What’s The Difference Between Photoshop and Lightroom?

Gerard Murphy - December 12, 2012 | DAM, Digital Asset Management, Lightroom, Photography Gear, Photography Tips, RAW Photos

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!

  • David Sinai

    Good article!! Well written and and quite accurate!

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  • 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 :)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Terri

    Very helpful thank you so much!

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  • 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.