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.
Not only is learning easy, you don’t have to worry about studying outdated information.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.
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.
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.