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Photoshop or Lightroom, Which to Choose?

If you’re a photographer looking at upgrading your existing image editing software then you’ve never had so much choice, but which do you choose? The chances are you already have a favourite program so the obvious answer is to go for more of the same.

But hang on, maybe now’s a great time to have a little rethink about what you’re currently using, especially if like me you’re using Photoshop.

A few short years ago if you were serious about your digital photography there was only program of choice and it was called Photoshop. The power and speed of Photoshop left the rest of the competition way behind but now things are changing.

Today the competition is getting hotter and the range of image editing software has grown significantly even if you just stick to the offerings from Adobe.

First let’s give a mention to Elements. Now in version 8, Elements has been slowly improving and catching its bigger brother, Photoshop. In fact there’s very little I can do in Photoshop that can’t be done in Elements and that’s why I recommend it to anyone who’s new to digital imaging.

The reason I don’t use Elements every day is down to it’s handling of RAW files. Although it uses exactly the same Adobe Camera RAW as Photoshop, the Elements version has several major tools missing and as I do 85% of my work in Adobe Camera RAW that’s a problem for me.

However if you shoot and process RAW images then Adobe Lightroom could be the perfect solution.

The trouble is I’ve always found Lightroom to be a little impenetrable. For example if I want to work on one single image in Photoshop I go to File-Open and away we go. Lightroom on the other hand is far more convoluted, requiring me to import the image into a catalogue and then on to a collection or I have to search a huge bloated catalogue to find the image I want to work on.

As you can tell I’m not a fan of collections. Fortunately Lightroom does allow you to create temporary collections know as quick collections. Lightroom 3 adds a further improvement with a new import dialogue box.

OK there’s no File-Open or File-Save As but a temporary collection is exactly that and will magically disappear after you’re done your work. It may be a small thing but that simple change has opened my eyes to the potential of Lightroom.

So if like me you’ve given Lightroom a wide berth it’s time to take a closer look and when you do you’ll discover Lightroom has a few tricks up its sleeve. In fact it can do one or two things that I really wish I had inside Photoshop. Exclusively for tip squirrel and after years and years producing videos about Photoshop here’s my first ever video on Lightroom.

Lightroom tricks you can’t do in Photoshop from Gavin Hoey on Vimeo.

OK it’s time for a reality check. Lightroom 3 is very impressive and I have no doubt I’ll be spending most of my time working with it, but I’m not about to dump Photoshop just yet.

I still have a lot of issues about Lightroom and top of that list is the horrendous omission of a clone tool. OK there is the spot removal tool for removing dust spots and minor blemishes but it quickly becomes useless on anything bigger.

Also missing are layers, filters, text tools, selections… OK if I’m honest Lightroom is missing pretty much everything that’s inside of Photoshop, in fact you could say Lightroom is just Adobe Camera RAW with a slick interface and some useful tools bolted on at either end, but as 85% of my images are processed in Camera RAW, that sounds like a good idea to me.

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About Gavin Hoey (45 Articles)
Gavin has been a regular contributor to Digital Photo Magazine in the UK since 2003 where he writes “how to...” techniques on photography and Photoshop Elements. His Photoshop lectures are always in demand and he can often be seen popping up at camera clubs all over the UK.

6 Comments on Photoshop or Lightroom, Which to Choose?

  1. candyK // 25/06/2010 at 8:30 pm //

    Great overview THanks for the tips.

  2. great tips for lightroom, had no idea the histogram was interactive & great that you can hide the items in the moduals we don’t use, by unticking them. .

    i agree on the point about just wanting to use LR and open up any old image – it’s a pain.

  3. Shari Whittaker // 04/07/2010 at 2:18 am //

    Wow – just found this website – thanks to Mike H. Thank you so much Gavin. Did not know about the histogram thing. I am going to watch video again and take notes!!

  4. Great write up and I have to agree with everything you said about LR. I’ve used the beta version for a few months and, although I like what it can do, I’m slowly wanting the flexibility to do more things with my images than what LR can do. You’re right when you say that it’s a a basic (although a very good) photo editor with a databased attached.

  5. MuscArto // 12/12/2010 at 1:54 pm //

    i love use Lightroom instead of Photoshop for image corrections.

    but my absolute preference in this kind of applications is Aperture3
    Aperture3 have beter intuitive interface. and this is a real big + for beginners.

  6. Hi had this same dilemma. I always went to Photoshop to do all of my photo and design work. I knew it, grew as a Designer with it and it was intuitive. However, as I started taking more photographs and was starting to have 100’s to go through from a single shoot, I wanted something that would allow me to go through the process a bit quicker, and that’s why I am appreciating Lightroom. Bridge allowed me to sift through the photos, but I couldn’t do anything with them, I had to bring them into Photoshop. Lightroom allows me to sift through them AND color-correct/enhance/mess with slightly. Now I always bring my photos into Lightroom first for the basic touch ups, and then I bring them into Photoshop if I want to be a bit more artsy/designy with them.

    The Lightroom tricks you provided were great and I learned a few things that will enhance my experience even more. Thanks!

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