Maybe You Should Be Using Lightroom For That

Maybe You Should Be Using Lightroom For That

Lightroom isn’t a perfect tool. However, for some users, it is a perfect fit. If you are just getting into editing tools, left Lightroom during the change to Adobe Cloud, or practice photography professionally, there’s a number of reasons Lightroom might be a perfect fit for you.

The Adobe Family

Lightroom’s consistency, which some could argue is resistance to change, might be one of the biggest strengths. If you’re a casual photographer, getting back into the hobby, or have worked with a similar Adobe tool like Photoshop Elements, you can get up to speed in Lightroom quickly. The slider oriented interface, which shows your picture side by side with the possible adjustments, is easy to grasp. 

The interface isn't that flashy or customizable, but it gives you a large WYSIWYG view with easy access to adjustments.

Not only is learning easy, you don’t have to worry about studying outdated information. For the most part, any tutorial or resource that covers Lightroom will be applicable to almost any version - from 5 year old tutorials to the newest courses. Sure, some shiny new features like Dehaze, Texture, and Luminance Masking may be missing in older versions, but for anyone looking to learn, the basics are still there.

Along with the consistency of features, Adobe has done a good job of keeping the catalogs, connections, and software support at the same high level. Lightroom has always worked best in combination with Photoshop, almost to the point of being a crutch, which makes the Photography CC plan much more attractive. Besides support and integration with Adobe’s tools, presets have remained usable. This is significant, given that just a few preset packs can equal hundreds of dollars spent. Lastly, throughout new process versions and new software updates, I’ve been able to keep my catalog intact. In fact, the introduction of new process versions and tools have allowed me to go back and improve the look of older photos in my portfolio.

Beyond just the conjoined-twin relationship of Photoshop and Lightroom, Adobe offers Lightroom CC and a host of other cloud-powered benefits to subscribers. Features like Typekit and Portfolio can be a meaningful value, considering that many users would need Photoshop regardless.

Are You a Hoarder?

Lightroom has gotten a lot better about supporting large catalogs. Whether you want one catalog with all your work, or need a way to organize and make light edits to a weekend long wedding or event, Lightroom can make it easy to work with a huge volume of raw files.

The catalog concept, where Lightroom simply references the location of files on your computer, can prove tricky for some users. If you’re a power user, however, this practice opens up a lot of options for tweaking and optimization. On the desktop, storing the catalog and previews on a fast SSD, with raw files stored on large, inexpensive hard drives can make the most sense — meanwhile Smart Previews allow laptop users to get work done even without access to the original raw files. In addition to all this flexibility, I like this strategy from a data-integrity standpoint. There’s no worrying about overwriting raw files, or having proprietary alterations made to the original images (although some will argue you are locked into the catalog itself, for edits). Backing up your images is as simple as backing up a catalog file and the actual folder holding your raw images, while the option of exporting DNGs means you aren’t locked into Lightroom down the road.

The catalogs also scale well to tens of thousands of images and hundreds of gigabytes. Past versions of LR would drastically slow down as the catalog went past tens of thousands of images, but with recent hardware and updates, I can effectively work in a master catalog of 80,000+ images. For my purposes, having one “master view” of past work makes it easy to find a relevant image for an article or social media post, without having to close and reopen dozens of individual folders or smaller sessions.

This shot is a few years old, but can be found easily in the catalog.

Having a big, messy pile of images is just going to create another problem, though, making LR’s organization features essential. Flagging, star ratings, color labels, keywords, geotagging, and face detection give you plenty of ways to tag your images. Smart folders, the quick collection, and “disposable” filtering on any Exif or LR field make it easy to sort through the stacks. This is another area where Lightroom spoils users with options. If you can’t find a way to organize your files in Lightroom, it isn’t the software’s fault.

Taken together, Lightroom really does make it easy to have all your images in one place, organized effectively, and infinitely adjustable. For some photographers, this can be a huge selling point.

What Do You Shoot?

To me, there are a few types of use that Lightroom is well suited for, including hobbyist photography and intermediate volume professionals.

If you’re a hobbyist, shooting a few photos on a weekend roadtrip, then grabbing a few pictures at a family get together, Lightroom will offer more than enough tools for you to edit effectively. While it’s almost overkill, for just a few dollars a month, you’ll not need to worry about growing out of the software or hitting an artificial limit. Being able to keep all your shots in one place means less of a chance of losing photos, while the import and develop workflow is easy to pickup. As you pick up new skills, you already have access to Photoshop, can create a basic portfolio website, and are already comfortable with Adobe’s nomenclature and default “look”.

