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Lightroom vs Photoshop: which is best?

Lightroom vs Photoshop logos
(Image credit: Future/Adobe)

Welcome to our comparison guide, which pitches Lightroom vs Photoshop, Adobe's two main image editing applications for photographers and image editors. Both pieces of software have changed over the last few years, but both remain industry standard and have a vast array of features perfect for editing and processing.

But how are they different? Well, Lightroom iknown for its non-destructive editing and sophisticated batch processing features, useful mainly for photographers and image editors, whereas Photoshop favours layers based editing and is useful for photographers, image editors, graphic designers, illustrators, animators and many more creative types.

There are two versions of Lightroom, by the way: Lightroom and Lightroom Classic. Lightroom is designed for more casual users, its user interface is simpler and cleaner, making it easier to operate across desktop and portable touchscreen devices, available on desktop, iPad, and iOS or Android. It's linked to the cloud in an integral way, meaning any edits are synchronised across devices immediately. Lightroom Classic is favoured by professionals who need more editing tools and a more complex organisational element. It primarily uses local storage, but can synchronise collections and photos with the cloud if needed.

Of course, there are alternatives to both, which you'll find in our list of the best photo apps and photo-editing software. Sure what you want? See how to download Photoshop here.

To help make a decision on which software is right and where to start, we'll now look at Photoshop vs Lightroom. Don't have either programme yet? Get a free trial of Creative Cloud (opens in new tab), explore our list of the best Adobe Creative Cloud discounts at the moment and see today's best deals below.

Lightroom vs Photoshop

What is Lightroom?

Introduced by Adobe way back in 2006 as part of the creative suite the latest iteration makes a perfect non-destructive image editor, with a focus on image organisation, batch-processing, and intelligent editing tools. 

Several modules within the software help categorise different elements of use. The Library module takes care of arranging, organising and filtering images based on collections, keywords and much more, whereas the Develop module is responsible for hosting a suite of editing tools to adjust exposure, colour, tones, details, and lens corrections among others. There are other less-used modules as well to help geotagging, creating mixed media outputs such as slideshows or contact sheets, as well as preparing images for print or web use.

Download a 7-day free trial of Lightoom for PC or Mac (opens in new tab)
Try the latest release of Lightroom for free with a seven-day trial from Adobe. If you like it you can convert to a paid subscription during the trial, or after it’s expired. There’s no obligation to buy the software, but if you don't want to keep paying, the onus is on you to cancel before the end of the trial.

What is Photoshop?

Initially a simple image editor, Photoshop is now one of the most powerful and industry recognised image editing softwares in the world. Available on both Windows and Mac machines, it also has an iPad version for those on-the-go. Not just for photographers, this mammoth editor is used by creatives in a variety of disciplines, including 3D design, animation and graphic design. 

Photoshop is a pixel-level editor, meaning users have finer control over the look of their pictures. However, recent updates include the ability to convert raster to vector as well - useful for illustrators. Due to its age there's a huge set of features that can far-extend even professional users' knowledge, so it may seem daunting on first use. But the staggering level of tutorials and walkthrough coverage online helps the uninitiated dive in quickly.

Download a free Photoshop trial for PC, Mac or iPad now (opens in new tab)
You can try the latest release of Photoshop for free, plus get access to all the latest features and updates, with this seven-day trial. You don't have to buy the software once you're done, but if you like it you can convert to a paid Creative Cloud membership either during the trial or after it’s expired.

Advantages of Lightroom

Screenshot of Lightroom Classic

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

While both tools have extensive uses for photographers, each software has definitive advantages over the other, depending on what users need from their image editor. Advantages of Lightroom include:

Easier to learn
Lightroom's interface is less complex than Photoshop, which makes it easier to pick up for newcomers or those with editing experience in other softwares. Lightroom (rather than Lightroom Classic) is also easier to operate on touchscreen devices such as iPads and smartphones.

Options for automation
Lightroom users are able to synchronise edits across a range of images simultaneously, saving time and effort. Not only will it synchronise the edits made to photos, but specific metadata such as keywords, ratings, or labels are also easily applied across a range of images.

Enhanced Masking
Selective editing tools such as the adjustment brush and radial filters now utilise colour and luminance ranges for more refined masking. Machine-learning now powers Lightroom for automatic subject or sky selection with the press of a single button. There's also greater compatibility with new cameras and lenses.

RAW editor
Photographers who take their pictures in the recommended RAW format can upload their collections straight to Lightroom and begin working in the same layout as one would find when editing lossy files such as JPEGs or PNGs. Photoshop however, requires Adobe Camera Raw for this kind of processing, at least initially.

