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Posted by Gerard Murphy – December 12, 2012 browse all

What’s The Difference Between Photoshop and Lightroom?

Lightroom and Photoshop sound like they are two competing programs made by the same company (Adobe). While there is some overlap, there are core differences. Which program you choose to use depends on what you are looking to do. OR you can also use Lightroom and Photoshop together. Many photographers use both Photoshop and Lightroom.

Everyone knows what Photoshop is; the name is interchangeable with any type of photo editing and graphic design. Your mom and dad probably even use the term “Photoshopped.” The uses for Photoshop range from graphic designers and photographers, to animators and architects. Photoshop has the power to make the unreal look real. I can guarantee you see at least 10 “Photoshoped” images every day.

It is not a knock on Photoshop when I say it’s not a complete photography workflow tool. Lightroom is a pretty complete photo management tool. (For Adobe Bridge users, think of Lightroom as an advanced version of Bridge with the photo editing capabilities of Adobe Camera RAW and more.)

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a digital asset management (DAM) and photo editing tool in one. It is iPhoto on steroids. Lightroom helps organize your thousands, or even tens of thousands of photos, in a neat and clean interface. Organizing and editing hundreds of images becomes a hassle with Photoshop, but with Lightroom the process becomes infinitely more streamlined. The power of Lightroom lies in how it works: it’s all about metadata and database management.

Lightroom gives you the ability to tag, rate, and write information about all of you images, and keeps it all in a “catalog.” The catalog is Lightroom’s secret weapon; it’s a database containing all of the information you’ve provided. This makes it very, very easy to search and sort through thousands of images. With Lightroom you don’t have to look in Internet Explorer or Finder to find your photos in your computer folders. You basically forget they are actually stored there. Lightroom becomes like iTunes is to your music, you stop thinking about computer folders.

Lightroom also has very good image editing capabilities. Lightroom uses the same RAW image processor (Adobe Camera RAW) as Photoshop. Your RAW images will look the same in Photoshop as Lightroom. For many photographers, they will find they don’t need Photoshop. (Or they can just use the less expensive Photoshop Elements.) You have easy to use tools to change the white balance, crop and straighten, exposure, and more. Basically, for 90% of images, Lightroom has plenty of horse power to make your images pop. In many cases you can do more with shadows and brushes in Lightroom than you can do easily in Photoshop.

If you need to do some heavier editing, it’s easy to access the same image in Photoshop, do some editing, and keep the images in Lightroom. (Just press Command++E/Ctrl + E) You are essentially working in both programs at once, as it’s a form of two way communication between them. The best part is, Lightroom is a non-destructive editor, which means any changes you make in Lightroom don’t affect your original image. Your hard drive thanks you!

You have finer grain controls in Photoshop for image manipulation. You aren’t going to remove power lines from image, selectively remove portions of the image, or create masks or layers in Lightroom. If this is your type of digital art, you will need Photoshop.

If you take portraits, landscape photography, shoot weddings, or just take pictures of your kids, adding Lightroom to your regular workflow will help not only with managing and organizing your photos, but by also cutting down on editing time by doing 90% of basic editing within Lightroom. You can also launch slideshows and easily integrate your photos with services like Flickr, 500px and Facebook.

At the end of the day it’s up to you, as a photographer, to decide what workflow will work best for you. Lightroom is a much less of an investment offers a free trial. So give it a try. Using Lightroom, Photoshop or both can help you organize your images and make them pop.

What does your workflow look like? Let us know in the comments below!

Gerard Murphy

Gerard Murphy is an entrepreneurial do-er who is the CEO / Co-Founder of Mosaic. He is also a decent guy who loves his family, taking photos and startup culture. Loves promoting Mosaic to the world. Gerard has written several articles on entrepreneurship, marketing and photography that have appeared in publications including Forbes, LinkedIn and Photofocus.

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  • David Sinai

    Good article!! Well written and and quite accurate!

  • Pingback: Image Editing | 3 Bluejays

  • Tom netty

    I was interested to try out Lightroom and hence reach to this article, but when you mentioned it’s like iTunes to your music…hmm it’s kinda freak me out, I have try to not have anything to do with iTunes as much as that I can possible avoid in my life.

