Lightroom vs. Photoshop

In Post-processing by Jim Harmer

Lightroom or photoshop? Tough decision!

What program is she using? The world may never know…

This is an outdated post.  To see the up-to-date article comparing Photoshop vs Lightroom, check this post.

Yesterday, I wrote an introduction to Lightroom Presets.  This prompted MANY readers to ask whether they should buy Photoshop or Lightroom, and whether Lightroom is useful on photos other than portraits, or if it is just a portrait photography tool.  Michael Bates wrote on the Improve Photography facebook fanpage, “I'm new to the world of photography so forgive me if this is a dumb question. Can you use lightroom for more than portrait photography? Say landscape? And what can you do with Lightroom that you can't do with Photoshop CS6?”

Photoshop or Lightroom… which one is best?

Obviously, the answer to this question is BOTH!  I don't know any professional photographers that don't own both; however, the reason you are asking this question is probably because you are wanting to buy your first editing program, so which one should you start with?

My recommendation is to buy Lightroom first.  Lightroom is easy to learn, powerful, and it will also help you organize and categorize your photos.

Although I recommend Lightroom as your first program, many photographers still choose Photoshop first.  There is no program on Earth that is more powerful for editing and manipulating photos than Photoshop; however, Photoshop was originally created to service graphic designers–not photographers.  Even today, some common edits for photographers are time-consuming and cumbersome using Photoshop.  Also, the full version of Photoshop does not have have any ability to catalog photos and keep them organized.  Photoshop Elements has limited cataloging functionality, but it still doesn't meet most photographers' needs.  It would take me several hours to go through a wedding shoot using only Photoshop.

Lightroom offers 95% of the editing functionality that photographers use most commonly in Photoshop, and it makes those tools readily available.  In addition it offers a robust and speedy cataloging feature that lets you keep track of your photos and videos with the greatest of ease.  When I shoot portrait or wildlife photography, I RARELY feel the need to round-trip (pass photos from Lightroom to Photoshop to make more extensive edits).  However, when I shoot landscape photography or HDR, I almost always round-trip into Photoshop, because I like to push pixels around more with landscape photography.  The most common edit that requires me to go from Lightroom to Photoshop on is when I need to use layers.

So the decision for choosing Lightroom or Photoshop depends largely on how much you like to digitally alter photos.  If the most in-depth edit you do to your photos could be done with presets (as mentioned in yesterday's post), or you simply do blemish removal or basic cloning, then Lightroom is the clear winner.  If you don't mind spending a lot of time trying to sort through your photos, you don't have a large library of photos, and you want to do extensive editing on your photos, then Photoshop is probably more suited to your style of photography.

What edits can you make in Lightroom 4?

The list is LOOOoong, but I can see what photographers would ask if Lightroom can be used on photos other than just portraits.  Lightroom is especially popular with portrait photographers because it helps to sort through hundreds or thousands of photos with ease.  Landscape photographers, for example, would almost never come home from a shoot with 1,000 photos from a morning shoot.

The easiest way to find out what Lightroom does is to download the free 30-day trial of the software to see if it does what you want.  But, for the sake of comprehensiveness, here is a basic rundown of SOME of the most common editing tools in Lightroom.



Faux graduated neutral density filters

Horizon correction


All basic Adobe Camera Raw adjustments (exposure, fill light, contrast, vibrance, saturation, blacks, etc.)

Lens correction

Vignette removal

Chromatic aberration removal

Spot removal

Red-eye removal

Yet again, I have to say clearly that this is only a tiny fraction of what Lightroom can do, but hopefully this list will provide you with an idea of the type of editing functions that Lightroom can perform.

If you're interested in purchasing Adobe Lightroom 3, you can check the current price on here.


About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on