Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which Do You Need More?

"That's been Photoshopped" is something you hear often but have you ever heard anyone say "that's been Lightroomed"? Does your answer to that question tell you which form of software is better, or which you need more?

Both Lightroom and Photoshop are part of the Adobe suite of editing tools and if you're like me, you have access to both as part of your Creative Cloud subscription. However, some photographers out there might be looking at only using one. Is that a good idea and can it even be done? In this video, The School of Photography's Marc Newton runs us through the uses of each software platform and then gives us his verdict. While I might not necessarily agree completely with his opinion, what I do like about his videos is that he almost always uses examples and clearly explains his reasoning for things. Of course, that doesn't necessarily make him right but it does at least give you a good insight into his mindset and why he's making his choices.

The most interesting point that he brings up, which is perhaps a platform for a much wider debate, is the fact that post-production is an undeniable necessity if you want your photos to compare with other professionals. Personally, I love digital art and the modern day ability to manipulate images in whatever way you want, but what are the differences between Lightroom and Photoshop for editing and for your particular needs? Newton uses a portrait image and a landscape image here to make his point. 

The verdict on which one's the winner? If you're looking for one or the other, you might be disappointed. But it's best to watch the video so you can get a clearer understanding of what each does and then go from there. Personally, I use both every day but I do know many who use one or the other exclusively, so it does come down to what you know or what your needs are. What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. 

Lead image courtesy of Pixabay user trainer 24

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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My computer is blazing fast and I need to manipulate photos quickly and selectively, so I use Photoshop of 99% of my work. If I shoot some event (e.g., daughter's graduation), I'll just run the batch through LR, but otherwise PS is my editor of choice.

Yeah to be honest I’m pretty much the same. If I want to do anything that might be related to LR in terms of editing I just use the Camera RAW plugin

I use the Camera RAW plugin a lot, even in my JPEG PS editing. The Shadows and Highlights adjustments look more natural than the native PS ones (can't figure out why they're different), and I like having access to the Texture, Clarity and DeHaze sliders.

I’m fairly new to photography so I have started with Affinity, I have now added Capture One pro as my RAW converter and catalogue system with Affinity as a plug in for touching up images if needed.

Nothing against LR and PS but I’m happy with my setup.

I always prefer to get the main work done in C1 though.

well since I dont need LR at all I`d go with PS :) ..

Lightroom for 95% of my work. I do everything including light retouching in Lightroom. Photoshop is used for deeper manipulation. The only time I use Photoshop almost as much as Lightroom is for product photography.

Photography work: 90%ish LR here.
It's used for the odd cloning job or trimming. That's about it.

There are alternatives to Lightroom that are just as good, if not better. No credible alternatives to Photoshop though.

Which ones?

C1, DXO, Darktable, Raw Therapee, even Luminar.

Thanks for citing. I am using luminar as a plug in to LR. I just find it lacking in ease of operation, no soft proofing, and no print module. Also, how do you migrate over thousands of retouched images which can only be read by LR? I spoke with Adobe yesterday and I am going to extend my plan for 5 years at the current rate which is about what PS used to cost and watch these alternatives shake out.

Exactly my thinking, for what it does for image manipulation I haven't found any good alternatives to PS but there are a lot of good RAW developers (I don't care so much about the LR cataloging).

But it is tied with photoshop from a marketing standpoint. How do you cut the cord. In my case, I would give up PS.

You're right Ed. I know of no way to get PS separate from LR under Adobe's subscription model. I guess the thing is to at least some of us, those other programs that Rk K mentioned above seem so preferable to LR that we're willing to pay for the PS+LR subscription, only install and use PS and pay separately to use another RAW developer of our choice.

Lightroom mobile on my iPad pro....designed from the ground up without all the legacy issues of the desktop version.

PS for when I need to retouch

If I could only use one or the other it would definitely be PS. I don't use the cataloging in LR and only do the basic adjustments that can be done in ACR. The main use LR has for me is a DNG converter on import.

I do commercial portraiture, which means I never have more than a 80-150 exposures from a job. I do them in Canon DPP and then go straight to Photoshop. Inasmuch as I always use Photoshop for my consumer portraiture and never use Lightroom, that's my answer to the question.

If I have a good model in front of the camera then 100% C1. If I have a normal person in front of the camera then 5% C1 and 95% PS.

I no longer have Photoshop - my copy stopped working when I upgraded my Mac to Mojave - and to get it back I’d have to move to the subscription model and start paying Adobe every month. So I decided against that. I can honestly say I don’t miss it. All my processing now is done in Lightroom.
The beauty of it is that it’s nondestructive. You can always go back to a picture months or years later and process it differently.
I also feel that while Lightroom helps you optimise the pictures you take, Photoshop leads to people faking their images - taking out things that were there and putting in things that weren’t. It can lead to sterile, unrealistic images.

