If you are serious about digital photography, at some point you will find yourself needing to edit your images. There are many photo editing software out on the market, but the two most popular are Photoshop and Lightroom. They’re both made by Adobe and have a lot of similarities, so you may find yourself wondering which program is best for the project.
Photo Editing Projects Lightroom is Best For:
- Filing and sorting images.
- Batch photo editing multiple images at once with basic or preset actions.
- Organizing your image library.
- Finding older photos based on various criteria.
- Making slideshows, photo albums, and books.
Photo Editing Projects Photoshop Is Best For:
- Retouching and fine-tuning a single image.
- Major corrections to save a needed image.
- Merging multiple photos together.
- Adding text inside an image.
- Various creative ideas.
Confused when it comes to the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop?! Look no further. Here’s our comprehensive guide to both programs!
You have already learned that RAW images hold the most digital information. You may even already be using a program that converts from RAW to something like JPEG so you can order prints. But you also know there is so much more you could do with that image.
One of the biggest names in photo editing software is Adobe Photoshop (PS). It’s such an industry standard that “Photoshop” has become a verb for many professional photographers. We hear “I can Photoshop that” from some people almost as often as they say, “Say CHEESE!”
In looking for the right photo editing software or app, we see that there are several choices offered. Besides Adobe Photoshop, Adobe also offers Lightroom (LR), Adobe Bridge, Elements, and even a Creative Cloud (CC) subscription. The two that seem to be talked about the most among serious photographers and professionals are Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. So, what are the major differences between Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom? Is there an advantage of Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom over the other?
Adobe Photoshop vs Lightroom
What are Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop? Both are excellent programs for professionals and any other serious photographer. But they have different strengths, and one may fit your needs more than the other. Also, when all is said and done, you could find that instead of considering Adobe Photoshop vs Lightroom, you just might want both.
Adobe Photoshop is an advanced image editor and large-scale digital darkroom, making it the industry-standard software when it comes to photo editing, designing, retouching, and film processing. As a matter of fact, the name has become synonymous with photo editing.
Because Adobe Photoshop is a pixel-based photo editor, you have ultimate control of elements and individual pixels. Photoshop editing tools mostly cater to adjusting and manipulating all kinds of images. Do you want to remove the gray skies or add more stars to a photo? The options are limitless.
Once you get the hang of using Adobe Photoshop editing tools, you can use this program not only for editing photos, but also to design illustrations, graphics, and typography. This is why Photoshop is the go-to photo editor for photographers, animators, publishers, graphic and 3D artists, web designers, and architects.
On the other hand, Adobe Lightroom is one image management software that gives an easy way to import, process, sort, edit, and export photos. In essence, this is your one-stop-shop for simple photo management and editing.
While it doesn’t offer comprehensive pixel-based editing like Photoshop, it does give several essential image manipulation editing tools. Among the most used functions are white balance, exposure, saturation, sharpening, noise reduction, tonal curves, spot removal, and black and white conversion.
Advantages of Lightroom
Importing, Filing and Sorting Images
After taking the photographs, we want to look at them, see which ones are worth keeping and perhaps do some editing work. Importing our files into Lightroom is an easy and elegant process. After first setting up Lightroom, we simply plug in our card or camera and use Lightroom to open and imports the camera raw file. It might be worth noting at this point that the official name of Lightroom uses both the terms Photoshop and Lightroom. That’s what your computer may ask the first time you load your camera RAW images after installing and using Lightroom.
The photos can be displayed in whatever way best suits your style and preferences. I like to think of the basic function of LR as a contact sheet from my photoshoot. In film days, before printing, we often had the negatives arranged onto a single sheet that we could quickly look over. LR does that for us, and much more.
Organizing your photos into a Lightroom catalog is a seamless process thanks to the batch-processing feature. In any using Lightroom or Photoshop discussion, this is going to be the major differing point. While you can label your photos with keywords in Photoshop, it is so much easier and quicker using Lightroom’s batch-processing function. Create folders based on your labels and import or export groups of images, individual photos, or entire folders at once. Being well organized takes away a lot of headaches when we’re dealing with the massive number of images we create digitally.
