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Lightroom vs. Photoshop: How Do These Two Adobe Applications Differ?

As the prominence of digital photography has increased, having access to the right software has become essential. And, if you ask the average photographer, they’ll name two must-have programs: Photoshop and Lightroom.

It’s no secret that Adobe has been a trailblazer in the digital imaging world for years. But what exactly differentiates Photoshop and Lightroom? Moreover, what can they do to improve your photography? When comparing Lightroom vs Photoshop, which suits your needs best? Or when should you use one or the other?

Today we’re comparing and contrasting the editing giants. There’s a lot of overlap and a few major differences, but both can make a major impact on your image edits and overall workflow!

Everything You Need to Know About Lightroom:

What is Lightroom?

In short, Lightroom is a jack of all trades – it’s an image manager, editor, and output center rolled into one convenient program.

Users can import and export files through Lightroom, which then sorts images based on available metadata info. From there, the Library provides a place for photographers to access and organize entire image collections.

Many users also utilize Lightroom’s editing capabilities. While the toolset available includes a few brush retouching tools, the program is best suited for basic, overarching edits.

Lightroom Strengths

Organization

Asset management is what sets Lightroom apart from its sister Adobe software. No matter how you keep track of your images, this software can make life a little easier.

Automatically upon import, the Lightroom catalogs and sorts files based on available metadata. However, if you prefer to sort your images in a specific way, you can interact and modify Explorer/Finder folders. Whether you want to separate by shoot or subject, it’s easy to sort images into groups or collections with just a few keyboard shortcuts.

Related Article: 12 Best Photo Organizing Software

It’s also possible to cycle through a large set of photos and reject/accept files with ease. You can then assign ratings or colors to your photos to further differentiate your favorite shots.

Batch Processing

A Lightroom vs Photoshop comparison of editing tools isn’t much of a competition at all – Lightroom is limited compared to Photoshop. That said, Lightroom has the convenient ability to apply changes across a group of images almost instantaneously.

Lightroom also has hundreds of easily-accessible presets to choose between. This allows users to apply a uniform look across a number of images. Alternatively, you can tweak specific aspects, then sync changes across a large group of images. This makes base edits quicker and your workflow infinitely more efficient

Non-Destructive Edits

Lightroom is a great help in processing RAW images. But, rather than copying the large files into the catalog itself, the software reads where the files are stored on your drive.

By keeping original files saved separately from the Lightroom database, users may apply changes to their images without making permanent changes. Should you decide that you want to re-edit a photograph differently, you can access the original source file and start over.

Related Article: RAW vs. JPEG

Lightroom Weaknesses

“Losing Track” of Images

When you import an image into Lightroom, you’re not actually changing the location of the image. Instead, you’re “guiding” Lightroom towards a specific file that you’d like it to read. The edits you make in Lightroom are a preview of what a separate export file would look like. There are some benefits to this system, such as the ability to apply non-destructive edits.

However, this can also present some big problems should you move a file on your computer or import images off of an external hard drive. Without the source file to read off of, Lightroom cannot apply edits or export an image in its database. Should this happen, you may be subject to an arduous and irritating “re-link” process in order to continue working on the photo in question.

Fine Tuning

Although there’s a lot that Lightroom can do for you, it’s not especially adept at applying edits to specific areas of an image. What’s more, it’s not capable of making any major structural changes to your photos (i.e. removing flyaway hairs, replacing the original background with another).

Even so, it’s perfectly fine for simple touch-ups. Tasks like sharpening, color balance, and tonal shifts are just as easy to accomplish in Lightroom as they are in Photoshop.

When to Use Lightroom

When deciding between Lightroom vs Photoshop, it’s important to consider two things:

  1. The number of images you have to work with.
  2. How drastic the changes you’d like to make are.

Essentially, Lightroom is a one-stop-shop for all of your workflow needs. It’s not the most involved software out there, but if you have hundreds of images to work with, it can’t be beaten. Likewise, if you just need to make a few quick adjustments, convert a file, or resize an image, Lightroom gets the job done.

Related Article: Best Lightroom Presets

Everything You Need to Know About Photoshop:

What is Photoshop?

Over the years, Photoshop has become increasingly popular and well-known amongst even the most casual of image editors. It’s the industry standard for anyone working with digital art and is ideal for getting up close and personal with your photographs.

Unlike Lightroom, Photoshop focuses on one photograph at a time. But the creativity you can employ using the software’s arsenal of tools and effects opens up a world of possibilities.

Related Article: 20 Simple Photoshop Tips

Photoshop Strengths

Photo Editing and Manipulation

Photoshop’s tools are powerful as well as plentiful. If you can imagine it, there’s probably a way to accomplish it in Photoshop.

