A few days ago I was asked by a friend who wants to get into photography a little more which software I use. I was asked what kind of software I could recommend for managing, editing and manipulating pictures. The keywords “Lightroom” and “Photoshop” fell.
I think it can’t hurt to outline roughly what these pieces of software actually do. And what they can’t do. The following explanations are non-exhaustive.
Long story short:
Lightroom covers the complete photography workflow after shooting from importing the pictures, sorting them, editing them (basic retouching) and presenting them on the web, in printed form or as a batch of exported jpg files.
Photoshop is intended for heavy image manipulation. If you want to modify your picture more than deleting a dust spec on the sensor e.g., Photoshop is the weapon of choice. You want to retouch yourself into a picture, making you sitting next to your favourite rockstar? Photoshop is the way to go.
That’s it. Goodbye !
What, still reading ? Ok, that was a very short list of things you can do with Photoshop and Lightroom.
Lightroom is a management and basic image manipulation software. You import the pictures into a catalogue, the images are listed in a folder system. You can sort the pictures by rating them with a five star and color system or reject bad images for further deletion. Then you can adjust exposure levels, adjust brightness and contrast, apply tone curves, match the white balance, rotate the pictures, crop them, remove red eyes, even stamping away unwanted image parts like a piece of garbage lying around in the background e.g. Lightroom offers pretty much all the basic retouching and image adjustment options you need for 98 % of the images. They are easy to access, since most image manipulations can be done by a slider (e.g. rotating: the amount you move the slider left/right the more the image is rotated). Removing a freckle on the model’s cheek with Photoshop is overkill.
Believe me: Since I use Lightroom, I rarely open Photoshop.
[edit 2019: I wrote this article in 2011, back then I was not getting into retouching that far. But I still say that Lightroom brings you very far]
After you have developed and modified your images you can export them. Either as JPG files to your hard drive. Or upload them directly to Flickr. Or let Lightroom automatically build a webpage with a picture gallery. Or you can print the images.
Bottom Line: Using Lightroom speeds up your workflow as a photographer. You can sort images quickly and manage large quantities in an acceptable timeframe. Many image adjustment and manipulation options are available, all quickly accessible by using sliders e.g.
Now for Photoshop.
As said above, Photoshop is meant to heavily manipulate images. With that piece of software, nothing is impossible. Photoshop is the industry standard for image editing, it is so present on the market that the term “this is photoshopped” has been coined as a slang term for images which were modified.
Side note: Adobe has an own section on their website explaining how the Photoshop trademark must and must not be used:
“Trademarks are not verbs.
Correct: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.
Incorrect: The image was photoshopped.”
Well, how to grasp what Photoshop can do in one sentence ? With Photoshop you can copy image parts, merge them with other images and create pictures which would be impossible to shoot in camera. You can make people disappear out of images or add something to an image. There is virtually no restriction what you can do with Photoshop. Images talk more than words, so check out worth1000.com . This is a contest website, where a task is given (e.g. a picture is presented) and you are to modify the picture in any way possible. Want to see a chameleon in plate armor ? Want to see a mechanical leapfrog riding a hovering scooter (there is also a making of of this image) ?
Another brilliant example for how Photoshop is used professionally is presented on the website of UK-based photographer Robin Preston. Robin has done many ad campaigns for big name companies. Check out his website.
Anything is possible with Photoshop. That is – If you know how to use it. The internet is full of so-called “Photoshop disasters”. Check out this blog and you will see what I mean.
This article condensed in one sentence: Lightroom is for managing large quantities of photos, Photoshop for heavy retouching and manipulation.
Closing note: Of course Adobe is not the only company producing photo management and image manipulation software. There are plenty of options.
To name a few:
Adobe Lightroom – see above
Apple iPhoto – a nice and easy-to-use image management software. Mac only !
Apple Aperture – the big brother of iPhoto, equivalent to Lightroom. Mac only !
Bibble – Something like Aperture and Lightroom. Never used it. (Windows/Mac/Linux)