Tidy interface
With the opportunity to create databases of your photos and highlight, star or flag particular images, organising your workflow with Lightroom is much simpler than in Photoshop or Adobe Bridge. It's also much easier to search for images in Lightroom as it automatically gathers metadata on each image, so you can find photographs with very specific filters, such as aperture, camera make and model, date, time and resolution.

Editing capabilities
Lightroom still has strong editing capabilities which may actually be enough for some photographers to create their desired effects. Contrast, exposure, clarity, saturation and warmth can all be edited directly in Lightroom.

Lightroom creates a new file every time you edit a picture, meaning originals are never lost. The editor also keeps a record of all changes so any alterations can be reversed with ease.

Advantages of Photoshop

Screenshot of image composite in Photoshop

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

As the leading editing software, most photographers and digital content creators will need to get to grips with Photoshop at some point. Its abilities go far beyond simple image editing, capable of creating multi-layered composites, animations and more. Advantages of Photoshop include:

iPad app
Photoshop's latest iPad version is the same as the desktop iteration. Photoshop documents have the same level of detail and complexity meaning users can edit files with the same sophistication whether at home or on location.

Editing perfection
There’s a reason Photoshop is the most-used software in the world. As a pixel-level editor, the photographer has control over every minute detail of each image for stunning pictures every time.

Neural Filters
Photoshop uses Artificial Intelligence in the form of Neural Filters in order to complete more complex processing via machine-learning. Users can now apply style presets, colourise black and white photographs, zoom in to photos without losing detail and much more without lifting a finger.

Operation variety
As a multimedia tool, there is a much wider variety of tools available than in Lightroom. This means that photographers can get more adventurous and use the tools in an innovative way to create their artwork. Illustrators can take advantage of the plethora of mixed media brushes and graphic designers can utilise layout options and templates.

Compositing, or replacing selected parts of an image with similar sections of other images, is one of Photoshop’s greatest features. This tool means that perfect images don’t have to be compromised by smaller details which can easily be replaced, cloned, healed or moved.

Feature-boosting plugins
Plugins and actions can be used to autonomously apply effects and edits to speed up workflow. They're available from both Adobe and via third party users or companies. Editors can also create their own actions so that long processes used repeatedly take much less time. Take a look at our roundups of the best Photoshop plugins and free Photoshop actions for a flavour of what's on offer.

Layer editing
The key to Photoshop is in its layer editing. Unlike Lightroom, Photoshop allows layers of edits that interact and affect different parts of the image, giving users much more control over the look of the image. 

Removing objects
Whether it’s entire buildings or simple skin blemishes, Photoshop’s healing tools are extremely powerful. While some pro photographers may be able to rely on Lightroom’s smaller toolset to do some editing, Photoshop can be used by professional retouchers to create clean, detailed edits. 

Learning to use Photoshop and Lightroom

Lightroom has a much more streamlined interface than Photoshop, which beginners may find easier to dive straight into. However, each software has a huge range of specialist features, shortcuts, plugins and actions which can require training for the most sophisticated use.

Aspiring professional photographers may want to consider training on both softwares before entering the industry, or finding a full photography course that covers Lightroom and Photoshop.

Using them together
Although both tools are used for specific image editing styles, ultimately, they complement each other well. Where Lightroom focuses on workflow, Photoshop allows editors to make complicated composites and has a more refined retouching suite. Using both tools together means that photographers can reap the benefits of each without having to compromise. If you want an in-depth review of each editing software to help make your mind up, check out our reviews of both Photoshop 2022 and Lightroom 2022.

Lightroom vs Photoshop: Pricing

Adobe offers both Lightroom and Photoshop as part of its subscription service Photography plan (opens in new tab) bundle, as most users will want to own both in order to get the most out of their image editing. The full Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop standalone apps are also only available individually, but at a slightly higher cost. There's no outright purchase for either software though, as they're available as monthly (or annual) subscription plans only.

For those who enjoy creating on the move, Adobe has put together a brand-new bundle, which saves you 50 per cent on the price of its four design apps. Fittingly called the Design Mobile Bundle (opens in new tab), it includes Photoshop and Illustrator for iPad, Fresco for iPad and iPhone, as well as Adobe Spark and the Creative Cloud app.

Still hesitant? Photoshop Elements is a much more approachable version of Photoshop that still has a lot of capabilities. It has guided options for newcomers and can still be purchased with a one-off payment, rather than a subscription (read our Photoshop Elements 2019 review). Though each tool has its own advantages, using them together means professional photographers can reap the benefits of both without having to compromise.

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Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer, educator and writer. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients. For Creative Bloq, he writes about cameras, photography and video and photo editing.