Of course, it’s possible to apply whatever global edits you’d like to your Photoshop file, much like you would in Adobe Lightroom. However, for fine-tuning, cleaning up, and making niche adjustments, it’s one of your best bets.

You don’t have to stop short with highlight or shadow adjustments, or converting an image black and white. Photoshop can completely transform the structure and content of your shots. You can even go so far as creating composites, collages, and much more.

Working with Layers

One of Photoshop’s greatest assets is its ability to work in layers. This means that you can “separate” different tool adjustments and focus on one aspect of your image at a time. Furthermore, you can mask areas of individual layers, allowing you to pick and choose where an adjustment shines through

On top of that, you can hide or delete an individual layer at any time without impacting edits made on another layer. So, should you ever want to undo a certain effect, you don’t have to start from the very beginning

Greater Image Support

Lightroom is relatively limited in what types of file formats it will accept. However, Photoshop is equipped to work with raster graphics and digital illustrations as well as traditional photos. In turn, it’s got a greater range of what it can work with.

Outside of standard JPEGs, PNGs, and TIFFs, Photoshop can work with a few less traditional formats. For instance, you can process GIFs, EPSs, and PDF files. And, of course, the software is well equipped with its native PSD files.

Photoshop Weaknesses

Less Efficient

The main thing holding back Photoshop is that it’s made to focus on one image at a time. By design, you cannot easily switch between images. While the program provides more creative power, users must sacrifice workflow efficiency in return.

Lightroom, on the other hand, makes it easy to sync features across a large group of images. What’s more, you can look at an entire series of shots in a single window or focus on a single image in the Develop module. Tasks such as culling just aren’t possible with Photoshop alone.

More Complex

Photoshop’s greatest asset is also one of its greatest detractors. For many photographers, the nuanced tools the software has to offer may seem intimidating and complicated. The toolbar alone has nearly 70 tools at its disposal – not including adjustment layers, filters, and transformation/warping features. Learning how to use all of it is not something that happens overnight.

What’s more, not every photographer needs all of those options. Sometimes, a quick sharpen and color correction is all that’s really necessary to get a photo to where it needs to be. In such cases, Lightroom is more than capable of getting the job done.

Related Article: How to Brighten Part of Your Image in Photoshop

When to Use Photoshop

If you need to do something extensive or specific, don’t waste your time trying to get it perfect in Lightroom. Photoshop is more controlled than any other Adobe product available. When you need to get one or two shots perfect, it provides every resource you need to get things just right.

Working with Photoshop can be an arduous process. But, with a little bit of practice and patience, the end results are well worth the extra effort.

Lightroom vs Photoshop?

So how exactly does one make a decision between Lightroom vs Photoshop? It comes down to what your specific needs are.

Who might prefer Lightroom?

  • Wedding and event photographers. Lightroom makes it easy to cull and sort through a large batch of images. What’s more, presets and adjustment syncing can give a group of images a unified “look”
  • Beginners. The editing tools available are easy to get the hang of, primarily utilizing intuitive sliders that apply global changes across the entirety of an image.
  • Archivists. Whether you’re the family historian or working with a gallery collection, Lightroom offers multiple means of organizing images. What’s more, you can add information and metadata to preserve details that may not be evident from the file alone.

Who might prefer Photoshop?

  • Retouchers. One of Photoshop’s biggest advantages is its ability to work on fine details without disturbing the entirety of a composition. Working with layers and masks is a must when working on a portrait or product shot that needs some TLC.
  • Specialty photographers (food, architecture, etc.) The selection of tools in Photoshop is unbeatable. The program allows users to make huge changes (like changing the perspective of your image or removing a series of trees) as well as small adjustments (like channel-by-channel color adjustments).
  • Advanced photographers. No two images are the same, and some need more work than ever. Maybe a subject sitting under a shaded tree could use a little lightening up, but you don’t want to blow out the sky above. Photoshop allows you to make those selective adjustments necessary to make a photo your own.

Our verdict? The Lightroom vs Photoshop debate is a draw. In fact, the best solution for many is a combination of the two. Both have their own unique advantages to offer, making each of them a valuable addition to any photographer’s arsenal. With Adobe’s Photographer CC subscription plan, getting acquainted with both programs is definitely worth the time and investment.

Get An Adobe CC Plan Today!

Author

  • Meghan is an artist and writer based out of Boston, MA. With an interest in everything from instant film to experimental videography, her work has been featured internationally in a variety of photographic exhibitions and publications. As a regular contributor, she uses her broad background in fine art and varied professional experiences to inform her articles.

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