Landscape/wildlife photographer here... I feel that if you can't edit the image in LR, then it's not a good enough image. Anything that needs the extreme capabilities of Photoshop will not reflect reality anymore (just my opinion here!).

I do use Photoshop sometimes for complex content aware fill in specific situations: like when a raindrop comes on my lens during a thunderstorm at the exact place that you can't just use LR's spot removal tool.

Well I use Photoshop but not Lightroom so I find the question very easy to answer!

Why is there even such a question?
Lightroom is a raw-converter, Photoshop an editing software.
End of story.

That's what I was thinking. It's barely comparable.

I agree, but in fact Camera Raw is the raw converter and you can use Camera Raw directly from Photoshop.

yeah well, sure. The only advantage I see in LR is the batch editing and the library function (exporting and renaming). Other than that, I wouldn't use Lightroom, as Photoshop has "Lightroom" / Camera Raw built in.

Lightroom allows you to edit all the major parameters of your photographs, including highlights, shadows, sharpness, contrast, colour profile and so on. It’s a photographer’s image editing and optimisation tool. And as I say, it’s nondestructive- it keeps your raw image safe, like a photo negative. Photoshop permanently changes your pictures but allows you to add stuff - layers, graphics, text etc. Which makes it better for graphic designers.

That is pure nonsense.
No commercial job will be done without Photoshop.
If you only sharpen your images in Lightroom, I'm very sorry for your images. There are way better ways to sharpen you images in Lightroom. Please show me, how you want to properly create masks to match product and skin colours in Lightroom.

If you keep a background copy of your Original file and keep it locked without merging it all down, nothing has been changed forever. Based on your statements I don't think you have any professional / commercial experience, which is fine depending on your level and aspirations. But please, don't generalise.

As a graphic designer (17 years) and someone who does both product photography and portraiture I use LR all the time, usually LR first and PS second, but often need both particularly when dealing with a large number of images LR. As for text/layout etc, that goes to AI or ID as far as I'm concerned.

I think we're talking about different things. You're talking about product photography and commercial shoots - things for which I'd probably use Photoshop too.
I'm talking more about photojournalism and the sort of photography practised by Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Diane Arbus, Garry WInogrand, and the Magnum photographers.

In Photojournalism Photoshop is not even allowed, sometimes not even raw photography - as in Reuters.

Look at the answers first glance I’d say the majority use LR more so.....

Lightroom... photoshop only to save mistakes or to remove unwanted objects. Lightroom to me is like working in the wet dark room electronically... developing, proofing, dodging and burning. Plus photoshop is too danged hard. I admire people who use it regularly.

LR to cull and catalog and some global adjustments if needed. PS for everything else. It's not unusual for me to have 15 or 20 layers in PS.

For those of you using this as an opportunity to go on about how you no longer use Adobe products because you hate the subscription model, you're commenting on the wrong article.

It's not uncommon for me to have 15-20 groups in PS hahaha!!

I started with Photoshop 4 (not CS-4), and currently have CS-6. I thought about trying LR to keep-up with ACR, but when it went "subscription", I opted out.
My current camera's are still compatible with CS-6's ACR, but that will end with the next body upgrade, so I may have to resort to PNG to use ACR.
I also use ON1 CR as an alternate.

For the snapshots, I use only Lightroom most of the time (sometimes I also use Capture One).
For serious works I use Lightroom first, to choose the images and some basic settings.
Then the delicate part of the work is done with Photoshop.

If only there were a program available that does everything LR can do but much better AND also allow you to create layers to do additional repairs which normally could only be done in PS. And all that without a subscription model. If only ! :-)

too true. I daresay that would would result in a great loss of Adobe revenue. Not good....

I use a number of programs from the Adobe Suite (publishing, photography, illustration, video, web and animation tools). I find there to be lots of crossover but each has its strengths. For photo editing my workflow is typically LR then PS. Lightroom handles the bulk and Photoshop does the detail. I imagine that one's preference has more to do with knowledge / comfort with the tools, IE: I frequently use AI for something most would do in PS or ID.

yes I think most would start in LR for the organisational things. Then if you learned your PP skills before the introduction of LR then you'd most likely move to PS. Many people are intimidated by PS's tools and options and opt to keep it pretty simple within LR. Having said that, LR is getting more and more sophisticated

I use LR for the selection and basic corrections, using PFixer midi to speed up the process. Then if I need specific corrections/enhancments, bounce directly to PS CS6 to do what I need, save, and bounce directly back to LR to complete the PS edited image. Also xrite color profiles "fixed" my color issues in working with LR. I wouldn't, or couldn't choose one over the other, different tools.