lightroom or photoshop: the pros and cons

by Caroline Jensen

lightroom or photoshop: the pros and cons photo

Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are the gold standard programs in photo editing and they are great for image management too. I often get asked which program I like better and sometimes it is like comparing apples to oranges. They do have some overlap though, so I want to take you through a few of the pros and cons so you can find the primary program for you.  I say primary, because both programs are great to have, but you may be able to manage with one or the other depending on your needs.

Lightroom is my most-used program. It can’t be beat for a RAW file workflow. It works with JPEG too, but you can maximize your image potential if you use this program with RAW files.  Here are a few reasons why Lightroom takes center stage for me in my own editing efforts:

Pros:

  • Built in file management/cataloging system
  • Organization with collections and galleries
  • Fast and easy photo books, slide shows, and web galleries
  • Non-destructive editing that preserves file data
  • Easy and fast syncing of editing steps
  • Snapshots and Virtual Copies are perfect for exploring editing options
  • Adjustment brush, gradient, and radial adjustments which allow you to adjust multiple effects on one mask
  • Fairly decent cloning and healing abilities for minor image manipulation
  • Presets
  • Easier to learn than Photoshop

Cons:

  • No layers or blend modes
  • Minimal graphic design elements like adding text elements or making advanced collages
  • Limited editing options

Photoshop has many of the same features as Lightroom, especially when you utilize Camera Raw, which is a RAW editor very similar to LR. I use Photoshop for very specific purposes and tend to save this program for the end of my workflow. The power of Photoshop cannot be underestimated, however. Here are my pros and cons for Photoshop!

Pros:

  • Ability to blend multiple files for head swapping, compositing, adding skies, textures, or other elements that require the use of layers
  • Blend modes, masking, and opacity adjustments
  • Unlimited editing options
  • Advanced tools for canvas expansion or image resolution changes
  • Advanced cloning that removes cumbersome elements easily
  • Multiple sharpening tools
  • Variety of ways to make complicated selections
  • Workflow steps can be saved as actions for easy repetition
  • Provides tools for advanced retouching or changing the shape of reality—warping, liquifying, etc.
  • If you want to delve into graphic design, Photoshop is your program!

Cons:

  • Clunky work flow compared to Lightroom. You must use Bridge, Camera Raw, and Photoshop to get a similar workflow to Lightroom.
  • Easier for single image edits
  • No syncing ability
  • Not as handy for photographers who prepare many images at once (wedding or portrait photographers)
  • The potential for more destructive editing
  • Less intuitive to learn
Both programs are incredibly powerful, and as stated before, there is some overlap between the programs Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and Lightroom. Photographers generally use one or the other for processing their raw images.  It may be hard to know which program will work for you right now and in the future.  Adobe has addressed that issue by making both programs available in an affordable  bundle for photographers for $9.99 a month! This bundle is perfect for both new and experienced photographers.
lightroom or photoshop: the pros and cons photoCaroline Jensen, Minnesota
CM Mentor | CMU Instructor
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Caroline Jensen, a Sony Associate Artisan of Imagery, is a photographic artist living on the prairie. Her favorite things include cozy nights in front of her natural wood fireplace, an expansive tea collection, and read alouds with her children. Photography is her expressive outlet and features emotive black and white portraiture, unique macro work, and colorful landscapes. Her gear includes her Sony a7s, vintage lenses, and her favorite Lensbaby lenses that express her photographic voice perfectly. She has been featured in the magazines: Dreamer Journal, Sony Alpha Universe, and numerous times in Click magazine, including freelance work for Adobe. Her work has been featured in a long running gallery show at Shop 88 Fine Art in Scottsdale, AZ as well as on the packaging of the Lensbaby Sweet 50 lens. She teaches three popular workshops where she encourages creativity through both traditional and mobile photography: Shooting 301: The Art of Observation, Processing 202: Communicating with Color and Light, and Shooting 107: The Art of Mobile Photography.

Read all photography tutorials by Caroline Jensen.

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3 Responses to “lightroom or photoshop: the pros and cons”

  1. Apr 25 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    This is such an excellent comparison, Caroline!

  2. Apr 26 2014 at 10:59 am #

    i loved this…thanks for really spelling out the differences. previously i was using LR and PSE, but i recently purchased the Photoshop CC/LR 5 bundle and i love it. while i use LR for probably 90% of my post-processing work, i love how seamlessly LR and PS work together.

  3. Apr 28 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    So… if you had to live with just 1… which would you choose? ;)

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