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Lightroom vs Photoshop: Which is best?

Lightroom vs Photoshop logos
(Image credit: Adobe)

This post looks at the differences between Adobe Lightroom vs Photoshop, as well as the similarities. It isn't a case of one being 'better' than the other, simply that one will be better suited to you and your particular needs. But how do you decide? 

The industry has long been dominated by Adobe's editing software, and not without good reason. Adobe creates brilliant, feature-packed software that gets the job done with minimal fuss. If you're starting out in image editing, it's crucial to understand which software to use and when. And knowing the differences between Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop is a helpful first step for aspiring image editors.

Both Lightroom and Photoshop may both be image editing tools, but they're a long way from being the same thing. Lightroom is a lightweight, cloud-based, simple tool, which you may find easier to get the hang of. Photoshop, though, is heavy-duty photo editing software (it also has an iPad app) that professional photographers use as part of their workflow. 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, explore our list of the best Adobe Creative Cloud discounts at the moment and see the deals we've found below.

What is Lightroom?

Full name Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, this software was introduced in 2006 as part of the creative suite of tools from Adobe. Though it has Photoshop in its name, Lightroom is nowhere near as powerful an editing tool and is mainly focused around workflow. Where Photoshop can only open one image at a time, Lightroom includes databases of photos, making navigation between photos in a set much easier. Lightroom also automatically stores a lot more descriptive data from your camera, helping simplify the process of bulk image editing. 

What is Photoshop?

Initially a simple image editor, Photoshop is now the most powerful and recognised editing software in the world, which now has a companion iPad app. Not just for photographers, this mammoth tool is used by creatives in multiple media, including 3D design, animation and graphic design. Photoshop is a pixel-level editor, meaning users have much more control over the overall look of their images, but the process is much longer as each image needs to be precisely edited individually. The size of the software also makes for a steep learning curve that can be daunting to the uninitiated.

Advantages of Lightroom

Lightroom vs Photoshop: Lightroom

(Image credit: Adobe)

While both tools have extensive uses for photographers, identifying each one’s strengths and weaknesses is useful for those hesitant to commit to Adobe’s creative suite. Advantages of Lightroom include:

Easier to learn
Lightroom has a much more basic interface in comparison to Photoshop, meaning users who already have experience with editing software may be able to get to grips with Lightroom much quicker.

Options for automation
Lightroom users are able to apply preset edits across a range of photos all at the same time. These presets, available through Adobe or third-party creators can save editors huge amounts of time if the same edits need to be made to a whole collection.

RAW editor
Photographers who take their pictures in the recommended RAW format can upload their collections straight to Lightroom and begin editing, something which isn’t possible when using Photoshop alone.

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. Lightroom also automatically gathers metadata on each image, including aperture, camera make and model, date and time and resolution, helping you single out each image with much better precision. 

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

Lightroom vs Photoshop

(Image credit: Adobe)

As the leading editing software, most photographers will need to get to grips with Photoshop at some point. Its abilities go far beyond the limitations of Lightroom in terms of editing. Advantages of Photoshop include:

iPad app

Photoshop has a companion iPad app – Photoshop for iPad. This is by no means a standalone tool but it does complement the software nicely, meaning you can perform many basic functions using your tablet. Adobe is adding more features all the time, so it will only become more powerful.

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.

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.

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.

Feature-boosting plugins
Plugins and actions are automated operations which are created by Adobe or other professional editors and allow for more general edits to be made with ease in Photoshop. 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 taste of what's on offer.

Layer editing
Layer editing allows for layers of edits to affect different parts of the image, giving the editor much more control of the overall look of the image. 

Removing objects
Whether it’s entire buildings or simple skin blemishes, Photoshop’s healing tools are unparalleled. While some professional photographers may be able to use Lightroom’s more simplistic tools to do some retouching, Photoshop can be used to create clean, detailed edits. 

Learning to use Photoshop and Lightroom

Lightroom is a simpler editing tool than Photoshop, which beginners may find easier to dive straight into. However, each tool has a huge range of specialist operations, shortcuts and actions which can require training.

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

Using them together
Although both tools are used for image editing, ultimately, they complement each other well. Where Lightroom focuses on workflow, Photoshop allows editors to make beautiful edits to each individual picture. Using both tools together means that photographers can reap the benefits of each without having to compromise.

Lightroom vs Photoshop: Pricing

It’s clear that both tools are intended to be used together, as Adobe offers both as part of its subscription service Photography plan. The full Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop standalone apps are also only available through monthly subscription, so purchasing both means you'll be saving a fair amount per month.

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, 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 lesser version of the main tool that still has a lot of capabilities and can still be purchased with a one-off payment (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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