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One question I get repeatedly when giving presentations to photographers is whether you should abandon Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or some other photo processing software in favor of Adobe Lightroom. The short answer is most definitely. Now let me tell you why.

Comparing Lightroom to Photoshop (or Elements) is really comparing apples to oranges. Photoshop was designed as a general purpose graphics application. It is used by designers, illustrators, scientists, publishers, digital artists, and photographers. Because of its widespread use, it caters to none of these groups, and includes a huge range of features and options that are usually daunting to a photographer wanting to process and edit his/her images. Now this is not to say that it is not useful and immensely powerful, and it probably does belong in the arsenal of any serious photographer. But I recommend Lightroom as the core application for your digital photography.

Lightroom was designed from the ground up with a single purpose – provide one application that functions as the modern digital darkroom. All of its features are targeted at the digital photographer, and as such provides a complete workflow from capture to print. And because Lightroom also works with psd, tiff, and jpeg files, you can work with all of your older images that may have been scanned or processed with another application.

My experience as an instructor is that the vast majority of photographers at all levels need to simplify their workflow, and focus more on the creative side of post processing. It should be fun and enjoyable, not frustrating and something to be approached with negativity. I think Lightroom helps in this regard, and allows you think like a photographer, not like an engineer. Plus there are many great plugins that provide enhanced editing features that were previously only available in Photoshop. This keeps your workflow much simpler. Here are a few of my favorites:

In short, use Lightroom as the command center of your digital worlkflow, and Photoshop as a powerful, but specialized tool that can be called upon only when you need the extra horsepower. As Lightroom matures and adds more specialized features, my trips to Photoshop are becoming fewer and fewer.

For those who suggest that Adobe’s Bridge application offers the same benefits as Lightroom, that is correct to a degree. But here are a few specific Lightroom advantages:

  • Much better database functionality – try accessing 20,000 images in Bridge the way you can bring them up in Lightroom with virtually no delay.
  • Intuitive before/after views for comparing your adjustments easily
  • New Book and Map modules
  • Vastly superior printing workflow – this alone is worth it, even if no other benefits existed
  • Off-line access to image library – means you can still access your images even if the original RAW files are on external drives not connected or available – great for travel.

Finally, this is my perspective and based on my particular workflow and processing needs as a fine art photographer. If you’re in advertising or commercial photography, then your needs may require heavy Photoshop use. That’s not my situation, so I would rather spend as much time making images rather than behind my monitor pushing pixels. I think Lightroom helps me do just that. Find what works best for you.

Which do you prefer? Still have questions? Please let me know!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Robert, I’ve been experimenting with a couple of other RAW processors lately and I’m finding that the PS vs LR debate should go further which I see is contrary to your ‘focus on the creative and not the software’ philosophy. I agree with that philosophy but seeing how differently RAW photo processors render your images, I’m feeling now that more choices are helpful when sitting down in front of the computer and editing your images. So I say, use them all and find the one(s) that suit you best and help you to create your most creative works!

    1. Hi Michael – thanks for the feedback, and your point is quite valid specifically in terms of RAW processing. Yes there are several other applications that provide excellent results including DXO, Capture One, Aperture, and others.

      However most in the industry agree the differences in quality are quite subtle, dependent on the image itself, and the individual photographers intent and experience. Plus Lightroom does much more than process raw files, and this is where I see the real benefit – efficient workflow, better management of media, and less frustration with the digital side of photography. In fact, I know of several photographers that use Lightroom as their main application, but will occasionally process images in other raw processors, then import the image back into LR for all of the other features.

      Bottom line is keep it as simple as you need it to be to make the best images possible, and never forget about what matters most of all—composition.

  2. I actually use Lightroom for organizing my images and ALWAYS run my images through Photoshop. I also use Nik software (B&W images) with photoshop. I could prob get away with using Lightroom exclusively but, I like isolating the image in a seperate program to focus on that one image.

    1. Hi Mike – thanks for your feedback. I’ve always thought the Develop module in Lightroom did a pretty good job of letting you focus on a single image – especially if you have two monitors where it lets you compare the before and after previews. But whatever works for you is ultimately best. thanks for sharing!


  3. I use both. I use Image Ingester Pro to download and convert to DNG with metadata in the files, and then check the files in Bridge. I then import all into Lightroom, which has become my digital asset management tool. I find it much easier to make adjustments in Lightroom which are non-destructive, and keep my files from ballooning up as saved tiffs. With a D800, they can become huge. I use Lightroom for most adjustments, but also have the Nik Software suite for Lightroom to make further refinements. I love printing from Lightroom 4, especially with soft proofing and the ability to set up multiple prints. Photoshop does have its place though. Any work with text on a document, content/aware/fill or spot removal, and other detail work seems to be best done on a layer in Photoshop. If I need to streach a background or side, I can do that in Photoshop. PS CS6 also supports some video, so I have ordered it. I would love to have just Lightroom, but need the feelxibility and power. For instance, if I am sending something to be printed, I need a flattened tiff in cmyk, and this is not possible in elements or Lightroom. So for me, for the short term, I need both. But Lightroom keeps getting better, more robust, and eliminating other programs, like Expression Media2, which was my catalog manager for a while (still use as backup).

    1. Hi Bill – thanks for the insights into your workflow, sounds like you have a great system. You are right about Lightroom not supporting CMYK which is a problem whens sending files for off-set printing, and I have the same issues. And of course the graphic capabilities are the best, especially if you have your own website. Again, I think I was addressing those who are starting out and want an application to manage their entire workflow, which Lightroom can do easily. As your needs grow, then you can expand from there.

      The only part of your workflow I would question is checking the files in Bridge. Perhaps you can go right from Image Ingester to the LR import dialog – it will let you know if any files are unreadable, and you can go from there. Plus I would never delete any files from your memory card until they were verified in LR, so in case of a problem, you can always go back. Just some suggestions. thanks again, appreciate the feedback = hope all is well!


  4. Thanks for the article! I mostly use Lightroom and love the efficiency. I find myself only using Photoshop to adjust levels. I find that my images have sort of a gray/dull effect to them straight from Lightroom, that goes away with a bump in the levels in Photoshop. Any thoughts or suggestions on getting similar results within Lightroom?

    1. Hi Jen, thanks or the feedback. For sure there is no reason why you can’t achieve as much contrast and pop from Lightroom as you get from Photoshop. I would start with the Curves panel and use the presets to create an S-curve. From there you an adjust to your own liking, and add however much contrast is necessary. It’s also important to make sure you’re adjusting the white and black points correctly in LR.

      IF you have any further problems with this, send me an email and I’d be happy to help you further.


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