Finding older photos with certain criteria can be a headache. But, since we’ve been using the LR features above, we can readily lay our eyes on any one image specifically or group of images that we’ve labeled and added keywords. For instance, if I want to find all the lighthouse images I have, or any image from the Northern California coastal communities, or my pictures of a pet Irish Setter, all I have to do is type in those keywords. LR will find the image files and display them to me. If you’re just now starting out in digital photography, this may not seem like such a big deal, but once you have hundreds or thousands of photos saved, finding one or a small group of files can really be a hassle.
Metadata and Camera RAW files
Remember that the Lightroom Catalog serves as a database file, so it’s easy to find all your photos. Do you think your images from 2015 have been buried? Worry no more, use Lightroom folders can help you organize your files.
It’s common for editors to organize their files by star ratings, color ratings, or keywords. Although you can also categorize images by location, camera type, or camera settings.
Since Lightroom is a raw file and image management tool, it enables you to create folders and sub-folders in your hard drive. Similarly, you can use templates to mass-rename files.
For any kind of digital photography, shooting raw images gives you more freedom to edit and make adjustments. Unlike Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom can process files on its own. Thus, there’s no need to convert files before editing Photoshop.
Aside from that, Lightroom utilizes the same Adobe Camera Raw engine found in Adobe Bridge and Photoshop, yet with better interface and design. With this feature, you can use the adjustment brush to apply burning effects and creative dodging just like in Adobe Bridge in Photoshop.
Adobe Camera Raw is a plug-in software in Adobe Photoshop that is smething ignored by many Photoshop users because it looks a bit confusing. Adobe Camera Raw is actually pretty simple to use once you figure out which bits do what. Adobe Camera Raw help you edit and enhance files from your digital cameras. You can also edit JPEG and TIFF files.
On the other hand, Adobe Bridge is a powerful, easy to use image manager for people who are more visual. Adobe Bridge is great for creative professional photographers who need to deal with visual assets quickly and efficiently. It helps you clear all the clutter and lets you focus on what’s important.
It also helps you stay organized with features such as the Filter Panel, that helps you locate assets by attributes such as file type, camera settings, and ratings. Adobe Bridge shows you what’s in your hard drive, network, or storage device without you importing them into any catalog or database.
In addition to this Adobe Bridge and Photoshop feature, Lightroom lets you modify settings such as saturation, exposure, and contrast. Even if you have camera raw photos, you’ll definitely be able to apply split toning, noise reduction, and sharpening.
Batch Editing and Preset Actions
Batch processing or editing multiple photos at once with basic or preset actions is a favorite feature among professional photographers. Whether you’re creating labels for filing or applying basic preset actions, such as color correction or exposure adjustments; applying editing actions to multiple image files at once is extremely useful.
Preset actions can be created by the user for future use or you can download and install a set of Lightroom presets actions from various online sources (including Cole’s Classroom). Lightroom presets can be instrumental in simplifying a photographer’s workflow. Being able to add exposure compensation, white balance tweaks, labels, and keywords to multiple images at once is a key to speeding up our work without compromising image quality. Also, since Lightroom uses non-destructive editing, we don’t lose or accidentally ruin the original camera RAW files.
We can use Adobe Lightroom to work on individual images, too. More extensive, basic changes can be made in LR as needed. When it comes down to it though, the batch processing or batch editing is probably Lightroom’s most useful feature, especially if you are taking a large number of photos at once, as if often the case with corporate event or wedding digital photography. In fact, Lightroom is one of the first programs I recommend photographers invest in when they decide to get serious about honing in their editing skills.
There are a few different ways to adjust the colors of an image in Lightroom. Before anything else, make sure you’ve set your preferred white balance. Here are ways to change the colors:
- Hue: The hue slider adjusts the tonal range of color. It helps you replace a color with a different shade or tone on the color wheel.
- Saturation: Focuses on making the primary colors stronger or weakening the surrounding colors. A negative value on the saturation slider decreases the strength, while the positive value increases it.
- Luminance: It changes the brightness of color. Adjusting the luminance slider impacts the brightness of color by either subduing it or making it stand out more.
