Lightroom vs Photoshop Understanding The Difference


One of the most frequent questions that I hear from the newbie photographers is “What program I should use for photo editing?”.  A lot of variants exist, such as iPhoto, Picasa, GIMP, and also other programs as AfterShot Pro and Pixelmator, but the most popular are Photoshop and Lightroom.

Here comes the other question: “What's the difference between Photoshop and Lightroom?”. While the both programs have a lot in common, and both are widely used among the photographers, each of them serves its purpose, and in some rather significant issues, they are completely different. If you realize their similarities and differences, you will be able to make a conscious choice of software for your purposes.


The both programs fulfill the same function – edit photos and can process various types of files, such as JPEG, PNG, TIFFand the permanent favorite of many photographers, RAW. In fact, like Photoshop, Lightroom use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), a software that serves to process RAW files. So, you can expect this similar control and processing functions in both programs, when you adjust saturation, curves or correct distortion.

The both programs also have a wide set of instruments for editing and manipulation, that allow performing all adjustments from basic editing, like cropping and exposition adjustments to advanced processing, such as work with brushes, curves, and filters. You will find various built-in effects in both programs, which will allow you to convert your photo to black and white, use sepia tones or implement other artistic effects. The both programs are rather powerful graphics editors. I know some photographers who use only Lightroom and even doesn't touch Photoshop. At the same time, there are a lot of others, who work in Photoshop all day long and never open Lightroom. Nevertheless, to understand better which program suits you the most, you should also examine their differences.

Difference №1: File processing

One of the main differences of Lightroom is that this program doesn't edit photos or move them to various places on your computer. All changes that you make are saved in a separate file, which is called the Catalog and is a kind of the set of instructions, which provides information on how each photo should be processed. When you apply any kind of processing, for example, radial filter or brush, Lightroom keeps the log of all changes in the database, leaving the original file untouched. This method is called non-destructive editing, that varies significantly from the way which is used in Photoshop.

Since the original file hasn't been changed, I can return to it anytime and process it as many times as I want. After the image editing in Lightroom is completed, it can be exported to be printed, distributed or published. The original image remains on your computer without changes, and later you can return to Lightroom and edit it as you like. One more advantage of this approach is that the Catalog is rather small and usually takes only a few hundred megabytes on your hard drive, even if you have several thousands of photos in Lightroom.

Photoshop operates in a different way. When you edit a photo in JPG, PNG or RAW in Photoshop, you always work with the original file, if you haven't saved a copy as a PSD file, that will take several dozens of megabytes. This PSD file contains all changes and to distribute it you should save its version in JPG, PNG or something else. In fact, if you want to make a non-destructive editing in Photoshop, then at the end you will have three separate files: the original RAW file, PSD and the final copy, which is saved in the format different from PSD.

Finally, in Lightroom, all your changes are stored in the one, relatively small catalog. In Photoshop all your changes are saved as a separate file that you process. This means that it will take much more space on a hard drive of your computer if you work with a lot of files in Photoshop, and as a result, you will have several versions of the same image. So, why do you prefer Photoshop to Lightroom? The answer is simple! Photoshop is a much more powerful program than Lightroom.


Difference №2: Editing tools

About ten years ago the Adobe Company understood that not everyone needs all Photoshop features, especially photographers, that return from trips with hundreds of photos and they require rapid processing. What the new generation of digital photographers needed is the basic Photoshop tools in one simple program, what Lightroom have become.

Photoshop contains a stunning amount of filters, brushes and other tools that allow performing all sorts of corrections and changes to your photos. Nevertheless, Photoshop enables you to create layers in which you actually do the editing. For example, the image on the left shows different layers that I used while processing the photographs of the statue. Each layer can be edited independently. Maybe it looks like there are too many layers, however, it's quite common. Photographers often create dozens of layers while processing photographs. Lightroom, in contrast, works much more linear without any layers with fewer instruments, but it's also less flexible. Both programs have the History panel that allows you to return to any of your edits, but work with layers gives you much more control when it goes to image editing.

Photoshop uses layers that may seem terrible to newbies, but they offer the incredible flexibility with which Lightroom simply can't be compared.

For example, you want to add vignetting to the portrait. In Lightroom, you should only press the "Vignette" button and set some basic parameters, such as how large the untouched field should be, and how smooth the vignette should spread from the center. It's a quick and easy solution that can be used for all kinds of photos. And if you need more control, then select the Radial filter for several other settings.

To do this in Photoshop, you need to create a new adjustment layer on your image, such as Levels. Then you should darken the whole image in high tones, and then apply the mask to leave a blackout only at the edges. You can also change the opacity of the layer (a bleaching effect), or a Blending mode, or you can use Dodge and Burn tools - and this is just the beginning. All these additional steps may seem extremely complicated. However, in the process of studying Photoshop tools, you will understand that they provide the greater level of control over the editing process.

With all its features and functions (including text support, 3D graphics, and even video) Photoshop is ideal almost for all types of post-processing. Lightroom doesn't fall behind Photoshop concerning the tools that photographers use most often, that's why it attracts so many photographers.

Difference №3: Working process

The advantage that Lightroom offers is the organization of working process for photographers. As it is specially developed for amateur photographers and professionals, it can cope will all steps from importing photos from a memory card to organizing, editing, distribution, and finally printing. Lightroom offers keywords and virtual folders support, which will help you to find the image faster. And also, you can use this program to create slideshows and photo books. Many photographers, even professionals, don’t even open Photoshop for weeks and months, as Lightroom provides everything they need.

Which of these programs is right for you?

Now you probably understood that only you could answer this question. And if you were not ready to spend $149 on Lightroom or much more sum on Photoshop, till now, Adobe has found an easier solution launching Creative Cloud. So now you can get both programs for $9 per month. If you don't like to subscribe to the software, you can still buy Lightroom separately. How to purchase or download Lightroom and Photoshop you can learn here.

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