Head to Head: Lightroom vs Photoshop

What’s the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop?

That’s about as common a question as you’ll find in photography…

After all, both programs are made by Adobe, and both have many similar features.

But for the uninitiated, Lightroom and Photoshop have several very important distinctions that make them better suited to different tasks.

In this article, we explore those differences so you have a better understanding of how you should be using these powerful programs in your post-processing workflow.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Photoshop in a Nutshell

In the simplest of terms, Photoshop is best suited for the heavy lifting when it comes to editing your photos, as you can see in the video above from Photoshop Tutorials.

It’s got all sorts of powerful tools that help you manipulate your photos in just about any way imaginable, from simple tasks like cropping to intermediate tasks like adding adjustment layers to complex tasks like making selections, removing unwanted features, and other pixel-level work.

And that’s really the trademark of Photoshop – it allows you to drill down to the individual pixels in your photos for pinpoint manipulations.

That’s due in part to the fact that you work in layers in Photoshop. That means you can add all sorts of effects to an image, then turn them off or on as you see fit. You can even keep different edits of the same photo on different layers within one file, which makes it easy to see the difference from one edit to the next.

Lightroom in a Nutshell

Lightroom has a lot of the image editing features that the everyday photographer needs, but it lacks the sheer volume of tools and the power of Photoshop when it comes to making hefty edits to your photos.

That being said, Adobe designed Lightroom specifically with photographers in mind.

It’s not just a photo editor. Instead, Lightroom gives you the means to import your images, organize them, and edit them, making it a nice all-in-one management tool to keep track of your photos, as you can see in the video above from the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Channel.

In that regard, Lightroom is perhaps a bit more user-friendly than Photoshop, simply because you can do everything right within the program. That means that Lightroom has a much better workflow for photographers.

For instance, you can easily create collections of photos with keywords to keep track of images based on date, event, subject, and so forth.

What’s more, you can create Lightroom presets and save them, so if you have a certain kind of editing style, it’s just a simple matter of applying that preset to a newly imported photo. You can even sync your edits to multiple photos in one action. That makes Lightroom a good time-saver, especially if you have tons of photos that need organizing or editing.

Why Photoshop is Better

When evaluating Photoshop, there are a few ways that it simply outshines Lightroom:

  • Image blending – If you want to blend images, for example, to minimize noise, Photoshop is definitely the way to go.
  • Advanced editing – If your portrait model has a blemish on her face, you’ll need Photoshop to tackle that task.
  • Photo manipulation – If you want to cut grandma out of one photo and put her into another, Photoshop has the tools to do so.
  • Panoramic stitching – Splicing images together to create a panoramic photo is one of Photoshop’s strong suits.
  • Enormous toolbox – Simply put, Photoshop has an incredible collection of editing tools that help you address virtually any editing task you can imagine.

Why Lightroom is Better

Though Photoshop has its strengths, Lightroom does a few things even better:

  • Basic photo editing – If all you need to do is crop an image, reduce the noise, or do some sharpening, Lightroom handles those tasks well.
  • RAW editing – Lightroom has a built-in RAW file editor that’s more user-friendly than Adobe Camera Raw. Plus, you can make RAW edits as you import your photos.
  • Photo organization – As noted above, Lightroom gives you a powerful image management platform to help you organize your photos.
  • Ease of use – Lightroom is streamlined for a much simpler user experience.
  • Presets – As noted earlier, you can create presets in Lightroom to give a consistent look to your images. Better still, you can import presets that other photographers have made, giving you a virtually endless supply of looks for your photos.

The Downsides of Photoshop and Lightroom

The primary concern with Photoshop is that it has a very steep learning curve. This is simply because of the sheer number of tasks you can do within the program. Some professional photographers don’t even know how to use all of Photoshop’s bells and whistles, so you can imagine how difficult it can be for some novice and enthusiast photographers to master.

Photoshop doesn’t have any image management tools, either, so it isn’t nearly as adept at keeping things organized for you like Lightroom is.

On the other hand, being that Lightroom was designed specifically for photographers, you can only edit photos – there’s no vector or raster image creation. Additionally, unlike Photoshop, Lightroom doesn’t work in layers. Although you can stack effects to get the desired look, they aren’t on individual layers that you can manipulate on a layer-by-layer basis.

Get more details on what Photoshop and Lightroom can and can’t do by watching the video above by First Man Photography.

The Verdict

When all is said and done, your better bet will depend on your situation.

If you’re a beginner, start with Lightroom as it’s easier to learn and more user-friendly. It should also be your choice if you have tons of photos that need organization.

On the other hand, if you’re more of an enthusiast photographer that’s looking for an editing program to do all sorts of heavy lifting, Photoshop is the way to go.

Fortunately, since they’re both Adobe products, they integrate very well together (and are even sold together in one package). Use Lightroom to import, organize, and process your RAW files, then bring them into Photoshop for more serious editing.

Your decision really comes down to which program is best suited for you. Either way, you’ll have plenty of power to give your photos the polished look and feel you want.