Photoshop Elements Vs Lightroom: Making the right choice!

Were you wanting to find the difference between the full version of Photoshop and Lightroom?  See that comparison here.

The question is often asked: Which program would suit me better – Photoshop Elements or Photoshop Lightroom? That is an understandable question, but a difficult one to answer. Comparing these products is like comparing road travel to flight. A Rolls Royce motor car and an Airbus aircraft might both be powered by engines from the Rolls Royce factory, yet each offers a different, and in many ways unique, experience.

The same can be said for Photoshop Elements and Photoshop Lightroom – they are both ‘powered’ by Adobe, yet their features are as different as a Silver Shadow and an A350.

However, in short, I find that most photographers should be using Lightroom as their first image editing program.

Product information on the Adobe website www.adobe.com states that Photoshop Elements is “designed for people who are just getting started with photo editing and want an easy way to organize, edit, create and share their photos”. It goes on to describe Lightroom as addressing “the workflow needs of professional and advanced amateur photographers, enabling them to import, process, organize, and showcase large volumes of digital photographs.”

While these descriptions might show some of the similarities between the two programs – organizing; editing, or processing; and sharing, or showcasing – they also hint at the different levels of sophistication. And this is what makes it hard to make a direct comparison. A look at some of the main features that each has to offer might make choosing between them easier.

A photo opened in Photoshop Elements. The tools are on the left and the layers palette is on the right.

Photoshop Elements

Photoshop Elements is the right choice for photographers or graphic designers who want to make fundamental changes to an image.  For example, if you want to take someone's head and put it on someone else's body, or if you want to remove large objects from a landscape photo, then Photoshop Elements is clearly the right choice.  Photoshop Elements is for doing surgery on your photo, but for those who don't want to pay for the full version of Photoshop.

  • Startup: On starting the application you are given two choices – Organizer or Photo Editor. A simple choice here allows you to focus on the task in which you are interested.
  • Design & layout: Elements has a simple, uncluttered design – many common functions are presented clearly, and graphically, with helpful and recognizable icons and titles. This allows quick and easy manipulation of your images, and easy navigation through the menus.
  • Working modes: another nice feature of Elements is the choice of working environments to suit your current task and your level of understanding –
    • Quick. If you like valet parking, you’ll love this mode. You get to do most of the driving, but then hand over the keys at the end. For example, you get to choose from a range of adjustments like brightness, contrast and color, but then allow the program to apply automatic adjustments that it thinks will give the best results. It is easy to tweak an image to perfection in no time at all.
    • Guided. Here you get to be chauffeur driven. If you are still new to all of this, and don’t know your headlights from your landing lights, the Guided mode is your driving instructor. It’s a great way to learn what features are available as it lays out a workflow, with step by step instructions and explanations.
    • Expert. As this mode suggests, you are now in the driver seat. All the decisions are yours and you have total control over what adjustments are made. The assumption here is that you know what you are doing and you are left to get on with it.
  • Editing: Here, Elements gets you onto the open road where you can really see what it’s capable of. While not as powerful as Photoshop, its big sister, Elements can edit and create images in ways that are difficult (and sometimes not possible) in Lightroom. With ‘layers’, images can be stacked (or layered) with any number adjustments possible on each layer. This allows you to create strong and unique images. Editing is possible down to individual pixel level too, allowing you to easily remove dust spots and skin blemishes, or even moving (or removing) objects from within the scene.
  • Organizing: The second option at startup is the Organizer. Whatever size your collection of images, there is no time like now to start cataloguing them. Organizer complements and completes this package nicely, providing simple but useful functions for storing, sorting and retrieving your photos. While Elements doesn’t have the power of Lightroom’s extra organizing abilities, catalogs created in Elements can be imported into Lightroom if you find later that you need to ‘cross over’.

Elements, as its name suggests, has many of the ‘good bits’ found in other Photoshop products, including Lightroom, and Photoshop itself. Even if your aim is to shoot more professionally later, Elements can be a good place to start especially if you are new to photo editing. It is a very capable and intuitive all-round program, making it useful right out of the box, and would be suitable for amateurs and some professionals.

A photo opened to the develop module in Lightroom. This is where most of the edits are made.
A photo opened to the develop module in Lightroom. This is where most of the edits are made.


Lightroom is about speed and styling of photos.  It is very easy to import, categorize, and tag your photos so they stay organized.  Once imported, Lightroom makes it easy to quickly adjust exposure, sharpness, color, and a host of other options.  Lightroom is where professional photographers do 90% of their work, and only bring the photo into Photoshop for the deep surgery.