    • Jim

      I think that he means that it consolidates your view of your images the same way that iTunes consolidates your view of your music.

      • MosaicArchive

        Thanks Jim. Yes, I meant more that Lightroom is a way to look at your photo files in many different ways.

        What’s wrong with iTunes :)

        • Ryan

          It’s a horribly bloated interface that doesn’t provide much service to the user than can’t be better managed by other programs and assets. It reformats devices before even asked, and provides more data protection for Apple than the user. It saps computer resources horrendously. It’s designed to work in a lower performance on competing operating systems and, sometimes, even sap ADDITIONAL resources from the machine under these circumstances. It’s not the OS’s fault, either. I use Linux, Apple, and Windows.

          There have been numerous device connection issues. There have been numerous program integration issues.

          I’m not sure why this question was even asked in retort to the comment. I’m not sure how advanced of a user Tom Netty is, but his fears are well placed.

          “Besides, paying for music is SO 90s”

          • MosaicArchive

            Hi Ryan,

            I am assuming your comments are about iTunes and not Lightroom correct?

            I meant iTunes as a metaphor not as a apples-to-apples comparison.

            Just for the record, I love (and subscribe to) Spotify but also support artists that want to sell their works for an honest living (Photographers and Musicians.)

            Best, Gerard

          • sachin

            how to color correct multiple wedding photos in color tone

  • Cat

    Do you have to shoot in RAW to use this program? I haven’t yet.

    • MosaicArchive

      Nope! You can certainly shoot in JPG. Lightroom also supports Tiff, PSD and with Lightroom 5, PNGs.

    • JV

      But you should always be shooting in RAW anyway!

  • Joe Beninati

    Great article, really helped me decide if it was worth it to shell out the bucks for Photoshop or stick with Lightroom

  • Must

    if i want to make my eyes big and make myself slim, is this possible in Lightroom?

    • MosaicArchive

      Only with diet and plastic surgery.

      • Must

        i mean in Adobe Lightroom?

        • MosaicArchive

          Not like in Photoship no. You can use brushes to highlight and sharpen areas in Lightroom but this is not the same as in Photoshop.

    • Imraan

      In Photoshop that is done using liquify but i am not sure whether this is available in Lightroom.

  • Terri

    Very helpful thank you so much!

  • معاذ عبده محمدعبده السيدرجب


  • Vaibhav

    Finally clarified my doubts. Your one line “For Adobe Bridge users, think of Lightroom as an advanced version of Bridge with the photo editing capabilities of Adobe Camera RAW and more” is enough for us to understand. Thank you for such a great post.

  • starter

    Very helpful and a lot to think about now. Thank,s. One question, is there the liquify facility to say slim an arm etc in lightroom.

    • MosaicArchive

      No. This is an area where you would need Photoshop. You can use the spot healing brush in Lightroom to do some finer edits like removing wrinkles, blemishes, unsightly shirt creases, etc – however for pure sliming PS is a better option.

  • Sandra freestone

    As I’m new to lightroom and photoshop and still have no idea how it all works this article has given me good insight to the program’s any advice anyone can give will be appreciated to help me have a clearer understanding

    • MosaicArchive

      Thanks Sandra. Which program would you like to know more about? I am happy to try to point you in the right direction. Thanks for reading!

  • KUP

    i’m a professional photographer. I edit photos quite a bit. I’m not sure which one i should go for. I mean, i don’t distort images or do any heavy duty graphic editing, but i do edit quite a bit of a picture. I like to change exposures, make things brighter while balancing out colors, and covering up blemishes or the occasional fat roll. Which should i go for? Thanks!

    • MosaicArchive

      It sounds like a you are a perfect candidate for Lightroom! If you change exposure, change white balance, fix minor blemishes, then Lightroom is for you! It should help your workflow dramatically. What solution did you use before?

  • Lindsey Farr

    A wonderful article! I have a food blog and I’ve been using Lightroom 5 for almost a year now, but I have found certain aspects frustrating. I have been trying to figure out how other bloggers add text to their photos – does Photoshop have that capability? I also haven’t been able to remove blemishes (smudges on plates, drops on tablecloths, etc) satisfactory in LR…it sounds like this isn’t really a capability based on your article and the comments below. True? If I wanted to primarily use LR but then just use a cheaper version of Photoshop like you suggest, do you think that would be a good fit for me?

