Lightroom Vs Photoshop – Which One Should a Photographer Use?

Time and time again I see arguments all over the internet between photographers about their workflow within Adobe Creative Cloud. More specifically, the battle between primarily using Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom as their primary post-production utility. It’s really kind of irritating to see people argue over this.

People often ask me – “Nick, what do you think about Lightroom? Do you prefer it over Photoshop?”

Well, what most are not considering about that question is that it is assuming the two products are one in the same which could not be further from the truth. My answer sometimes confuses people, but it’s really quite simple.

What do I think about Photoshop and Lightroom? I think they are amazing and need to be used together, they way they were intended.

You see, if you look back at photography before the digital age, developing film had a number of steps of which consisted of many different techniques. You would develop your negatives using a myriad of chemical combinations to get them processed your way (think of a lightroom style preset), and the “editing” phase when creating prints was called “burning” and “dodging” – adjusting the tonal range of areas of your print through exposure trickery with the enlarger. From there, you would properly archive your work.

Comparing the techniques of the past with todays technology – you can look at Lightroom as the negative development part of the photography process, with the built in archival tools needed for referencing, searching, attributing META data, and everything else we do with our artwork from a macro standpoint. Lightroom is fantastic at doing that but its features to “edit” or “dodge & burn”  while suitable for most, are lacking substantially in my opinion… lightroom needs another companion.

This is where Lightrooms pal Photoshop comes into play.

For most photographers with an extreme eye for detail, Photoshop is the final step in preparing your image or “print” for the public eye.

The tools built in to Photoshop help you take the tiniest of details within your photo, and manipulate (dodge and burn is literally included as a tool in PS by the way) them to do anything you need them to at a much more precise level than Lightroom could ever do.

Lightroom is a great tool for a novice photographer or artist to use at a basic level of image manipulation but honestly, in my opinion, this is not what It should be used for. It shines in initial development, creating your own style presets, culling, archival, META embedding, and doing basic things such as watermarking without having to create Photoshop actions if you chose to do so.

Side note: Prior to Lightroom, people used Bridge to help organize their files and used Photoshop and Actions to accomplish what they can do in Lightroom now, before bringing it back into Photoshop for final touches.

I think that’s why the tools included within Lightroom are as basic as they are. So those without fluency knowledge in other Adobe products (Photoshop) can still reasonably accomplish an acceptable final product and be proud of what they have done.

So to get down to it again, which one do I think is better?

Neither. LR and PS can both accomplish an acceptable final product on their own, but for those that want an exceptional output and a workflow that in my opinion was intended, using both Lightroom and Photoshop is crucial for the perfect product.

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. Hit me up on Twitter @nickmke or comment below.

A little background on my experience with Adobe products: I have been using Adobe Photoshop since version 1.0, and have extensive and fluent knowledge in InDesign, Illustrator, Lightroom, Bridge and other products in the Adobe catalog.