Slideshows and Albums
Lightroom is also better than Photoshop at creating slideshows and photo albums. So, the next time you need to give a presentation or want to share a photo album with your friends online, consider creating it in Lightroom and then exporting it to the program of your choice. Lightroom makes the entire photo-sharing process simple and easy.
Among the amazing features of Lightroom is its ability to save and modify adjustments. By contrast, Photoshop only tracks the last 20 changes you make. It even resets the history when you close the software.
On the other hand, Lightroom preserves the history of all of your actions, no matter how much you modify the original image. Regardless of the file type, Lightroom will prevent you from deleting the original file.
Moreover, you can launch the program anytime and go back to undoing or making changes. Adjusting the brightness, colors, and perspectives are a breeze. Since the software is non-destructive, you can freely experiment with the settings and revert to the original image with a single click.
Once you are done making all the adjustments to your photos, now’s the time to export the final output. The beauty of Lightroom is that it keeps the original files intact while creating a new one with your changes. In Lightroom, you need to select the photos you want while in the Library. You can choose how to export, save, print, and email your photos.
Tools and Controls
If you’re one of the people who were able to use the first version of Adobe Photoshop, you’ll probably remember how intimidating the software was because of its several controls. Others even had to keep a basic instruction folder to remember everything. When Adobe launched Lightroom, it improved its tools, making controls more intuitive to use.
What’s more, Lightroom has a much more basic interface than Photoshop. This helps photographers and photo editors, especially beginners, understand Lightroom much faster.
By now, you’ve seen how Lightroom easily adapts to a photographer’s workflow. It uses modules for various tasks, including organizing and editing images.
When you need to switch between modules, you only have to click the name of a module at the top right of the screen. The panels are in groups, and you can click the small triangle outside a panel group to show or hide a group. Move through different modules until you are ready to export the files.
Workflow and Image Sharing
One of the best things about using Lightroom is that it covers almost every step of post-processing photos. From importing your images, sorting through selects, and using keywords to tag images, Lightroom ensures you edit your images efficiently.
Once you save your edits with the Export dialog, you can easily share images directly to social media platforms like Flickr and Facebook. Thanks to the Publish feature, you can create photo collections, which you can sync to Lightroom on the web as shared albums.
Photoshop has several tools and functions, which is why it takes about 1GB of disk space. It’s possible you won’t need other features like vector graphics, video tools, and 3D rendering. Meanwhile, Lightroom only consumes about 100MB of space because the Catalog saves up all adjustments.
Disadvantages of Lightroom
Photos Only and No Layers
Lightroom is for editing photos only, so this is not the appropriate software when you need to add text, draw additional graphics, or make a collage.
If you need to use blending tools, you need to export your images to Photoshop. Only then can you import the files back to Lightroom to continue editing.
Retouching and Image Manipulation
Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom does not allow you to work on layers. The software only lets photographers edit their images simply and quickly.
You can do a simple retouch in Lightroom, although you’ll need to switch to Photoshop for moderate to extensive retouching. Lightroom does not have a spot healing brush or clone stamp, which helps make retouches better and faster.
If you need some heavy image manipulation or stitching of photos, it’s best to use Photoshop. Simply put, Lightroom is not ideal if you need pixel-level editing.
Advantages of Photoshop
Since Abobe Lightroom is such a great program, why does Adobe Photoshop even exist? When discussing Adobe Photoshop vs Lightroom, a fundamental truth is that there are some actions and adjustments that are better done with PS. In fact, some things can only be done in Photoshop. Many photographers will say, at some point, you will probably have to use Adobe Photoshop for something.
Retouching and Sharpening
Retouching and fine-tuning a single image is sometimes better done with PS. One of the reasons to learn how to Photoshop your photos is the ability to save actions in different layers. If the background needs more work than the subject or vice versa, the “save layers” function allows us to go back and forth, fine-tuning until we are satisfied. Photoshop also has a wider range of editing and adjustment tools than Lightroom. Besides the manual adjustments we do ourselves, Photoshop also gives us the ability to download and install preset actions.