One particular niche that I’ve really enjoyed using Lightroom for is travel photography. While running high megapixel images through a MacBook Air is a trying experience, having access to smart previews on the road is really helpful. Beyond that, workflow enhancements like creating a second copy upon import, geotagging, and rudimentary HDR and panorama capabilities make it easy to stay within one tool, which is helpful when your workspace is an airplane tray table. Syncing via CC, an interface that scales well to lower resolution screens, and compatibility with a wide range of cameras are all helpful. Returning home, Lightroom makes it easy to ingest that smaller catalog into my larger catalog, while retaining all the work already performed.

Fireworks shots are a perfect candidate for syncing settings - with identical exposure settings, you can process 100 shots in the time it takes to edit 1.

If you’re shooting professionally, certain types of photography are perfect for Lightroom. Higher volume photographers can count on the consistency of Adobe Camera Raw and the huge number of presets to tailor their style to the clients wishes, while being able to sync adjustments quickly is a benefit to any photographer left with a number of similar shots that all need adjustment. If you shoot weddings, little features like syncing the metadata times across cameras can come in handy. The tight integration with Photoshop makes it easy to work on the hero images, while still keeping track of them in the same interface. Lastly, Lightroom simplifies a lot of the complexity of color science, only requiring you to choose a space on export.


There’s a reason why Lightroom is one of the most popular raw editing tools around. The wide and deep ecosystem of plugins, presets, and tutorials make an already versatile tool even more flexible, while the catalog paradigm still hasn’t really been matched in other asset managers. 

Lightroom embodies the “jack of all trades, master of none” philosophy. It isn’t the fastest import and browsing experience, doesn’t offer the most complex editing tools, and the subscription pricing can be a sticking point for some, but for most photographers, Lightroom can do everything they need it to. Beyond that, I think it’s one of the best options for learning post processing, and at $10 a month, it’s well worth trying out first.

If you need to perform basic edits on a few images, have a batch of similar images to process, or want the simplest way to have always-on access to your entire photographic history, you should be using Lightroom. Even if you find that you need to perform advanced work in Photoshop, or need specific tools for stacking and panoramic stitching, Lightroom is probably the easiest way to organize huge numbers of images. One last thing to consider is the investment you may have already made in Lightroom. You may have bought some presets, or are just comfortable with your workflow - switching can mean forfeiting what you've built.

Alex Coleman's picture

Alex Coleman is a travel and landscape photographer. He teaches workshops in the American Southwest, with an emphasis on blending the artistic and technical sides of photography.

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There's one great reason that it's not the tool for me - CaptureOne.

Ha ha, isn't it great when the title works out well? But honestly, C1 is another great option - I think I mentioned it a couple times in this article's companion piece.

Mention? You should do a full out review! :)

I'd love to. Phase One, call my people? :P

I definitely agree that C1 is Lightroom's biggest competition. What made you choose it over LR?

No lousy annual subscription model - seriously, after 3 years of paying for Lightroom monthly, I asked to leave and Adobe tried to fleece me for 9 months extra because apparently a rolling monthly contract is really a rolling annual contract. That's anti-consumer.

I find it much more intuitive to use than Lightroom and because I shoot Fuji, there's a superb Capture One build just for me (as it were).

There's nothing that I've missed from Lightroom at all and I am particularly happy not to be paying Adobe any more money.

Good point. I didn't have the space to cover it in my other piece, but C1 has definitely had the edge in converting Fuji's files.

As a fairly recent photographer ive never got involved with the Adobe eco system, i dont like paying monthly for anything so wasnt interested in that. Im using Capture One pro and Affinity as my editing suite, it seems to do much of the same thing.

What do you think of Affinity? It never really clicked for me, but seems like a pretty good value for those who like it.

The iPad version isn’t brilliant so I’d only use that if I was desperate.

I don’t know any different so the desktop version is good enough for me. 99% of the time I’m just uploading a processed RAW from C1 to do some retouching (content aware fill etc) which it is really good at so I’m not best placed to talk about the more advanced features. I do masking on there now and then too.

If the rumours are true that C1 is getting stacking and masking features on the next version then I’ll be happy.

Oh and I use Aurora HDR 2018 for bracketing at the moment, something which I’m trying to do less of lately as I was doing it for pretty much every shot at one point.