    • MosaicArchive

      Hi Lindsey,

      Thank you for the feedback!

      You can certainly add text to your photos using Photoshop, but if this is all that you would want to do, Photoshop is a bit overkill. You can use Photoshop Express to do this but again it still might be a bit overkill. There are lots of smaller “meme” apps that can do this functionality alone but you can also check out solutions like Gimp for photos which is an open source version of Photoshop.

      Lightroom has a come great spot removal tools. I would check out this tool to remove smudges, drops etc. I find it works pretty darn well most of the time for smaller blemishes.

      You can also use the $9.99 / month deal from Adobe to get both Lightroom and Photoshop. So you can have the best of both worlds.

      Hope that helps! Best, Gerard

      • Lindsey Farr

        It absolutely does help! Thank you! I have since figured out how to remove blemishes in Lightroom. I am still struggling with whether it is worth springing for Photoshop for its additional capabilities. It sounds strange to want a software just for adding custom text but, as a food blogger, photos with the name of the dish get pinned more than twice as often!

        • MosaicArchive

          Interesting that named photos get twice as many pins! If you are just looking to add text to photos, there are lots of cheap / free alternatives to photoshop for this. GIMP is an open-source Photoshop alternative and while it is not perfect, if you just want to add text, it works great! There are also lots of apps out there to just add text. Hope that helps!

          • Lindsey Farr

            Based on your previous comments I realized that Photoshop was kind of overkill. I don’t need to make my food any thinner or anything, so I think Lightroom is sufficient. I just need to learn more about it’s capabilities! I did download the Pixelmater app onto my Mac and I have used it several times for superimposing text. It’s actually perfect for what I need!

  • MassDeb8s

    Is there anything that Lightroom specifically has that Photoshop doesn’t? I’ve always used photoshop, but never touched lightroom, and have yet to explore that ctrl+e/cmd+e option you’ve described. I can’t wait to try it when I get home today.

    • MosaicArchive

      Hello! For Lightroom is not about any one feature that it has that Photoshop doesn’t, it is more about the ability to work quickly thought multiple images. For instance, you can load a whole shoot into Lightroom, scan for the good ones (not touching bridge or camera raw..) find a couple that you like, make some quick adjustments to exposure, sharpening, blemishes, and crops, all before finishing a couple of coffee.

      Photoshop is wonderful work working on one image for a long time. Lightroom is a workflow tool to do 95% of the work you normally do in Photoshop in a fraction of the time.

      Hope that helps!

  • Robin

    NO East No West Photoshop is best

  • Sarah D

    So helpful! Thank you for this write-up! Exactly what I needed and perfectly succinct.

  • Dorette

    Thanks for this, helped clear a few questions for me. I am an absolute beginner in photography and haven’t touched on any editing apart from cropping and resizing basically. We will be taking a sabbatical next year and travel in South Eastern Africa for the year with our 6 and 9 years old children. I think we will also be making a lot of videos, what do you suggest we use to edit those? I am thinking Lightroom for photo editing and management.

    • MosaicArchive

      Hi Dorette, Great question. I am jealous of the sabbatical! Sounds amazing.

      You can manage videos in Lightroom just as you do photos. So for short videos like from your DSLR or iPhone that are more clips than Videos, I put them all in Lightroom. This was I have all my photos and videos in the same place. I haven’t found the perfect video management solution.

      If you want to compile clips together into a movie, then iMovie is great for beginners. While I haven’t used it I have heard good things about Adobe Premiere Express. If you have the Creative Cloud then Adobe Premiere is amazing but the learning curve is hard.

      Hope that helps! Best, Gerard

  • Matt D

    Hi I am a new user to Lightroom and I have a few images where I would like to pick out a particular colour against a pale or black and white background. Can this be achieved in Lightroom??

    • MosaicArchive

      Hi Matt D,

      Yes and no. You can use the adjustment brush in Lightroom to isolate an area (like a background) of a photo. You can then add color, change the white balance etc to this area. This is not exactly like the “fill” command in Photoshop but if you want to subtly change colors this is pretty easy in Lightroom.