  • The need for speed: Lightroom is built for working with large collections of photographs, allowing all that you do to be done much quicker than its equivalent in Elements.
  • Organizing:  Lightroom’s ‘library’ has fast, powerful keyword search and image retrieval functions. Once your have set up your catalog, Lightroom offers a number of ways to search for just the right image or group of images. The results of a search could then be added to a ‘collection’ to make finding that group of photos even easier next time. Your entire catalog can be ‘filtered’ so that you are presented only with photos having certain keywords or metadata (information stored within the image file showing such things as the date taken, camera model, focal length, aperture setting and ISO). Searching is simple, but the results are outstanding.
  • Workflow: Repetitive actions can be saved as ‘Presets’, a set of instructions that can be used to apply the same adjustment or combination of adjustments to a single or a whole catalog of images, all with a single click. With the ability to save a variety of presets, this can make for a very fast workflow. Presets could be used to convert a batch of images into monochrome, adjust brightness, contrast and saturation, or any other actions relevant to your workflow. See https://improvephotography.com/1202/a-beginner-introduction-to-lightroom-presets/ for more detail on presets.
  • Non-destructive editing: When you begin work on a photo, Lightroom presents you with an exact copy of the original and keeps track of what you are doing. This is referred to as non-destructive editing, and much like a film negative, means you can return to the original at any time and know that every bit of digital information remains exactly the same as when the picture was first taken.
  • Show time: When it comes to sharing your photos, Lightroom has an impressive range of options close to hand. Showcasing, as Adobe calls it here, can be the preparation of digital books for printing, creating slideshows to present to friends or customers, and preparing images for use on web sites. Again, this can all be done quickly and relatively easily.

You’ll notice that Lightroom seems much better equipped to handle batch-processing and to create custom-designed workflows. Indeed, this is generally the realm of enthusiast or professional photographers, but anyone with a large collection of images would find this program extremely useful.

Lightroom will let you travel further, faster; but mostly you are in the pilot’s seat with and more in control of the processes. Photoshop Elements, with its user-friendly menus and options, is more like the comfort and ease of being chauffeur driven. The difference in learning curves between the two, especially when considering all that Lightroom is capable of, could be likened to the differences between learning to drive and learning to fly a small plane.  But have no fear, Improve Photography teaches a Photoshop Elements course and also a Lightroom course if you want help in learning the programs.

When it Comes Right Down to It…

Pick Lightroom unless you are sure you need to do “deep surgery” on your photos like swapping heads around.  Improve Photography has taught post-processing to thousands of photographers in its online courses, and once photographers spend time in both Photoshop Elements and Lightroom, they almost always end up favoring Lightroom and spending the majority of their time using it over Photoshop Elements.

This is not to say that Photoshop doesn't have its place.  Nearly all professional photographers use Lightroom, but an increasing number are spending far more time in Lightroom and only going to Photoshop when the need arises.

Still unsure? Well, perhaps the best thing about all of this is that through the Adobe website you can download fully-functional versions of each product free of charge, and ‘test drive’ them for 30 days.

23 thoughts on “Photoshop Elements Vs Lightroom: Making the right choice!”

  1. Use Lightroom. Then, if you need to do deeper editing (layers, etc…) export it to GIMP. I realize that software has been belittled on this website in the past, but I’m here to tell you that it does everything that Elements will do, and then some.

  2. I was used to Photoshop Elements since years now. I started Lightroom for its potential of raw edition and some “light” features like clarity and vibrance and so on that could’nt find easily in PSE. So my workflow is now: Most as possible in Lightroom and if I need some specific effects or tools (ex large light adjustement “zone”, Optik verves film aspect filters… try it!!! its free!) I use PSE. The communication is really good and I can directly find my work back in Lightroom after that.

  3. Everything has its own importance…There is a huge difference between photoshop elements and lightroom…Both have their own specifications and properties….Your blog is really very informative…Thanks for sharing the post with us….

  4. I discovered Lightroom about a year ago and wish I’d found it years ago. Using RAW with anything other than Lightroom is such a pain I simply shot jpegs. I can’t get anything back from those old images but I can always go back to the RAW files I’ve shot exclusively since getting Lightroom and try something different. I only used PSE for stitching panoramas and the like so I hadn’t upgraded to PSE 12 because the new version didn’t offer any real benefit only some gimmicky stuff that I couldn’t see myself ever using.
    But… the CC Photography bundle works out cheaper than paying for a yearly upgrade of the standalone versions of Lightroom and PSE, and you get Photoshop CC instead of PSE.
    It made me reconsider CC, something I thought would never happen.