Hi Alex,

I'm in almost the same situation as Stuart. Formerly LR/PS/Sony/iPhone, now C1P/Affinity/Fujifilm/Pixel.

Still doing HDR with Aurora. For quick & dirty edits, still using Luminar. However, as I get better at this I am doing less HDR and more exposure blending. Pixel 3 images need very little processing out of the box, so not so much Luminar either.

I like Affinity. My impression is that it is more photographer-focused than PS. PS is great, but so is Affinity, and it's a 1-time purchase. Layer Blend options are great, and PS is kind of iffy on that unless you invest in TK actions. I find that it's a lot shorter path to the desired result in Affinity than it was in PS. Color icons! The James Ritson tutorials are excellent, that really helped me at first versus the gnarly PS tutorials out on the interwebs.

I gave up on PS fairly quickly due to Learning Curve issues, and Luminar and Aurora gave me much of what I needed for landscape processing. As I gained sophistication I found the close-to-the-metal approach of Affinity better than the user-friendly Skylum offerings, and switched almost 100% Affinity. The fact that it was ported 100% to the iPad helped push me to Affinity.

Capture One gives the choice of Sessions versus Catalogs, which works for my workflow very well. I really like the interface vs. LR. Layers are outstanding. I am finding more and more of my post processing can be done in C1P, from raw development to exporting, with side trips to Affinity (including Nik, Topaz, Skylum where needed). Probably the most important thing is C1P just seems to handle X-trans files better than LR did. I think all my fuji raw files look better in C1P than they did in LR.

Running Affinity on the iPad too. A little harder to deal with there, mostly because of IOS. And I wish the Dxo Nik Collection and Topaz software was supported on the iPad, alas. When traveling I would rather carry the iPad than the macbook, and probably 85% of the time I can post process to my full satisfaction on the ipad.

Really happy with Capture One Pro and Affinity. Canceled my Adobe subscription and not regretting it one bit.

Weird that this article is set up like it'll be a comparison of tools and solutions, yet does no such thing. This is #sponcon, yeah?

1) Not sponsored. Our sponsored pieces are tagged as such. This is a followup to another article I wrote, covering the advantages and disadvantages of Lightroom, based on my experience.

2) What indicated there would be a comparison with other products? Just curious, as I'd like to make sure the intro is useful to the readers.

I think it has to do with familiarity on our part with LR competitors. I also assumed this would cover LR advantages over say Capture1, ON1, or Luminar as a comparison of features. Instead it reads as though there are no LR alternatives. It's an opinion piece so that's fine, but a lot of newer shooters looking for advice and not aware of any of the alternatives will read this as sound advice.

It's not really presented as a LR vs the alternatives, but instead reasons why LR is a good fit compared to reasons not to consider LR.

In a roundup of processors, what features would you consider essential? LR, C1, ON1, etc will all cover the basics of post processing, especially for new shooters.

This reads like an ad for LR. At $10 a month, you only need to "rent" LR for about half a year to have paid for ON1 or Luminar. I get the benefit of constantly up-to-date software for high volume producers, especially professionals, almost everyone else is wasting money on a subscription service for software that is no longer the only option for most or all of what LR does. When Adobe went SAS they were the only game in town, but for LR at least, that's no longer true and for casual user s very much to the contrary of this articles assertion) rented software is a waste if money.

I think looking at it as LR for $10 is missing the whole value offered by the photography plan.

While I'd love to do a hypothetical Photoshop-for-$5 plan, supplementing with C1, the current photography plan really needs to be compared against: bulk processor (C1 probably), photoshop style editor (Affinity?), and a basic portfolio website option (Squarespace, self hosted, or cheaper option).

If you're a shooting professional, $10 a month for essential software should be a footnote in your books. It's more about getting the software that works for you.

Meanwhile, if you're a casual user, it ties up everything you'd need to catalog, edit, and share, in a well supported ecosystem. I think that's worth the cost, especially considering learning to effectively use the software is one of the bigger challenges as a beginner.

SaaS is just the way every developer is going. Even ON1 is rolling out a yearly subscription pricing (currently still offering a 1 time purchase, but still).

I totally agree with you. And for the record, Capture One does seem interesting, yes, but afaik their cataloging system is not top-notch and, most importantly, if you do real estate photography, well, C1 just doesn't do HDR merge while LR HDR-merge capabilities have become super impressive indeed. While it's true I hate being at the mercy of a monopolistic company, they just happen to do a wonderful product so...

