The Lightroom vs. Photoshop debate has been going on for nearly as long as the chicken or the egg dilemma, or so it seems. Postprocessing is as much a part of the digital photography process as the darkroom was a part of film photography. The thought of a professional photographer sending unedited files to their clients or uploading them to their photography website is simply inconceivable.
Due to its major role in the creative process, it’s easy to understand why photographers aim to use only the very best software the industry has to offer. But while it’s been long established that Adobe offers the best photo editing tools in the field, many are still on the fence between the two programs the company offers.
Keep reading to find out what the main differences are between Lightroom vs. Photoshop, and which one better suits your editing needs.
What is Lightroom?
Lightroom is an image management and manipulation program developed by Adobe. It was launched in 2006 and is commonly considered a leaner, faster version of its older brother, Photoshop. Lightroom is primarily focused around the contemporary photographer’s workflow, and can be used to import, organize, manage, and edit RAW images straight from your camera. This is one of the program’s biggest perks, as Photoshop needs separate software to process RAW files before opening them.
On top of providing a comprehensive platform with which you can easily organize your photo library, Lightroom also offers most of the editing tools you’re likely to need when processing your work. This includes cropping, white balance, exposure, tonal curves, histogram adjustments, gradients, lens corrections, etc. All edits are non-destructive, meaning you can revert to the original file at any time.
When to use Lightroom
If you shoot in RAW, then we strongly recommend that you start your editing process by importing your images into Lightroom. If you don’t shoot in RAW, we strongly recommend that you go to your camera settings and change that as soon as possible.
With Lightroom you can add keywords to the images you just imported and explore other filing tools such as flags and star rating. This, in addition to the file’s metadata, will make your image categorization significantly easier.
If your images only need a few, basic edits, Lightroom’s offering will do the job just fine. Despite having a much smaller set of editing tools than Photoshops, it’s more than enough for most photographers. Furthermore, you’ll be able to batch edit several images at once, which can save you an unfathomable amount of time.
Lightroom also offers you the ability to create and download presets that can be used to apply a long list of edits with a single click.
Due to its intuitive interface and narrower set of tools in comparison to Photoshop, Lightroom is much easier to learn. This makes the program a better choice for those who are just getting started in photo editing or are not yet familiar with other software in the market.
What is Photoshop?
Nearly three decades after its initial release, Photoshop needs little introduction. Over the years, what started out as a simple image editor has grown into a massive software platform with a neverending list of functions and capabilities targeting photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, architects, animators, 3D artists, and more.
As a pixel-level editor, Photoshop offers unparalleled precise control over every little dot of light that composes your digital images. From editing the exposure and histogram, to making your smile brighter and your skin smoother, there's few things that cannot be accomplished in Photoshop. The software also allows users to work with several layers, enabling edits and effects to specific areas of the image.
Needless to say, all these capabilities come at the cost of a very steep learning curve that can feel daunting for many.
When to use Photoshop
As a photographer, chances are you’ll end up on Photoshop only for edits that cannot be performed on Lightroom. Depending on the field you specialize in and the specific needs of your work, that could happen fairly often or almost never.
There are three main types of edits for which you’ll always need to use Photoshop over Lightroom: healing, retouching, and compositing.
While Lightroom’s offering includes a cloning brush, its capabilities have nothing on Photoshop’s advanced healing tools. If you want to remove certain elements of your image and have full control over the outcome, you’ll need to use Photoshop’s healing brush and patch tools. These are often used in portrait photography to smooth skin, whiten teeth, and get rid of stray hairs.
The reason Photoshop has become a synonym of advanced retouching is that no other photo editing software can match its results. Want to make a person look taller, change their hair or eye color, make their arms skinnier, or alter their skin tone? Photoshop is the place to go.
Composite photos are images that have been constructed from two or more different photos. Most composites these days are done by layering images one on top of another and then masking out the unwanted pieces using various methods. Since Lightroom does not support the creation of different layers, composites are something you will only be able to achieve in Photoshop.
Lightroom vs Photoshop pricing
A few years ago, Adobe introduced its Creative Cloud and announced that its programs will be accessed through a monthly fee, rather than sold as individual products. In this subscription platform, both Lightroom and Photoshop are offered as a photography bundle for a $120 yearly membership.
Adobe offers a 7 day free trial that allows you to try out both programs before committing to a full year. Prior to signing up for the trial, you might want to give a go at different free photo editing software alternatives. This will allow you to compare their capabilities with those of Lightroom and Photoshop and decide if the paid option is the right fit for you.
So, which one is better?
Now that we know what they are and what they do, it’s time to settle this epic battle once and for all. Lightroom vs. Photoshop, Photoshop vs. Lightroom: which one is the best?
Drum roll, please… It’s a tie.
Each one of these programs has unique capabilities that are only strengthened when combined. Generally, photographers tend to start their processing work on Lightroom and do most of their edits within this program. Photoshop, on the other hand, is used for more advanced editing.
Both Lightroom and Photoshop should be part of your workflow, albeit not necessarily in an equal manner. The time you spend on each program will be determined by your photography style and the needs of each project.