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Adobe Lightroom vs Photoshop: Which is Better for Beginners?

  • Tutorials
  • 17/08/19

As the Adobe suite of tools grows larger, many would-be photographers have asked us at LIoP the question, Lightroom vs Photoshop? The reality is, both programs have advantages and disadvantages which will depend on the type of photographer you are and what you need the software to do. As the younger, lighter program, Lightroom has an ease which can be highly beneficial for those just starting out, but most professional photographers know that Photoshop is the most important tool in their arsenal for achieving the perfect picture.

What is Lightroom?

Primarily an image management suite, Lightroom (full name Adobe Photoshop Lightroom) was introduced to the Adobe family of software in 2006 as a simpler photo editing tool with a lot more focus on workflow management. Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom makes databases of all your photos and makes navigating a large number of images much easier through stronger search functions and categorisation.

Lightroom is able to pull data automatically on each image, including date and time of capture, camera make and model, resolution and much more. This makes it easier to organise a set of photos all at the same time and extra functions like flags, stars and keywords allow for even more detailed collections.

While these are all functions you won’t find on Photoshop, Lightroom has far weaker image editing abilities. There are still plenty of editing options in Lightroom, but for more detailed or larger editing activity, you’ll need the help of Photoshop.

What is Photoshop?

The most powerful and well-known image editing software in the world, Photoshop is so widely used to edit images that the verb ‘to Photoshop’ is part of our everyday language. Although initially a simple image editing software in 1988, Photoshop has now developed into a full editing suite used by photographers, animators and graphic designers.

Because of this, the range of techniques editors can use is vast and can often be overwhelming for the uninitiated. However, if you want to remove objects, remove skin blemishes or alter the shape and size of elements, Photoshop is unparalleled.

Photoshop is a pixel-level editor, allowing complete control over every inch of each image. This means that only one picture can be worked on at a time, making the editing process for a large range of images a time-consuming process. This and the fact that it’s often a destructive image editor can make working with Photoshop more disorganised and difficult to manage.

To have a more organised workflow when using Photoshop, it’s often necessary to use Adobe Bridge alongside it, whereas both editing and organisation happen in the same program in Lightroom.

What are the advantages of Lightroom?

Photoshop and Lightroom are often used together as part of a photographers editing process, but for those just starting out, picking out the best software to start with is a good idea.

Advantages of Lightroom over Photoshop include:

  • Easier to learn – Thanks to its much simpler interface, streamlined set of tools and workflow capabilities, Lightroom can be a more comfortable introduction to image editing.
  • Presets – Lightroom allows editors to use presets to edit a group of photos at the same time. This can be useful for wedding photographers who find they have to make the same adjustments to hundreds of photos.
  • RAW file processor – Unlike Photoshop, photographs taken in RAW format can be immediately opened and edited on Lightroom, rather than having to go through Camera RAW to be converted.
  • Detailed organisation – The automatic inclusion of meta data means that photos are much more organised on Lightroom than in Photoshop or Bridge. Editors can also star and flag specific images so favourites are easy to pick out.
  • Still has strong editing software – Lightroom still has a strong set of editing tools which make for great pictures. Changes to contrast, exposure, texture, clarity and saturation can all be made in Lightroom just as easily as Photoshop.
  • Non-destructive editor – With each edit creating a new file, Lightroom avoids the loss of original photos and also keeps a record of all changes made so undoing mistakes is less risky.

What are the advantages of Photoshop?

While Lightroom may be suitable for beginners, Photoshop is still a vital tool in the professional photographer’s arsenal.

Advantages of Photoshop over Lightroom include:

  • Much more detailed edits – Photoshop’s editing capabilities mean for anything more than small, simple edits, this is the tool to use.
  • Wider variety of tools – Not only are the more complex photo editing tools a key selling point of Photoshop, but it also has a wider variety of tools which are useful for creatives who work in a variety of media.
  • Compositing – the combination of elements from different images means that any imperfections spoiling your favourite photo can be replaced by specific pixels from others in your collection. This is useful for editing blinking eyes in group photos, for example.
  • Layer editing – Being able to layer adjustments in photos allows for much sharper edits which gives your image a more professional, polished look when finished.
  • Plugins and actions – More automated additions created by Adobe or other third parties, pre-made actions can speed up the editing process and allow for a professional finish every time with ease.
  • High dynamic range (HDR) images – For those looking to make multiple exposure images, Photoshop is the best for this kind of edit.
  • Content Aware Fill – one of Photoshop’s most sought-after effects, the Content Aware Fill tool is able to remove entire objects from images and maintain a natural look to the photo.

When should I use Photoshop vs Lightroom?

Because it’s a much stronger tool, Photoshop should basically be used whenever things can’t be edited in Lightroom. Whether this is due to much more detailed or complex edits, the need for HDR editing or removing objects completely, the strength and speed of Photoshop makes these tasks much easier than Lightroom.

However, as previously, mentioned there is no ‘Lightroom vs Photoshop’, as these tools work best when used together. Lightroom is effective at creating a simplified workflow when editing large groups of pictures, but each image in Lightroom can easily be edited in Photoshop as you go along. Using both tools in synergy will allow any aspiring photographer to get the best of both products and create more sophisticated and polished images.

Additionally, Adobe no longer sells retails versions of Lightroom and Photoshop, instead offering both as part of their Creative Cloud Suite, which costs £10 per month. This means that, for those who sign up, there’s no need to make the choice!

While Lightroom is a simpler version of Photoshop, it can still be a steep learning curve for new editors. Check out our Lightroom and Photoshop courses to see how LIoP can help you gain a better understanding of both tools.