I think photographers have a lot of good choices in editing software right now. Certain products will be a better fit, hence why I think these articles are helpful.

Agreed with C1's catalog system - never got a workflow setup for a large number of photos that I liked in my trials.

If LR is priced for professionals, then maybe it should only be used by professionals.

I'm a software developer. I sell my software for a fixed price. But I realize that I'd make a lot more money if I "rented" my software. Perhaps photographers should also rent their photos?

Plenty do. The whole idea of a non-exclusive license is to "rent" the photo out to multiple users.

Been editing mainly on the iPad so I’ve played with a few tools. I’m resisting LR because I’d rather pay once for my software. I wish CaptureOne did mobile. The new Pixelmator Pro is amazing but it lacks the “pro“ features like brushes, gradient maps, etc. Honestly once they put that in they’d rule mobile. Affinity Photo is not as intuitive as I’d like it to be.

Interesting. I've never really gotten into editing on mobile - a MacBook Air is the closest I've come. Do you like the workflow of being able to shoot and edit in the field, or is there another reason you prefer mobile?

The iPad has for a while been the best display I've had so it made sense to do it there. Also I'm still starting off so I make no money from my photography. But being able to edit on my commute or just reach over and work on my iPad while at home is compelling. Also considering weight as well. I've pretty much decided I was mobile first in almost all that I do.

I used to Love Adobe mainly just used PS. I'm buying a Rx10 IV and have discovered On1 PhotoRaw which I have now bought. It's easy to use but so deep, band I find it more enjoyable than Adobe and soon they are bringing out Mobile and Video Editing.

Photoshop really is the killer app for the photography plan IMO. If you need Photoshop anyway, Lightroom being included in the plan makes it tough to consider something else. When I tried ON1, the interface felt a bit clunky, but that was quite a while ago. I'll have to check out the recent update.

On1 2019 is brilliant and the new 2020 beta is so fast. Definitely not clunky its a pleasure to use and they are bringing out a whole suite including for mobiles and tablets. It's seriously an Adobe killer

My solution to speed up LR. First is to delete LR and install Capture One 12. C1 will automatically recognize your GPU or eGPU and set itself up to use it. It's all automatic. I have an old 2012 mac mini with an eGPU connected with the old first version Thunderbolt (10gb), and 16 GB Ram, with a 1 TB SSD drive installed. My editing just flies! Even with Chrome browser open to 11 tabs and Fornite running in the background. That wasn't an experiment, I just forgot to quit those programs as I was helping a friend online about a photoshoot. I'm never going back to LR. It is just so limited in function, speed, and features that C1 provides.
C1 has the ability to move your tools round just like in Photoshop. A feature I can't understand why Adobe hasn't added it to LR. What about catalogs? C1 not only great for managing catalogs, but you can work in sessions. It's a better way to manage photos shoots and archiving those shoots.

I've been pretty impressed with LR's performance under the latest update. While it can still be better, it's been a drastic improvement from the last year or two.

As for the interface, I agree. I've mentioned the lack of customization (shortcuts and panel/tool locations) as being particularly weird given the shared development with Photoshop.

Yes, the difference in speed is night and day after that last update. I actually bought and used C1 for a few weeks because I was getting frustrated with Lightroom, but I just couldn't learn to like C1. Too many odd ways of doing things, and I never though the raw processing looked as good as LR. That said, in the last few months, Adobe has not only significantly sped up LR, but also added the brilliant texture slider which goes a long way for quick skin edits. My only other C1-esque wish would be for a slider to lessen skin tone variations. But while I'm at it, facial feature manipulation (tweak that smile slightly), and a more PS-esque clone/heal too would be amazing!

It's interesting you mention some of those features. I touched on some of those in this article's companion piece:

C1 definitely has a bit of a learning curve, particularly if you've spent years with Lightroom. I think either can create good results, but it's just a question of which you're experienced with.

I kind of laughed because I am apparently the target consumer. I use lightroom, because I am a hobbyist, I hoard pictures and it made sense to get access to the adobe products. I switched when Apple stopped supporting Aperature. I don't mind the yearly fee as it gives me access to the numerous updates and I figured that at least Adobe would be around for a while. I wasted a lot of money on Aperature.

I left Adobe LR & their blood sucking subscription this year and I have never been happier. Bloated, slow, buggy software from Adobe should NEVER be rewarded with a monthly payment from a customer.