If you are serious about digital photography, at some point you will find yourself needing to edit your images. There are many photo editing programs 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.

Editing Projects Lightroom is Best For: 

  • Filing and sorting images.
  • Batch 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.

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.

Photoshop vs Lightroom

 

Confused when it comes to the difference between Lightroom vs 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 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 app or program, we see that there are several choices offered. Besides Photoshop, Adobe also offers Lightroom (LR), Bridge, Photoshop Elements, and even a Creative Cloud (CC) subscription. The two that seem to be talked about the most among serious photographers and professionals are Lightroom and Photoshop. So, what are the major differences between Photoshop and Lightroom? Is there an advantage of Photoshop or Lightroom over the other?

Adobe Lightroom vs Photoshop

What is Adobe Lightroom vs 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 Lightroom vs Photoshop, you just might want both.

Lightroom vs Photoshop

Lightroom

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 RAW files into Lightroom is an easy and elegant process. After first setting up Lightroom, we simply plug in our card or camera and Lightroom opens and imports the files. It might be worth noting at this point that the official name of Lightroom is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. That’s what your computer may ask the first time you load your RAW images after installing 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.

Lightroom vs Photoshop

Batch Editing

Batch 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

Preset actions can be created by the user for future use or you can download and install a set of preset 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 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 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.

Organization

Organizing your photos into a Lightroom catalog is a seamless process thanks to the batch-editing feature. In any Lightroom vs 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 to use Lightroom’s batch-editing 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 specific image 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.

Lightroom vs Photoshop

Slideshows and Photo 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.

Photoshop

Since Abobe Photoshop 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.

In-depth Retouching

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.

Combining Images

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 a 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 vs 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 photography, but can also be employed for architectural 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.

Lightroom vs Photoshop

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.

Non-destructive Editing

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.

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 vs Photoshop elements, 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.

Photoshop vs Lightroom vs Elements – Which One for Me?

For many photographers, the batch editing and filing system enhancements of Lightroom are virtual necessities. In fact, most of my own 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.

Photoshop Elements might be the best image editing software for someone new to DSLR 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.

Photoshop vs Lightroom

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 image 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!