  5. With Apple dropping Aperture, would Lightroom be a better replacement than PSE? Secondly will either program work seamlessly with Apple’s software ? On iPad?

    1. @Greg,

      Yes, I think that Lightroom is really more of a direct replacement for Aperture than PSE. Lightroom also has a compelling mobile solution for iOS devices, but you have to subscribe to Creative Cloud for that to work – at least the $10/mo Creative Cloud for Photographers.

  6. I want to migrate to Lightroom from PSE8 but am worried keyword tags under People, Places, Activities, etc. won’t come across intact. Also, to help navigate I constantly use “import batch” (typically by date imported). And, my existing edited images in PSE are saved in “version sets” that help me identify the final, best edited version; I understand version sets aren’t supported in LIghtroom and “may or may not” survive the migration. Any advice to reassure me on these issues?

  7. I have way too many photos on my computer to try to reorganize them (I use a file folder system and can usually find what I am looking for) so I hesitate to use Lightroom or any other program for its organizational features. If I didn’t have so many, it would e a great idea but I’m afraid my photos are “too far gone” to try to reorganize them now. Also I know this article is about PSE vs Lightroom, but what about Paint Shop Pro for a beginner? Would appreciate any wisdom you could share.

    1. I have never used Lightroom, but have used Elements for many years. I am an enthusiastic photographer if not a very good one. That said, I don’t do a lot of editing but LOVE the organizing feature of Elements and Lightroom is supposed to be better at it. You don’t actually re-organize anything. Just point the program at where your pictures are stored and it shows them all as thumbnails. Then you create some tags. As generic or specific as you want. One for each family member by name, or just one that is “family”. Pets, places, wildlife, flowers, etc. It is up to you what you want to tag and you can always add more or delete them later. The tags do not affect your pictures or change where they are stored. Then you drag the tags on to the picture thumbnail. If you have a lot of pictures it is going to take a while to tag them all. But once you do it then it’s awesome for being able to find a picture. Put a check in the box by your “old barns” tag for example. And the 10,000 photos on your hard drive are suddenly sorted down to the 100 that are old barns you liked. You can also put multiple tags on pictures. So you could tag a picture “Fido”, “Fishing”, and “Lake of the Ozarks”. And it would show up under a search of any of those.

      Do it – you will wonder how you ever found a picture without it.

    2. Actually, I have been using Paint Shop Pro since it was basically free and from Jasc, before Corel bought it. It’s described as “the poor man’s PhotoShop’ and, although I now use Lightroom for most of my work, and sometimes I struggle to do something in PS, my default pixel editor (you cannot change pixels in LR) is PaintShop Pro. It does just about everything PhotoShop does, costs a lot less, and is somewhat ADA compiant. Adobe PS IS NOT ADA compliant, and there is no excuse for that, and they seem to have no interest in making their user interface at all usable for those of us with eyes that are older than 30-somethings, and those of us with limited vision. I am constatntly having to go in and out of the magnifier program to be able to use ANY of Photoshop, or Elements. And, on top of that, when I was trying PSE 14 today, and went to change the preferences for external editor in LR (they allow you two–one is hard-wired to be PS and the other I had set up as PSP, which is 16-bit color space), Elements will only work with an 8-bit colorspace. So I am wondering what I am missing by not using Elements 14 and, instead sticking with the latest version of PaintShop Pro. If anyone has an answer to that, I would love to hear it.

  8. A few years back I bought Elements 11. Since then all I have heard about (here) is primarily Lightroom. I was interested in the pre-sets sale last year but I had Elements and couldn’t take advantage of them. I do fine with Elements as an avid intermediate photographer. Are there any reasons why I should change/upgrade to Lightroom or by into the creative cloud for $9.99 a month? Thanks.

    1. Elements Organizer is similar to Lightroom.
      Element Editor is similar to Photoshop.

      If they work for you, fine! Seriously.

      Lightroom advantage is bulk editing, not something most of us need.
      Bulk processing is great for say a model shoot.

      You can Use Elements & lightroom together, and use the Elements Editor!

  9. I use Elements14 and feel comfortable with it. I do a lot of travel photography. Lightroom sounds good and is popular. But is there any reason to switch from Elements?

