How to see before and after in Lightroom editing (3 ways)

The Lightroom before and after function is such a handy tool, because it’s really easy to get carried away editing in Lightroom and forget what the original photo looked like. Before you know it the original photo can look over processed. The quickest way to see before and after in Lightroom, with the original photo next to the edited version, is to press the backslash key [\] on your keyboard in the Develop Module. Then switch it off by using the Lightroom shortcut again.

But you have more options with lots of different ways to see Lightroom before and after, including different view modes, which are really useful. Once you know how to use before and after in Lightroom, you’ll use it a lot! However, one of the best ways to you avoid over processing photos and wasting time editing is to step away from the computer occasionally. Old school, but effective.

 

Adobe Lightroom before and after function for editing photos
Original photo on the left and edited version on the right.

Why you should take a break from editing in Lightroom

When editing photos in Lightroom Classic for long periods of time stepping away from the computer occasionally for a few minutes is not just good for your body, it helps your eyes to reset.

During the editing process we get so used to looking at an image and after a time our eyes adjust to the colors so we stop seeing them as they really are. When you walk away and come back to your editing, even just a few minutes later, you’ll see the colors differently. Literally with fresh eyes.

Sometimes it can be a bit of a shock to see what you’ve done to an image. Which is why I like to think of the walk away as a little sanity check.

How to use before and after in Lightroom photo editor – 3 ways!

Another great way to avoid over processing is using the before and after tool in Lightroom photo editor for viewing the unedited version next to the edited photo.

To see Lightroom before and after views of your selected image, you need to be in the Develop Module. Once there you have 3 ways to use the before and after editing options – the shortcut I mentioned at the beginning and two others. Plus you can choose from different view options, which I’ll explain in a moment.

First, I’ll quickly run through the three options and then I’ll show you what I mean with Lightroom before and after examples. (So much easier when you can see!)

1. Using the menu to navigate before and after views

The long way to view before and after is to navigate there using the Lightroom menu. In the menu bar at the top of the screen click:

  • View
  • Before/After
  • then select from: Left/Right or Top/Bottom or Split Screen or Before Only

2. How to use Lightroom before after toolbar to open different views

The second way to see before and after views in Lightroom is through the toolbar, which is visible below the image in the Develop Module. If you can’t see the toolbar, press T on the keyboard to show toolbar. You can switch it off again by pressing T again. You have two options:

  • Click the before and after button in the toolbar to cycle through the different views (showing as YY in the image below to represent side by side view)

Lightroom before and after toolbar

  • Click on the triangle next to the button to open up different before and after view options.

It might not always show as YY, because it depends on the last type of before and after view that was shown. Even if the icon changes, the triangle will always be there to click and select a view of the image.

3. How to use Lightroom before after shortcuts to change views

I’m a big fan of Lightroom keyboard shortcuts to speed up my workflow, so whenever possible I use a keyboard shortcut. Again, you have a selection of before and after views that you can access with shortcut keys. They are:

  • \ – (my favorite) to see before only of the whole image press the backspace button. Click again to see the after version, or in other words switch off the before view
  • Y – to see the before and after views of the image split in half and arranged side by side (good for vertical images, aka portrait orientation) press the Y button
  • ALT or OPTION Y – to see the before and after views of the whole images arranged above and below each other (good for horizontal images, aka landscape orientation) hold down Alt + Y or Option + Y
  • SHIFT Y – to cycle through different split screen before and after views of the image split in half or whole images side by side versions (vertically split or horizontally split) hold down shift and press Y

Important Lightroom tip – don’t to use the backspace keyboard shortcut in the Library Module. Pressing the backspace button will toggle to grid view if you’re in loupe view and at the same time will open the filter bar. Pressing it again will hide the filter bar, but keep grid view.

Further reading: 28 essential Lightroom shortcuts that will speed up your workflow

How to show before and after in Lightroom – a demo

Now let’s take a closer look at how to see Lightroom before and after views in action with each of the three different methods:

  1. Menu
  2. Toolbar
  3. Shortcut keys

How to get a left and right split before and after view option

The left side shows the unedited image and the right side shows the edited image.

Menu: Left/Right

Toolbar: See toolbar icon in the image below

Lightroom shortcut: Y

side by side view of Lightroom before and after tool

SHIFT Y – toggles between side by side view and split screen view of the whole image

ALT or OPTION Y – changes to a top/bottom split

Vertical split screen view of before and after edits

How to get a top and bottom view of before and after

The top view shows the unedited image and the bottom view shows the edited image.

Menu: Top/bottom

Toolbar: See toolbar icon in the image below

Lightroom shortcut: ALT or OPTION Y

Top and bottom before and after Lightroom view

SHIFT Y – toggles between above and below view and split screen view of the whole image

Y – changes to left/right

Horizontal split screen view of before and after edits

How to switch between original image (before) and edited image (after)

Menu: Before

Toolbar: none

Lightroom shortcut: \

single view Lightroom before view to check edits

An extra before and after Lightroom editing function

To be honest with you, I’m not certain why you would use this function, but it’s worth knowing. You have three options and each is represented by an icon in the toolbar, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Swap image settings of before and after

Each of these before after toolbar buttons swaps the before and after settings over in a different way.

WARNING – if you click any of these buttons it’s not easy to go back to how you had your photo. Control Z or clicking undo in the menu won’t work. You’ll have to go into the History panel and select the last correct version of your image from the history list.

Luckily, if you mouse over each of the icons and it tells you what it’ll do, so you have a bit of a warning before making changes you don’t want to make.

Lightroom before and after toolbar

  • The first button, the right arrow, will “Copy Before’s settings to After”.
  • The middle button, the left arrow, will “Copy After’s settings to Before”.
  • And the third button, with both left and right arrows, will swap the before and after photos. Not just move them over. Actually change the settings so that your edited photo looks like your original unedited photo and the original looks like the edited version. This of course changes your image back to its original state, as you can see in the example below.

Lightroom before and after swap side by side view

Other ways to see before and after in Lightroom

The before and after editing tools aren’t the only way to see what your selected image looked like before edits, but it is the easiest. However, you can also create a virtual copy of your edited image and click reset in the basic panel to take the copy back to the unedited version. Then, you have lots of different ways to view the two versions. You can open:

  • Survey view (keyboard shortcut N) and select both versions to view them side by side
  • Reference view (keyboard shortcut is Shift R) with the edited photo selected (active panel) and drag the unedited photo into the left  panel (reference panel). Use the reference view shortcut keys or click button on the toolbar to toggle through top/bottom and side by side views.
  • Compare view (keyboard shortcut C) to view both versions side by side as select and candidate. Comparison view, however, is a really complicated way of doing something that is actually quite easy with the before and after tools.

Alternatively, open the history panel of the active photo in the Develop Module and click on the first history state (bottom of the history list) to see your unedited photo. Select the last history state (top of the history list) to go back to the latest version of your edited image.

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