Many Photoshop actions are controlled by drop-down menus, sliders, or by alternating between right click and left click. When you’re first learning, it’s a good idea to print out a template of keyword shortcuts and hang it near your computer workstation. The learning curve for PS may be steep at times, but we have plenty of help options available.
Sharpening works by increasing contrast at edges in a photo. When you modify the sharpness, the software highlights the edge contrast to make the image appear more crisp to the human eye.
Photoshop’s sharpening ability is much deeper than Lightroom. It has six different sharpening tools, with each offering different effects.
Some image manipulation actions are not in Lightroom at all, requiring Photoshop. A group portrait looks great, especially at a once in a lifetime event, like a wedding or award ceremony. But, try as you might, sometimes not one picture has everyone with their eyes open or smiling or whatever else is going to make or break the final image. Well, in Photoshop, we have an editing tool to fix that. You can simply take the qualities you like from one image and add them to another to create the best version possible.
For example, if you’re taking a group photo and image 23 is the best one overall, but Sam and Dianne have their eyes closed, you could go to a photo where they do have their eyes open, and then copy/paste it into the better photo. Problem solved!
Merging multiple images together is one of the top features in favor of PS in the Lightroom against Photoshop discussion. Almost any process that requires more than one exposure can be accomplished in PS. Focus stacking is a technique used in close-up digital photography, but can also be employed for architectural digital photography to mimic the results of using a tilt-shift lens.
Stitching images together for a panorama is also a great Photoshop feature. Another shooting and stitching technique we can do in PS is “ghosting.” Ghosting is when we take multiple images of the same subject over a period of time, look for differences amongst the images (like people or vehicles moving through the area), and remove (ghost) the elements that are different. This editing technique takes some effort and has a lot of layers, but it’s a really cool effect for creating images of popular attractions without people in the final picture.
Text & Other Creative Projects
Adding text to an image is a Photoshop function that is great for making signs, flyers, album/book covers, business reports, or anything that needs the wording added to images. PS has a wide of variety of fonts, actions, and tools that enhance this useful feature.
Photoshop can also be used for non-photographic designing, especially when combined with Adobe Illustrator or other graphic design programs. The sky is the limit.
Adding In or Cutting Out
With the help of Photoshop, you can take something out of a photo that you don’t like. Even so, you can add something else to the picture. Anything you envision, it’s highly possible!
If you like, you can add some birds or clouds. You can even turn dead grass into flourishing greens. If there is dirt on the floor, you use the patch editing tool to remove those smudges as well.
Fix Blurry Images
Before Photoshop, you’d think it’s impossible to save a blurred photo. Thanks to Photoshop’s Shake Reduction filter, the software can automatically reduce image blurring caused by camera motion. Whenever necessary, adjust the settings to sharpen the image further.
Once you select the region you want to fix, click on the Process button. Afterward, Photoshop will generate a preview of the fixed blurred image.
Panoramas and HDR
One of the most reliable tools on Photoshop is the transform and warp tool, which allows you to expand the confines of your composition. Even if you are using two different frames, you can merge the photos to create one large image. The technique requires patience to prevent distortion, and you can adjust the tool to counteract the exaggerations.
High Dynamic Range or HDR is a method photographers use to edit an image with a wide range of darkness. In digital image processing, you need to work with deep levels of information in the raw files to compensate.
For example, you take a series of photos with different exposures. Some are for highlights, others are optimized for the shadows, and the rest are for average exposure. Photoshop enables you to combine these images into one photo, making sure it represents the entire dynamic range.
Layers, Masking, and Opacity
Photoshop truly shines in its layers, masking, and opacity tools, which are usually used together when manipulating images. It’s like they are the ultimate weapons of Photoshop. These tools enable you to change, add, remove, and merge several photographic elements.
- Layering: Lets you build an image by creating layers of different adjustments while organizing separate parts. Instead of editing the whole picture, you can make and refine selections to isolate an element before making precise edits.
- Masking: Treats certain parts of a layer while leaving the rest of a picture alone. In a specific area, you can change values, add effects, or modify lighting and color filters.
