Photoshop v Lightroom: Which is the Right Photo Editing Software For You?

For serious photographers, it’s important to have access to quality editing software. Whether it’s just a touch-up, or a detailed edit, in order to get the photo ready for a magazine, photographers need to have more control over their photos than ever before.

The most commonly used software by digital artists are Lightroom and Photoshop. These pieces of software share a number of similarities and differences, and digital artists will find them valuable for different reasons and purposes:

Similarities

1. Professional-grade editing

Both pieces of software offer professional-grade editing for photographers. The modern digital artist wants to be able to take control of his or her work after it’s created, and touch it up before sending it to the client or the printer. Using either Photoshop or Lightroom, you’re able to do basic cropping and adjustment to exposure, though to working with brushes, tone curves, and graduated filters.

2. Filters

Using either piece of software you’re able to apply instant filters that will give your images a black & white, sepia, vintage, or other similar “look” to the image.

3. Designed for serious photographers

This probably goes without saying, but if your photography starts and stops at mobile phone snaps for your Facebook or Instagram profile, then neither Lightroom nor Photoshop will be especially valuable to you. These tools are for professionals, or at least enthusiasts with a good quality camera.

4. Designed by Adobe

Both products were designed by Adobe. The world’s foremost vendor of creative software, Adobe’s design philosophy applies across both products, and people that are familiar with using one, will also be comfortable using the other. It also means that Lightroom and Photoshop are complementary, rather than competitive products, as you’ll see below.

Differences

1. Lightroom

Lightroom protects the original image. With Photoshop, if you edit an image, that edit is permanent, meaning that once it has been saved, it’s impossible to restore an image to its original state. Photographers have lost wonderful photos to that process. Lightroom, meanwhile, keeps a copy of the original photo safe, allowing you to make as many changes as you like, confident that the original is still going to be there for you.

Lightroom’s approach to file management also means that edited photos take up relatively little space on the hard drive. For professional photographers and artists, who might have dozens of edited versions of a single photo, this quickly adds up, and so Lightroom can actually save a lot of expensive storage space.

Lightroom is also ideal for editing photos in bulk. Because you’re able to quickly design and apply settings to streams of photos at once, Lightroom is an excellent choice for wedding and concert photographers, or anyone else who has recently taken hundreds of photos, and needs to touch them all up in the same way.

Lightroom also features Native RAW support. For professional photographers, this is a massive benefit as it allows you to instantly transfer and edit RAW files; the highest quality photo format available. With Photoshop, you need plugins to be able to play with your RAW photos.

Workflow management is also made easy with Lightroom. The software does it all for the photographer; making it easy to import, catalogue, sort, and archive photos. It assigns keywords to the photos too, making them easily searchable and once you have thousands of photos sitting on a hard drive, that feature is key. Photoshop offers no support in organising your photo library.

2. Photoshop

Lightroom’s toolsets are exclusively designed around photos and for photographers, so if you’re a digital artist in some other field, Lightroom isn’t going to be much help to you. Photoshop is, however, highly versatile.

Layers are the best friend of so many digital artists and photographers, and yet of the two software packages, only Photoshop allows them. With Lightroom you can stack effects and modifications onto an image, but it’s no compensation for that critical ability to have a dozen (or more) layers to achieve fine control over the image manipulation.

Another difference is the support for advanced features that Photoshop provides. Photoshop supports text, 3D graphics, and video, whereas Lightroom doesn’t. For photographers, those features are often unused in Photoshop, but they’re features critical to the work of those who also dabble as editors and graphics artists.

Photoshop also allows for granular control, giving artists pixel-level control over the photos. This means they’re able to manipulate a single “dot” on the picture if needed. Lightroom, meanwhile, only allows users to apply edits to the entire photo (to create that vintage or black & white effect, for example), so being able to remove blemishes from the skin of a person in the photo isn’t possible.

Finally, compositing. Often photographers and other digital artists will need to composite photos. A single person in a group shot might have his or her eyes closed in the best photo, so the photographer will need to take the eyes from one photo where they are open, and superimpose them on the best photo. This is a technique not available in Lightroom.

The different versions available for Lightroom and Photoshop

Adobe heavily pushes its cloud services, and offers photographers a package that includes Lightroom and Photoshop on the cloud for $11.99 per month. This is the default way to buy these products, and if you shop on the Adobe website for either, the “buy now” link will take you direct to this service.

It is possible to buy both Photoshop, through Adobe Creative 6, and Lightroom 6 as standalone products. However, these can’t be purchased online. To make a purchase of these products you will need to contact Adobe’s telesales department. It’s also worth noting that Adobe hasn’t updated Creative Suite 6 in the past two years, and won’t be making any further updates going forward. The only way to maintain a modern version of Photoshop or Lightroom is through the monthly subscription fee.

For people without PCs, there’s also a number of Photoshop applications that offer a paired-down feature list: Photoshop Mix, Photoshop Express, Photoshop Fix, Photoshop Sketch, and there’s a version of Lightroom for iPad. These are all free downloads with in-app purchases that unlock a greater range of features.

Photoshop v Lightroom; a battle of the best friends

Realistically, photographers will want both Photoshop and Lightroom. The features that the two pieces of software offer are complementary, and equally valuable to the artist. It might be that in most cases, Lightroom does the job and many photographers will go months without actually opening Photoshop. However, when it comes time to work hard on a single photo to really make it shine, Photoshop is the tool they’ll be reaching for.

This is fundamentally why Adobe has a special package available for photographers that gives them access to both pieces of software. In days gone by, this software was expensive enough that you needed to choose one or the other and often people would go for Lightroom because, at 10% of the cost, they’d wear the reduced functionality. But thanks to the Creative Cloud, just about every photographer should be able to afford access to both products at the same time.


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