Chris Parker

One of the questions I get the most from students is, “Which one should I learn first: Lightroom or Photoshop?” The answer is in this head-to-head, Lightroom vs. Photoshop comparison. 

Which one you choose comes down to your specific needs. But when processing RAW images, both Lightroom and Photoshop have similarities.

Photoshop has a built-in “Lightroom” version known as Adobe Camera Raw. We’ll dig a little deeper into that and more. Plus, you’ll discover the pros and cons of Lightroom vs. Photoshop.

Once you’ve completed this article, you’ll know which one is right for you—or if both are.

Photoshop

Let’s start with an overview of Photoshop since it’s been the Top Choice of photo editing software since 1990.

A photoshop window with a portrait photo for editing, sideboard of images, and tools visible

Photoshop Interface. Photo by: Chris Parker

When I started using Photoshop in 1991, it was a tool for professional photographers. Today, both photographers and graphic designers of all levels choose Photoshop.

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Photoshop has advanced a vast amount throughout the decades. Now Photoshop has a variety of tools and features to choose from. These include:

In essence, Photoshop gives you everything you need to achieve your creative vision!

Why graphic designers use Photoshop

Photoshop is the number one choice for graphic design professionals.

A sample design in Photoshop, showing a graphic with boats and stylized text, with layers of text and images visible on right and tools on the left.

Photoshop Design Design by: Chris Parker

Any graphics that you create become Vector layers (shapes and paths). That means you can transform the size of your artwork without any loss of quality. That is perfect for logo designers!

Another great advantage of Photoshop for design projects (and photos) is Blend Modes. They can transform your layers into something unique by “blending” layers together.

Here are some more benefits for designers:

Why photographers use Photoshop

Photoshop gives you the precision, control, and tools photographers of all levels need. Compared to Lightroom, Photoshop has more comprehensive editing tools.

The key to using Photoshop to edit photos is mastering Layers. The assortment of Layer tools can help you create artwork that wouldn’t be possible without them:

Layer masks and Photoshop

One of my favorite types of Layers is a Layer Mask. A Layer Mask gives you the precision and control to apply your edits to your image exactly where you want them.

In other words, if you want to darken up the sky, you can use a Layer Mask to do just that! 

In a way, the Layer Mask works as an on/off switch. First, you’ll apply your edit to the entire Layer. Then, after using a Layer Mask, you’ll paint with a Black brush to remove the edit and White to add back as needed.

Photoshop’s free file browser

Photoshop also includes another plugin called Adobe Bridge. I love using this free app as a digital asset manager.

An image of Adobe Bridge plugin showing an array of photos to choose from and filter through for Photoshop.

Bridge Interface. Photos by: Chris Parker

Adobe Bridge is a powerful asset manager. It lets you organize and preview multiple file types. Here are some other features:

Lightroom with Photoshop, or ACR

Did you know that Lightroom was created from Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)? Did you know ACR is part of Photoshop? Did you know that ACR is free in Photoshop? Yes, yes, and yes.

The Adobe Camera Raw Interface in Photoshop showing the tools on left, a photo of a person in the middle, and adjustment scales for the photo on the right.

ACR Interface. Photo by: Chris Parker

Adobe Camera Raw is a stand-alone plugin that coexists with Photoshop. Double-click a RAW file to use, and ACR will auto open. ACR can do many of the things Lightroom can. But keep in mind that the ACR interface is quite different from Lightroom.

After completing your edits in ACR, you can open the file in Photoshop and continue editing images. Plus, via a File menu option, you can re-open your image (with all layers flattened) in ACR!

Why you may NOT want to use Photoshop

There are so many features and tools in Photoshop. You could be quickly overwhelmed when you first start using it. In fact, for the average photographer, the sheer amount of tools may be more than you need.

If you decide to take the leap into Photoshop, my advice is to take one bite at a time…or in other words, one tutorial at a time!

Lightroom

Lightroom Classic was originally a spin-off of ACR. But it has many advantages over Photoshop. 

A Lightroom interface with a portrait photo open, selection tools on left, photos viewable on the bottom, and adjustment tools on the right.

Lightroom Interface. Photos by: Chris Parker

Lightroom vs. ACR

The primary allure of Lightroom is for editing your RAW images. With it, you can fix everything. This can include tonal range, color, perspective issues, reduce digital noise, and more.

Even though you can use ACR to edit your RAW files, Lightroom has more ease of use. For example, Lightroom is more user-friendly than ACR. Especially for those that capture hundreds of images per project or job.

Plus, Lightroom has its own built-in “Bridge” feature. So, if you’re looking for a more advanced image management, look no further than Lightroom Classic.

For those reasons alone, I believe Lightroom is better than ACR. Although, I do use both Lightroom and Photoshop for more complex edits. For example, when I need multiple layers to achieve my creative vision.

Why you may NOT want to use Lightroom

The most significant disadvantage to Lightroom is the lack of Layers. This is a reason to not just use Lightroom. You can use Lightroom for your initial edits and import them into Photoshop! Then, once you’re done editing, you can save them in Lightroom with the layers included as a TIFF file.

Which version of Lightroom should I use?

Once upon a time, Lightroom was, well, Lightroom. Now we have Lightroom Classic, Lightroom CC, and Lightroom Mobile.

The one you choose depends on which flavor of Lightroom you need. 

Do you shoot with your smartphone (or DSLR) or wish to edit among many devices? Then, Lightroom Mobile is probably perfect for you.

Do you need a vast arrangement of tools and features to organize, edit, and share your images? Then, Lightroom Classic will most likely be best for you.

Lightroom CC is a watered-down version of Classic. CC doesn’t have the organizational power of Classic and is only one of seven modules…Develop Module. 

Here are the modules included with Classic:

Lightroom vs Photoshop: How to choose for yourself

Still not sure which of the editing programs is right for you? Let’s further help you narrow your choice down from Lightroom vs. Photoshop.

Do you:

Are you a:

What if I still can’t choose?

My final advice, if you’re still stuck between Lightroom vs. Photoshop… get both! Adobe uses a subscription plan to gain access to one or the other. 

They have a “photographers plan” that includes both for only US$10 per month! It’s a no-brainer.
But what about other options? Is there a premium or free alternative to Photoshop? Yes, yes, there is! Check out this article to discover the best alternatives to Photoshop.

Page Last Updated: March 2022