  10. Robert Alexander

    I purchased Lightroom 6 about a year ago. After three lessons and $500 later, I still am having trouble learning the system. I had used Elements for years and liked it. Now I haver thousands of pictures in Lightroom and would love to get rid of Lightroom and go back to Elements 14 which I own. Is there a way to move my pictures from Lightroom to Elements and get rid of Lightroom?

    1. Hello Robert. I appreciated your commentary within your above question. I am having great difficulty deciding between PSE & Lightroom to put on my Christmas wish list. I was starting to lean to Lightroom but reading your comment gave me great pause. (Most recently I’ve been using Apple’s Photo which I find limiting in the editing capabilities. I am an ametuer photographer & while I likely always will be, I like the idea of having a software tool that would allow for professional efforts. )

      Can you provide a few specifics as to why you like Elements so much more than Lightroom??? I’m hopeful your response may help me decide which might be better for me.

  11. Hmm, well, I found the post far from informative.
    I’ve used PS from it’s first iteration, way back, and then, with difficulty, embraced PSE since it’s first issue. I wanted a way to organise and tag photographs, so hence the move to PSE Organiser, which did improve greatly and was an effective tool before Lightroom saw the light of day.
    I’ve been wrestling with moving over to Lightroom or not and still don’t have a clear idea of which way to go, and I have tried Lightroom over the years – and watched training videos. Lightroom and PSE Organiser both continue to improve with each release. I have spent blocks of months over many years working with PS, and still do, but each time I pick it up again after a year way, I still am faced with a steep learning curve. The PSE Editor is quicker to get to grips with, and is my day-to-day editor. Adding in “Topaz Adjust” eases the use of both PS and PSE Editor.
    Many of my 60,000 photographs are of people, so the PSE face finding and naming function, not mentioned in the post above, is a very valuable tool which is not in PS.

  12. Thank you for the excellent article. my question is that i have all 3, Elements 11, PS LR CC 2016. i need to uninstall Elements to make more ram available for PS and LR on my iMac. is this okay to do?

    thank you

    ali black
    [email protected]
    ph: 604 600 6365

  13. I have just started editing, ( about a year) and have a full frame and a medium format camera. At first, I needed some help from adobe, and found it helpful. The raw photos are huge, ( up to 95megs) and I prefer to stay in 14 bit, as long as possible, as lower bits mean, lower quality, so photoshop elements limits me. Editing takes from a few minutes to four hours, so far, for what i do. I do have photoshop elements, and lightroom, and zoner. Being new to digital, as I used to develop my own film, etc., I found it confusing at first, but video tutorials help a lot. I agree, that 90% is done in lightroom, and 10% in elements. I had to increase the space available for editing, on my drives, and found the info in the adobe tutorial, but will need to increase the size again, as I have over 20k of raw photos so far. I store them on 2 seagate 8 g portable drives. I see ali has space issues also.

  14. I down loaded the gimp app and viruses started to pop up iS that normal?oR DID I nEEd a ClEarnEr FoR cOmPuter?

  15. This is great comparison info. My problem with the Adobe model is this – I bought Elements a few of years ago for my Mac. Due to all the Apple OS upgrades, it stopped working within a year and a half. Adobe didn’t provide any patches, my only choice was to buy it again, or try to find something else. I’ve been limping along with other tools and now I see Adobe has gone to a ransomware model. If you import into Lightroom, even if you pay for a year, you need to connect to their server every 30 days or the app stops working and you can’t access your photos. If you ever decide to stop subscribing, you either need to spend weeks flattening and exporting all your work beforehand, or you lose access to YOUR OWN PHOTOS AND EDITS ON THEM. Luckily, the first round with Elements my original photos were available, although not the edits. Not going there again, especially if I risk losing the originals to Lightroom.

  16. I must be fossilized or something. I’ve been using PSE 8 on Mac OSX as an editor since 2008 and am struggling finding a good reason to upgrade. It’s interface is very similar to the full Photoshop versions I got training on years ago. It seems to have everything I need. I open in Nikon View, which I keep updated, then edit in PSE 8. It seems to have the same RAW editing features as a trial version of Lightroom I just looked at. I didn;t really see much in the way of editing capability in Lightroom. I also DL’s a trial version of PSE 15 and the interface looks really dumbed down compared to my earlier version. Some time ago I’d also tried Aperture and didn’t see any advantage, or really any use for it. I feel rather vulnerable, as Adobe has probably stopped any updates for PSE 8. So, to end the ramble, can I keep PSE 8 or am I compelled to finally do an upgrade?

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