  • Sreeram Srinivas

    The article is crisp and informative. I (50 years old) have totally new to this both software and long intended to buy one and learn how to edit photos,…….
    1) Is it safe to say that Adobe Lightroom is “skimmed” version of Adobe Photoshop ?
    2) Is it safe to say that Lightroom has an built in organizer and search feature to make it a complete tool to an amateur
    3) Is it safe to say that Lightroom is good to start with and later move to photoshop provided one intends to go for specialization !!

    • MosaicArchive

      HI Sreeram,

      I am glad you liked the article! Let me answer some of the questions.

      1) Is it safe to say that Adobe Lightroom is “skimmed” version of Adobe Photoshop ?

      No! If you want a skimmed version of Photoshop you can get this in Photoshop Elements. Lightroom has some similar elements to Photoshop but is a different user paradigm. It is a photo organizer and raw processor in one. It is also a non-destructive editor where you don’t have to worry about pressing “save as” all of the time.

      2) Is it safe to say that Lightroom has an built in organizer and search feature to make it a complete tool to an amateur

      I would say this. As an amateur I would say you would need very little else.

      3) Is it safe to say that Lightroom is good to start with and later move to photoshop provided one intends to go for specialization !!

      I would say this is true, but I would never leave Lightroom for Photoshop. The two play nicely together. They are more complimentary than competitive. You can use the photo management features of Lightroom and then add effects or “finish the photos off” in Photoshop. You can then bring the photo back into Lightroom in a single click. I do know many users who never feel like they need Photoshop but this really depends on the type of photos you take.

      Hope that helps and enjoy!

  • Ran May

    Lightroom is an image-management application, that can also perform non-destructive edits to your photos. That is to say it manages the importing, keyword/meta-ing, basic (non-destructive) manipulation and exporting of images. I know you can do this sort of thing in Photoshop, but Lightroom is designed to make this as easy as possible, and to guide you through your workflow. It’s also very important to note that Lightroom manipulations are non-destructive. Your entire workflow works on the RAW files, with the changes you want to make to your images being stored as you go. Only when you want to export your images are your changes used when a JPEG/PNG/TIFF/Whatever image file is produced from the RAW file.

    Photoshop can still be used to carry out the heavier image manipulations (removing items, HDR, Stitch Panoramas, amongst others;

    For my use, Lightroom is plenty enough and I don’t find myself particularly limited, but then I don’t want to do HDR or panoramas at present. I do have Photoshop CS6 extended, but I can’t say I’m particularly well-versed in its use,

    By the way , I bought my photoshop cs6 extended from student-photoshop c om ,it is cheap and worth

  • Lauri Dailey

    Excellent article. I am currently an Aperature user, and am bummed about Apple’s decision to stop support on that system. For my photography business, I am most concerned about the navigation from Aperature to Lightroom for storing my hundreds of client folders. I’m sure Lightroom is several steps above Aperature. Does anyone have information about the migration process from A to Lightroom?

  • Penelope

    I started using Photoshop in 2003 (what version could that have been?) when i got my new computer mac os 10.7.5 in 2012 I could not transfer my old version of photoshop to it, so i invested in photoshop elements, which has somethings that i like but i miss the precision of the old photoshopping i was able to do 10 years ago. I can’t seem to find out a way to get the real photoshop except by spending huge $$$ in one big payment or paying a monthly fee, which also adds up. I don’t use it all that much, sometimes months go by that i don’t need it. Sometimes I will spend several weeks working on it almost every day. Any advice??? Many thanks! And
    thanks, BTW for your very informative article!

  • Micheal Bruce

    Very informative article thank you… One question though would you recommend Lightroom as a digital asset management system for newspaper photography department ?

  • John Herbert

    I honestly don’t have the time nor care about your life story. so please tell me what’s better, photoshop or lightroom?

  • Kerry

    Hi Gerard
    Can you put boarder or frames etc around pictures in Lightroom – I like putting my photo’s on Facebook etc with a 1/2 centermetre boarder – finishes the photo
    Like your article as well – thanks

  • Grace

    I don’t have a lot of space on my hard drive but have an external hard drive. Can I download Lightroom but have the images organized and edited on the external hard drive to save space or is this not possible?

  • Prabhjot

    Does Lightroom take up additional memory to manage photos than already used by my photo folder?