Lightroom vs. Photoshop: Which One Should You Get?
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.
Let’s start with an overview of Photoshop since it’s been the Top Choice of photo editing software since 1990.
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:
- Selection tools
- Retouching tools
- Blending modes
- Artificial intelligence
- Adjustment layers
- Color libraries
- Custom artboards
- Adobe Stock assets for download
- And more
In essence, Photoshop gives you everything you need to achieve your creative vision!
Why graphic designers use Photoshop
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:
- Convert to Smart Objects: This is a file within a layer. Smart Objects are an advanced tool that can streamline your project workflow.
- Frame Tool: This allows you to affix photos inside a custom shape.
- Text: Customize the size, color, and add “Layer Styles.” This lets you create unlimited visual variations. Oh, and you can choose among over 100,000 premium and free Fonts! Fonts!
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: Show and/or hide pixels by painting with white or black.
- Adjustment Layers: Edits apply to a new layer and don’t affect individual pixels.
- Blending Modes: This allows you to “blend” layers together.
- Opacity: This will enable you to adjust the transparency of a layer.
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.
Top courses in Photoshop
Photoshop’s free file browser
Photoshop also includes another plugin called Adobe Bridge. I love using this free app as a digital asset manager.
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:
- Edit metadata
- Add keywords
- Add labels
- Rate your images
- Find files using the built-in filters
- Publish directly to Adobe Stock
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.
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 Classic was originally a spin-off of ACR. But it has many advantages over Photoshop.
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:
- Library: Organize your images
- Develop: Edit your images
- Map: Another organizational tool displaying your images on a map (geolocation)
- Book: Create and publish books from Blurb
- Slideshow: Create an image slideshow
- Print: Create page layouts and print options for printing photos
- Web: Creates an online photo gallery hosted by Adobe
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.
- Shoot 50 to hundreds (or thousands) of images at a time? Go with Lightroom Classic for batch processing.
- Shoot a dozen or so images at a time? Use ACR in Photoshop.
- Need a quick, easy, and powerful image editor on the go? Choose Lightroom Mobile.
Are you a:
- Professional art photographer and/or graphic designer? Go with Photoshop.
- Professional wedding and/or portrait photographer? For the last 15 years, my choice has always been Lightroom Classic.
- Landscape or Wildlife photographer: Lightroom CC may be all you need.
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.