- Opacity: The overall opacity determines to what degree it reveals or obscures the layer underneath. For instance, a layer with 100% opacity appears completely opaque, whereas 1% opacity looks almost transparent.
Actions and Composting
Actions allow you to record a series of steps in Photoshop to get remarkable effects. After that, you’ll only need to press a button, and the software will carry out the sequence and apply those effects on any photo.
As a result, you can reduce the time for editing and designing. Although actions are reusable, learning how to do it can be a bit complex. This is why Adobe also sells premade actions for specific effects.
When you are taking photos of groups, especially at weddings or corporate events, it’s usual to encounter a person whose eyes are closed or looking in a different direction. There’s no need to dump that image. All you need to do is to combine elements from several photos into a single image.
Using Photoshop, you can simply copy a pair of open eyes from another image, and replace it with the closed one. Remember that Photoshop is a pixel-based image photo editor, so it’s easy to select and manipulate particular pixels, like the eyes.
The Content-Aware Fill is another magic Photoshop feature that removes unwanted elements from your images. This is one of the best tools to use when you want to remove distracting objects from a photo, like a vehicle or an extra person. It also lets you extend or artificially stretch a photo.
After drawing a selection around the element you want to replace, open the new Content-Aware Fill task space. Next, select the Sampling Brush Tool to resize the sampling area. Lastly, use the Fill Settings to improve the results, and then output the results as a new layer.
When learning how to use Photoshop, one thing I caught onto quickly was the difference between the “save” and “save as” buttons. In order to use Photoshop and Lightroom to preserve the original versions of RAW files (also known as “non-destructive editing”), the “save as” function must be used. It’s not a total disaster if one forgets, but it takes a really long time to rectify. It’s much better to just get used to “save as.” PS allows saving in JPEG, TIFF, PSD, and several other files. Saving as PSD or TIFF is what I usually do. Both keep the information as a lossless data file.
Aside from editing images, Photoshop lets you create compelling graphics that you can also add to the photos. In your career, you’ll likely encounter a client who will ask you to add icons, logos, or descriptions in their images. If you want to add more interesting elements and eye-catching designs to your images, you’ll need to learn to do this on Photoshop.
Disadvantages of Photoshop
- Can’t Edit Raw Photos: If you insist on editing raw images on Photoshop, you need to install a plug-in or convert your photos to JPEG, which are time-consuming, to be honest.
- Difficult Interface for Beginners: Photoshop’s tools are intricate, and these can be overwhelming for beginners. Remembering all the icons and their functions might take some time. Therefore, it’s necessary for newbies to devote a significant amount of time to learn all the tools and functions.
- Raw Updates and Untested Beta Versions: One of the drawbacks of Photoshop is that it no longer launches a newer version every year. Instead, it releases versions or updates at frequent intervals. As a result, the software becomes vulnerable to bugs.
- Not Workflow Centric: Unlike Lightroom that can deal with thousands of photos, Photoshop only lets you work on individual images. Keep in mind that Adobe Photoshop is an image photo editor, which is why it lacks photo management capabilities that Lightroom offers.
Lightroom allows you to import tons of photos in a single collection, letting you see everything in a single tab. Whereas, you’ll need to open several tabs of PS if you want to edit photos simultaneously.
Creative Cloud Subscription
Adobe offers Lightroom and Photoshop as a package deal in one of their CC subscriptions. This is a great option, as it pairs the two powerhouse photographic programs together, and it has several other programs included in the package. Besides the obvious advantages of having both programs, we also benefit from the programs being updated as needed. Previously, whenever I upgraded my camera, I sometimes had to purchase an upgrade or whole new program in order to get the most use out of my RAW files.
With Creative Cloud, I no longer have to worry about that since Adobe updates the programs almost as soon as a new camera from a major manufacturer is released. The price is nice too. While Lightroom alone wasn’t very expensive, a Photoshop license could be a bit pricey. As an alternative, the Creative Cloud subscription package for photographers is quite affordable with low monthly payments.
