As far as image post processing goes Lightroom and Photoshop are the industry’s leading software applications that account for over 60% of the all image processing software used today. Ever since Photoshop was first published in 1990 it has become essential to most photographers, but today the wheel has turned and Lightroom is a far more commonly used software. Despite the fact, it is often unclear – especially when starting in photography – when it comes to the question of Photoshop vs. Lightroom: which one should you be using? This tutorial will show the pluses and minuses of each of the software and explain when each of them should be the tool to go to.
Layer Editing – it is likely the biggest advantage of Photoshop. It allows you to stack different adjustments of one image on top of each other and control what parts of those images you want be visible by using masks and blending modes. You can easily discard the adjustments you do not desire by hiding those layers, return to the original image, and still preserve the changes you have applied to your layers if you choose to make them visible again.
Pixel Editing – it allows for the most minuscule adjustments to your image on a single pixel level. You can clone those pixels to add or erase details, move those pixels to change the physical appearance of the objects within the image or select which individual pixels you want to be affected based on their color representation or their contrast ratio to the neighboring pixels as shown in the image below.
Extensive Tool Set – the list of tools that Photoshop offers is extensive and will allow you to post process your image in a number of different ways. To name a few: managing noise levels, reducing camera shake, adding blur, transforming and warping objects.
Organization of files – Photoshop unfortunately falls short of helping you organize your images in a cohesive manner. Although you can open a batch of images, you are limited to editing one image at a time. The organization of your Photoshop files will have to be done manually through Explorer on Windows or the Finder on Mac.
Lack of Raw Editor – unlike Lightroom, Photoshop does not have a built in Raw file editor, meaning that you will have to rely on additional software, most likely Adobe Camera Raw, to manipulate your Raw camera files first to be able to process them in Photoshop.
Learning Curve – Photoshop is not the easiest software to master and to completely know its menus, shortcuts and tools takes time. As a beginner, you have to be prepared to be patient and expect that at first tasks that appear simple will take hours only to learn how to do.
Efficiency – Lightroom was created with a large number of images in mind. It lets you organize your files quickly and does it so in an intuitive way. It makes the task of editing large photoshoots a breeze and it is centered around efficient workflow.
Built-in Raw Editor – you can load your Raw files to Lightroom straight from your camera without any additional software, which further increases workflow speed.
Ease of Use – unlike Photoshop, Lightroom does not have a steep learning curve and its functions can be mastered fairly quickly. In addition, Lightroom’s presets, which can be found in thousands for download online, allow you to apply a sequence of adjustments to multiple images at once saving you time.
Limited Adjustments – although you can adjust most of the necessary parameters, you cannot do it on a pixel level. Further, there are no options to manipulate your images by cloning, erasing or reshaping objects.
No Layer Editing – in Lightroom you are limited to making your adjustments on the actual image you are working on. There are no blending modes and masks, meaning that all the adjustments you make apply to the entire image area. Without Layers there are also no Layer Styles.
Photos Only – Lightroom was built only with photos in mind – it does not recognize raster or vector files, which are essential if you are planning to do graphic design work.
Which one should you be using?
As probably expected, there is no definite answer to this question. It entirely depends on what you are aiming to achieve with your images. If you are looking for a set of tools that allows you to apply most of the everyday adjustments to your photos, and especially if you are working with large photo sets, then Lightroom is likely to be the software to help you increase workflow speed. If you are looking for heavy photo retouching that allows you to have the ability to manipulate your image in any desired way or you need to work with raster and vector files, then Photoshop is likely the tool for you.
Whichever the case might be, luckily now Adobe is offering both – Lightroom and Photoshop – as part of its Photographer’s plan on its Creative Cloud; now there is little reason to buy them separately. Having both would allow you to create your galleries and edit them quickly in Lightroom and when necessary take the step further into Photoshop.