If you deal with a lot of photography, you need to know what to do with it. So whether you’re a photographer or a graphic designer, which software should you be using for your design project? Adobe Photoshop vs Lightroom: which one is better? The truth is, it depends on the nature of your project.
Many beginners don’t know differences between Photoshop vs Lightroom and have a hard time choosing which one to get first. Rarely do our images come straight out of the camera exactly as we had envisioned. So before release, photos need to go through the post-processing phase; this is where raw photos are enhanced, adjusted, toned, and sharpened to give us the final image we want to deliver.
Although we have many tools at our disposal to help us through this phase of processing, the industry juggernaut has undoubtedly been Adobe Photoshop. The software has been used by amateurs and professionals alike since 1990, and is considered an essential part of most photographer’s toolboxes. After the rise of digital photography, Adobe realized the need for a tool more targeted for photographers, releasing Lightroom. Since then, this workflow-centric and management software has become incredibly popular in today’s industry.
In this post, we’ll look at the main differences between Photoshop vs Lightroom: what they are used for and what you can do in Photoshop that you cannot in Lightroom. Photoshop, for example, might be better for you if your work requires intensive edits. On the other hand, Lightroom will be sufficient for projects that only need light retouching.
What is Photoshop?
There’s a reason why people use the word Photoshop to describe photo editing, even when it wasn’t used. Photoshop was originally created for simple digital photo editing, but it’s grown to be so powerful that now graphic designers, architects, photographers and journalists use it.
Photoshop is a pixel level editor that allows you to work through the individual dots of colour that make up your image. The software allows for editing even at this tiny level, meaning limitless manipulation is possible. Raster and vector images can be created from scratch. Photoshop also allows for multiple layers to be stored within a master file; meaning that you can keep different images or edits on separate layers, and then hide, modify or enhance any of those layers independently.
Because of the ability to layer components within an image, it’s possible to blend those layers together in unique ways. For example, masking allows you to protect specific parts of the photo from any adjustments being made, just by painting out the area you’d like to keep.
However, with great power comes a steep learning curve. Although you have a massive array of tools at your disposal, mastering them is something that takes time and practice. And Photoshop, unlike Lightroom, must rely on a plugin like Adobe Camera RAW in order to import and modify RAW files.
When to use Photoshop
Use Photoshop if you need more control over your images. Photoshop can do it all, but of course the cost of that is a higher learning curve. Quick presets are not what the program does best; instead, it offers complete image editing with masks, layers, and a multitude of other tools, giving you all of the options you could ever need.
What is Lightroom?
Lightroom contains a subset of Photoshop tools designed for the modern photographer. It features most, if not all, of the photo editing tools you’ll need. As mentioned, unlike Photoshop, Lightroom has a built-in RAW editor and natively accepts RAW files straight from your camera; allowing all of the editing you’d expect from within the software.
Lightroom was born from the desire to give photographers something better to manage their photo libraries with. The entire program is based on creating a solid, consistent workflow that will help you make the most of the post-processing phase. Between the two, Photoshop is a more focused photo editor and Lightroom works as an image management software. It’s also non-destructive, which means no troublemaking save as buttons. In fact, Lightroom doesn’t have a save button at all, meaning all edits are stored in your Lightroom catalog.
Since Lightroom doesn’t have the huge toolbox like that found in Photoshop, there’s much less to learn. Everything from the tools available, to the interface itself, is simple and easy to manipulate. Basically, it’s a photographer’s dream; giving the ability to string together exposure levels, contrast, and toning. There are unlimited variances that can be applied to any photo with a click of the mouse.
But, since Lightroom wasn’t intended as a full-on raster editor, most of the editing functions Photoshop users take for granted aren’t present. With the exception of a few basic tools, you’ll want to use Photoshop in situations where heavy image editing is necessary. Effects and modifications can be stacked on an image, but there is no real separation of image segments or any ability to use blending modes.
When to use Lightroom
Use Lightroom if you value a smooth clean workflow more than infinite control over the editing of your images. Having said that, Lightroom is no slouch when it comes to processing photos; you can recreate almost any look using the controls available to you in this software. The presets provide an endless array of styles, and thousands more are available on the internet.
If you shoot photographs in raw, which is highly recommended, you should first import it into Lightroom. You can also edit from there, so there’s no need to use Adobe Camera Raw or the like. And if you’re a beginning photographer, Lightroom should cover all that you need. It includes the necessary tools, such as cropping, white balance, spot removal and colour corrections.
Photoshop vs Lightroom
There is no right answer. Both programs can be an integral part of the post-processing workflow. If you’re getting started with photography, Lightroom is the place to begin; you can add Photoshop to the mix later. Thus, it allows you to choose the right tool for your photographic needs on a project by project basis. And like anything they both have strengths and weaknesses.
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Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.