Adobe Photoshop Elements
Photoshop Elements is a program that combines some elements from both Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s geared toward those who don’t need a full suite of image editing tools and actions but still need to do some of the basic things. Looking at Lightroom against Eements, we see that Elements has good functionality in regards to filing and sorting our images, but LR has more functions and actions.
Similar to PS tools and actions, Photoshop Elements has a good mix of tools. However, deep edits and special processing are not available. You could say it’s Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop lite.
Since it mixes the capabilities of both Photoshop and Lightroom, Elements is a good choice for any photographer wanting to get their feet wet. Many consider it the best photo editing software on the market. The controls for the actions available in Photoshop Elements are very intuitive, which makes getting a little experience in image editing and manipulation easy for beginner photographers. Don’t underestimate the program, though. It has a lot to offer. For some advanced photographers, Elements has everything they need for editing their photos and organizing those them on their hard drive.
Adobe has discontinued the retail versions of Photoshop and Lightroom. Instead, the two programs are now part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite. This means you can no longer buy or own either application for unlimited use.
A free trial is available, but it comes with limited tools and features. Currently, Adobe offers basic monthly plans for both software.
Should I Consider Photoshop Elements?
Photoshop Elements might be the best image editing software for someone new to DSLR photography or digital photography. It is easy to learn and has many of the same basic functions of Lightroom and Photoshop. If you are planning on staying with your new camera for a while, even support upgrades might not be much of an issue. You definitely can’t go wrong learning the ropes with Elements.
Pricing may not be the issue anymore since you’ve seen how both programs are beneficial for a photographer like you. What matters is whether or not the functions will help enhance your photos.
If you’re still wondering whether you should invest in Elements to take or share your photos and videos ask yourself the following questions:
Is organization important for you? You can use Element’s common organizer to get an easy access to all your photos and videos.
Do you want to create and edit videos with your photos in new, creative ways? Then, yes, maybe getting the bundle with Elements can be a great option for you.
With Elements, you get gorgeous photo and video effects, funny slideshows, and collages that are ready to go. If you’re a beginner, Elements also includes several automated editing options and a step-by-step guide to make it easy for you to create beautiful designs with your photos, videos, and movies.
Use Lightroom If…
Use Lightroom if you want the ultimate organization while editing your files. With presets, batch processing or batch editing, and systematic modules, you’ll definitely have better image editing and image management processes if you use Lightroom. Additionally, the editing tools are much easier to understand and learn, which should take you less time to master.
Although you can’t add layers or make advanced editing of elements, Lightroom provides the all-in-one solution to importing, sorting, editing, exporting, and publishing your photos.
Use Photoshop If…
You need more control over the elements and pixels of your photos. Although the program requires a higher steep learning curve, learning the ins and outs of the software gives you endless possibilities of manipulating an image.
It may not have quick Lightroom presets nor file management like Lightroom, but it does a great job in advanced photo editing tasks. Whether you need to make multiple layers, remove a nuisance, or add graphics, Photoshop is the right tool for you.
Use Both Photoshop and Lightroom If…
You want the best photo processing experience. The fantastic thing is that you can combine the versatility and intricacy of Photoshop with the simplicity and organization of Lightroom. They both have strengths and drawbacks, but together, you can take advantage of several features.
For many photographers, the batch photo editing and filing system enhancements of Lightroom also are virtual necessities. In fact, most of my own photo editing is now done in Lightroom. Sometimes, however, I find that I have to open Photoshop. For professionals and advanced hobbyists, the tools and actions available in Photoshop outweigh the steep learning curve of the software. Thankfully, there are tutorials that help level out that curve.
In my opinion, the real winner for many digital photographers, whether beginner, advanced or pro, is the Creative Cloud subscription from Adobe for photographers. It has virtually everything needed for most digital photographic endeavors. A subscriber can take advantage of the constant stream of updates and improvements from the world-renowned Adobe team of developers.
Looking for Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials, presets and actions? Then you might want to check out our Cole’s Classroom membership program. It’s completely free to join and gives you access to a bunch of mini-courses and downloads. Your photo editing skills will improve, as will your level of enjoyment while taking the photos. Check it out for yourself. Above all else, though, enjoy being a digital photographer!