flagged’ (to view Picked images) or ‘Rated’ (to view Star Rated images).

On the right hand side of the Filmstrip view there is a small combo box filter (see image shown here); this is used to show just the pictures that have been selected in the selection/refine activity described above. ‘Flagged’ can also be used to show just the ‘Picked’ pictures or select ‘Rated’ to show the pictures that have been allocated stars. When showing the Star Rated pictures a further filter is available that will specify the number of stars to include. When you select a combo box option the Filmstrip contents will change.

Survey mode

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Survey mode screen within Lightroom allows you to view images to be viewed side-by-side to help with decision-making on exactly which images you want to work further on.

Once the selection you will most likely have a much smaller number of images to work on. However, you may still have images that are very similar and individually are very strong, however you may want to work on just the strongest of them.

Lightroom has a mode called ‘Survey’. Survey mode allows us to view images side-by-side or within in a small collection. This mode allows us to select strong images to work on, rather than everything.

The pictures are now ready for the edit

So, there you have two ways to rank and select your photographs. The Pick and UnPick system is very simple and effective, whilst the Star Rating system is very flexible but will take a little more time to complete.

The selecting and ranking process is a very important part of the editing process and will enable photographers to keep a focus on the very best pieces of work.

Biografia: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a Principal Solutions Consultant at Adobe UK with a focus on Digital Imaging. Richard is the UK contact for Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Imaging workflows around the Creative Cloud. He is a keen technologist and has been a keen photographer for over 20 years, with a focus on travel and portrait photography.


The Develop screen in Lightroom 5 with the Filmstrip along the bottom. The Filmstrip is available in every module of Lightroom so that your images can always be viewed and rated.