One of the most debated topics amongst photographers is what photography editing software to choose: Lightroom or Photoshop? Both have strengths and weaknesses and can provide the user with a wide array of interesting, and sometimes unique, features. As such, in our article, we will comprehensively tackle the lightroom vs photoshop debate, by highlighting key pros and cons for each software, with the aim of helping you choose the right solution for your particular needs.
When it comes to Photoshop, one of the oldest photo editing software on the market (launched in 1988), it’s pretty clear why it has so many fans:
- Great load of mind-blowing tools
This might be Adobe Photoshop’s greatest strength. No other software comes with such a wide range of features. With the right amount of knowledge, you could perform a single action in three or four different ways.
Not to be confused with the presets you can find in Lightroom. While Lightroom’s presets are applied to the entire image, Photoshop’s actions represent a recorded sequence of steps. This means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you need to perform complex editing tasks. All of your favorite editing processes can be saved and accessed in the blink of an eye.
- Time-lapse montage
Photoshop’s skills when it comes to making videos from a sequence of images are unknown by many. It’s not complicated to make a time-lapse video; check out this great guide on how to get started with time lapse photography.
- HDR fluidity
While this feature falls in the category of advanced photo editing, HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography allows you to take your editing skills to the next level. Check out this article about the basics of taking and editing HDR photos. Also, the video below can offer you great insight into this Photoshop feature.
Last but definitely not least, you cannot talk about Photoshop and leave out the treasure that is layers. A feature that gives Photoshop the upper hand in the Lightroom vs Photoshop debate, adding layers and learning how they interact allows you to work wonders.
- Lack of integrated RAW manipulation
Unlike Lightroom, Photoshop does not have a native ability to import and manipulate RAW files. If you’re shooting in RAW (which you definitely should!) and you want to use Photoshop, you will have to rely on Adobe Camera RAW, which is a plugin. While some users won’t mind this, plenty others will claim it’s enough of a turn-off.
Until recently, price has been one of the biggest obstacles for many budding photographers in the way of buying Adobe Photoshop. Ranging between $600 and $900, the package was off-limits for many. Thankfully, a recent change in the company policy (read about it in the “Which to buy – Lightroom or Photoshop?” section below), has made Photoshop much more affordable.
- The learning curve
Saying that learning to use Photoshop is complicated is an understatement. Taking in the huge amount of information can be a daunting prospect for new users, which is why many prefer to turn to other photo editing software with a more user-friendly interface, such as Lightroom.
- Lacks image management capabilities
Don’t look at Photoshop expecting to be able to organize your photo sessions. Even though the software comes with some basic batch import and export tools, photographers rightfully complain about the lack of a fully-recognized workflow system.
Now that we know what to expect from Photoshop, what about Lightroom? Since Lightroom is also created by Adobe, a lot of the features are present in both photo editing software. However, what are some of the things that separate Lightroom and Photoshop?
- Best tool for photo management
One of the top strengths of Lightroom that sets it apart in the Lightroom vs Photoshop debate is the fact that it allows photographers to import and edit in bulk. More than that, the software creates a database, allowing you to search pictures by keyword. If you’re working with hundreds of photos at once, Lightroom is the answer for your organizational needs.
- Integrated RAW image post-processing
As we said before, Lightroom’s workflow system is already popular among users for its smooth and easy-to-use integrated RAW tools. You can import an entire photo shoot into the library and apply any editing actions to multiple images with just one click.
- Easier to learn
One of the most visible differences between Photoshop and Lightroom is that the latter is much more user-friendly. The layout (see above) is much more intuitive and new users hardly need any tutorials to start figuring out the tools.
- Non-destructive editing
Lightroom is much more welcoming to experimentation without fear of accidentally saving over the original. When you work in Lightroom, the software does not alter the original files; all the editing is saved as a copy of the file in the Lightroom catalog file. Thanks to this feature, you can revisit your edits even years later and make any changes you deem necessary.
- Limited capabilities
Unlike Photoshop – which is used not only by photographers, but also designers, graphic artists, and marketers –Lightroom is limited to photo editing tools only. In other words, Photoshop can do everything that Lightroom can, but the reverse is not true.
- Less focused on pixel-level editing
Trust Photoshop to allow you to get down to pixel-level in your editing adventures. Lightroom, on the other hand, is more focused on global editing, and its tools usually apply to the image as a whole. This is where its presets come in handy – the much younger and less experimented version of Photoshop’s actions.
- No layers
For beginners, this might not sound like a big deal and not much of a con in the debate Lightroom vs Photoshop. However, after you’ve started using Photoshop’s layers, there’s no going back. Having no layers could limit your creativity as a photographer, so Lightroom better catch up to speed (pretty please, Adobe?).
Which to buy – Lightroom or Photoshop?
So, after comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the two, which one is worthy of your money? In reality, many photographers use both Photoshop and Lightroom, depending on their needs.
Almost 95 percent of the editing you might need – fine-tuning light and color, exposure and contrast control, removing blemishes and many others – can be done in Lightroom. However, when it comes to removing objects, for example, there’s no match for Photoshop’s Content Aware tool.
Until recently, buying both Photoshop and Lightroom was not a viable prospect for many photographers working on slim budgets. However, Adobe has recently released a new Creative Cloud Photography Bundle.
With it comes the full version of Photoshop and Lightroom – and you pay just a monthly fee of $9.99. It’s what most photographers have come to use and love, even if many were first skeptical of the monthly expenses. You can buy it directly from Adobe’s website.
Lightroom vs Photoshop – Who won?
Both Photoshop and Lightroom offer great support to photographers by presenting them with a comprehensive set of editing tools. Use Lightroom to maintain a speedy workflow, especially if you’re used to editing RAW files. However, don’t be afraid to learn Photoshop for the more advanced image manipulation or retouching.
One more thing…
If you don’t need all the horsepower that comes with the full version of Photoshop, Adobe provides a consumer level version of the software called Photoshop Elements. Many of the vital retouching tools you might need are included, and you pay much less (~$80). Combining Photoshop Elements and Lightroom is a great and fairly affordable solution for new photographers to start out with.