Photoshop or Lightroom?

Photoshop or Lightroom?

Photoshop or Lightroom?
Photoshop or Lightroom?

A question which often looms large in many a photographer’s mind is “Which photo editing tool should I use? Photoshop or Lightroom?”

For a long time Adobe Photoshop held sway as the de facto image editing software amongst photography enthusiasts. One only has to look at the covers to the various ‘glossies’ to realize the full extent of the term “photoshopped”. 🙂

Since Photoshop was wildly popular, it was usually the go to photo editor for most freshman photographers, until a new contender came along – Adobe Lightroom. It boasted some pretty fantastic features and seemed similar, yet somehow different than Photoshop.

Let us endeavour to look upon the strengths and weaknesses of each program before settling upon the quintessential image editor.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Lightroom is an image management and editing tool also developed by Adobe, the same folks who gave us Photoshop. It was created mainly for managing a large database of images, keeping them organized in one place and to search for them easily and efficiently. When you edit hundreds of images, keeping them organized becomes a problem over time.

Along with an efficient database engine, it inherits the full extent of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) engine which does the editing work. This is the same Adobe Camera Raw which ships with every Photoshop. ACR allows you to edit Raw, JPEG, TIF, PSD and PNG files with ease.

Lightroom and Adobe Camers Raw are identical
Lightroom and Adobe Camers Raw are identical

Using Lightroom, photographers are able to work through their images from importing, sorting and organizing, to processing, and ultimately all the way to exporting and sharing your art. It’s a workflow centric program basically designed to help you efficiently work with vast quantities of imagery.

Settings such as exposure, contrast, and saturation can be swiftly adjusted including features such as sharpening, noise reduction, cropping, adding vignettes, split toning and even applying creative dodging and burn effects.

Lightroom also covers nearly every step of the post production process allowing one to import images, sort through selects, add keyword tags, organize collections, perform RAW processing, create slideshows, print photos, create web galleries, and even share directly to Facebook & Flickr! Adobe managed to pack a ton of practical features into one program.

Lightroom has presets, which are somewhat akin to similar features in Photoshop. The key difference is that instead of saving a sequence of steps for how an image should be processed (like actions in Photoshop), Lightroom presets record how all the adjustment sliders are configured.

Whether you’re working with RAW files or JPEGS, Lightroom does not edit the original files. When you make adjustments to an image what you’re actually doing is creating a set of instructions for how Lightroom should save a copy of the file. These instructions are stored in the Lightroom catalogue file. Because these instructions are in a catalogue, they can be easily copied and added to large number of files. Thus you can process large number of files based on the settings created by a single file at one go.

You also do not have to worry about accidentally saving over the original image file, which makes it easy to experiment without fear!

Lightroom is a program with a more wide-ranging focus (making adjustments to the whole image) as opposed to the pixel level control found in Photoshop. Because of this, Lightroom is more straightforward and easier to learn. The interface is also designed to help you work through images in a logical manner.

And finally, Lightroom is also more affordable than Photoshop.

On the downside, while simple retouching is possible in Lightroom, it’s really not the program to use if you need to do moderate to extensive retouching. It just doesn’t offer the fine-tuned control Photoshop does.

For that you’re going to need to head to Photoshop, where the clone stamp and spot healing brush will allow you to perform retouching much faster and better than you possibly could in Lightroom.

If you need to combine photographs, ‘stitch’ them together, or do any sort of heavy image manipulation, you would require Photoshop’s services.

While Lightroom works well for making more wide ranging adjustments to your images, pixel level editing necessitates the use of Photoshop.

Overall, Lightroom is a program designed primarily for photographers to edit their images. Photoshop, on the other hand, can be used to edit a wide variety of graphics, not just digital imagery.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2014
Adobe Photoshop CC 2014

Photoshop is a pixel based image editor. (Pixels are the tiny dots that make up a photograph). When using Photoshop to edit your photos, you have ultimate control-right down to the individual pixels.

Photoshop excels at retouching. If you need to remove blemishes, get rid of stray hairs, reduce bags under eyes, whiten teeth, remove certain objects or make any other changes to specific parts of an image, Photoshop is most likely the fastest way to do it.

It has powerful tools like the clone stamp, the spot healing brush, and the patch tool that make for speedy and powerful retouching.

Photoshop works on the principal of layers. You can create layers of different adjustments and control their opacity (the intensity of a particular layer). This allows for supremely precise control of the look of your image.

The ‘Actions’ option also let you to record a sequence of steps in Photoshop so that all you need to do is press a button and they’ll automatically be carried out, the next time you choose to.

Since Photoshop is a pixel based image editor, it enables one to select specific pixels (like the eyes from one photo), and paste those pixels into another photo means Photoshop can be used in a wide variety of ways to combine and manipulate images.

Photoshop can also blend multiple images together in order to produce a single photo with highlight and shadow detail that cannot normally be achieved. This is known as high dynamic range or HDR, and is an increasingly popular technique. Photoshop has some pretty complex algorithms to handle tricky stuff like this.

With Photoshop you can stitch together multiple images to create one large panorama. This is a particularly awesome feature for landscape photography!

On the negative aspect, Photoshop is Expensive. It is also destructive on your images. If you’re not careful it’s easy to accidentally save over your original file, making it impossible for you to return to the original, untouched image file.

Because Photoshop offers you so much detailed control, learning how and when to use each feature can be pretty overwhelming.

Photoshop is designed to work with individual images. It’s not designed to work with a large group of photos like Lightroom. You won’t find it much fun to open hundreds of photos simultaneously in Photoshop! Instead, you’ll generally find yourself opening up each photo individually, which can take up quite a bit of your time. Also, because Photoshop’s main purpose is being a pixel based editor, you need to use other programs like Adobe Bridge to view, sort and organize your images.

Finally if you’re shooting in RAW format (which you should be!) then you’ll need to either process your images in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) or Lightroom before bringing them into Photoshop, as Photoshop natively cannot open Raw files on its own.

GIMP 2.8
GIMP 2.8

For photographers who can’t afford Photoshop, there is an equally efficient image editor which is absolutely free called GIMP. GIMP is a pixel based image editor just like Photoshop. It has same set of features as Photoshop. GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It has many capabilities and can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily rendered.

Most wedding and portrait photographers will find themselves able to edit 90-95% of images using Lightroom. Lightroom helps you speed up your workflow, especially when working with RAW files. However, when it comes to retouching or advanced image manipulation, Photoshop is definitely the winner.

In conclusion, Photoshop and Lightroom are two very different programs that both offer immense value to photographers. It would be a mistake to say that you should only be using one program or the other! My personal workflow now involves 95% of use of Lightroom and going to Photoshop only for 5% of local correction which is impossible in Lightroom.

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