Photoshop vs Lightroom: What’s the difference? This is a question I get asked a lot, so in this post, I’m going to demystify the differences between each program and when you should one or the other. I’ll also help you figure out if Lightroom is better for you or if Photoshop is better for you… OR, if a blend of both is what you need (spoiler alert: it’s probably this option!).
I think it’s safe to say that Photoshop is definitely the most mainstream tool of the two. Think about it, it’s even become its own verb! That bird was totally photoshopped-in. Did you Photoshop that? I can just shop that out later… I can’t count on two hands how many times I’ve been asked: “Can you shop that out?”. However, it’s funny because, in the photographer’s world, Lightroom is probably the most commonly used program.
There are many similarities and overlapping features between each program and even though they can both do many of the same tasks, there are still some very big differences and they each have their own purpose. So the real magic happens when you understand each program’s strength and then use them together as they work perfectly along each other with the Adobe Creative Suite.
Let’s get started then!
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Photoshop is a complete photo editing and photo manipulation software that is used by photographers, but also by graphic designers. Photoshop can be used to simply post-process a photo, but you could also use it to create graphics and art from scratch.
Lightroom, however, is strictly for photographers and photo post-processing. It’s designed as an all-in-one to organize, sort and edit your photos in a seamless way.
Photoshop will allow you to open up one photo at a time and edit each photo individually (unless of course you have many tabs open, but your photos are still open as individual files). When you open a photo up in Photoshop, you’re actually creating a new PSD (Photoshop) file that will host your original photo, with its edits, inside it.
In Lightroom, you can add and view as many pictures as your little heart desires (grrrreat for weddings)! Also, when you import photos into Lightroom, you’re not creating new files. Lightroom will create a Catalog, but it still keeps your photos saved in their original location on your hard drive.
You can create Collections of photos and view them one after the other and even use Lightroom to cull (sort through) all your images. This is one of the main reasons why I prefer Lightroom over Photoshop. Lightroom really speeds up my workflow because I can work through quite a lot of photos in a short period of time.
You could theoretically cull your photos with Photoshop, but you’d have to open up each file one by one and that would take forever and be highly inefficient.
If you’re shooting with a professional DSLR, you’re probably saving your photos in RAW format. Both Lightroom and Photoshop can edit and open RAW files, but Lightroom is better designed for it.
Photoshop needs to use a plugin called Camera RAW to open RAW files. This plugin will open up as a separate window before you can continue editing your photo in Photoshop. I find this a little cumbersome, and therefore prefer the seamless editing in Lightroom, no matter if you’re editing JPEG or RAW.
PRESETS + ACTIONS
A Photoshop Action is the equivalent to a Preset in Lightroom.
A Lightroom Preset is a predetermined position of all (or some) of the of sliders in Lightroom. In other words, you can edit a photo, and then save that exact combination of slider positions for future use on other images.
Photoshop Actions, on the other hand, work in a similar way, but instead of being saved slider positions, they are a saved series of steps. This sequence of steps can then be reapplied to any photo in the future.
Both Actions and Presets are there to save you time when editing multiple images in order to achieve similar results.
Another great feature that Lightroom has and that Photoshop lacks is the ability to add metadata to a photo.
In Lightroom, you are able to add metadata to your images like keywords and tags or even change the current metadata like the time stamp or date.
This is where Photoshop really takes the cake. You can do minor photo manipulation in Lightroom, like remove simple blemishes, but nothing compared to what Photoshop can do.
Photoshop is a beast in this area! You can create, change and modify anything you want with Photoshop, from changing someone’s hair colour to adding a dinosaur in wedding party photos!
The other main difference in Photoshop is the ability to add multiple layers. I won’t get into too much detail about layers, as that a lesson for a whole other blog post, but layers allow you to drastically manipulate the images, unlike anything you could achieve in Lightroom.
For example, I sometimes have to layer two or even three images together when editing family portraits from a wedding. If we were rushed for family portraits and I, unfortunately, didn’t capture a photo where everyone had their eye open or was smiling, I can save that by layering photos and swapping out all the frowning faces for smiling ones!
CONCLUSION: USE BOTH IN YOUR WORKFLOW
Now that we’ve gone over all the main differences and uses for each program, I think it’s important to note that I don’t recommend using just one or the other. Both Lightroom and Photoshop have their merits and both will come in handy at different stages in your workflow.
Lightroom is great for sorting, culling and post-processing your photographs and for most people, this is plenty! Honestly, I rarely need to open any photos up in Photoshop myself. I’ll need the extra tools in Photoshop for larger adjustments once in a while, but usually, the spot removal tool in Lightroom does the trick for my needs!
The way I see it – Lightroom is great for the early stages of post-processing. You would start in Lightroom and then when you get to the point where Lightroom isn’t enough, then you can jump into Photoshop.
But just remember, there isn’t a right or wrong way to edit your photo! It’s your art, so play around with each program and decide which one you prefer for YOUR specific needs!