You Shouldn't Be Using Lightroom for That

You Shouldn't Be Using Lightroom for That

I'm the first to admit I love Lightroom. Sure, it has its issues, like occasionally slow performance on good hardware and an admittedly aging interface, but I'm comfortable with it. There are a number of tasks, though, that you just shouldn't be using Lightroom for. Want to know what they are?

Transforming

One that I most recently noticed, when working on a number of architectural photos, was Lightroom's lackluster support for transform/upright corrections. Sure, you can make these corrections, but between Lightroom's slower rendering performance and lack of options for rescaling, I was always disappointed. I found that I was losing the edges of my frame, without any way to fix it. Bringing these photos over to Photoshop made things much easier. I could rescale my canvas to avoid losing the edges, fill in small gaps with content aware fill, and iterate through the process more quickly. Now, the best solution would just be to buy a tilt-shift lens, but until then, I'll do my architectural corrections in Photoshop.

Correcting the verticals and tilt on this image in Lightroom will mean losing the top of the sign.

Retouching

It's not just photos of buildings, but photos of people. While accurate skin tones are a whole new issue, let's talk about retouching first. Lightroom is lacking support for significant retouching capabilities, which is understandable. What I'm sad to see is just how bad the basic retouching and cloning situation is. 

Lightroom is fine for cloning one or two dust spots out of a sky, but for anything more, the spot tool is not up to the task. With many corrections, it slows to a crawl (noticing a theme?), while for large corrections, it lacks the control and versatility of the healing brush, clone stamp, content aware fill, and the patch tool. Furthermore, if you're a skilled retouching artist and are trying to work with frequency separation, Lightroom has nothing of relevance to offer. For anything more than a lone dust spot or errant zit, you'll want to bring your images over to Photoshop for any retouching.

The brush and gradient mask tools, right near the spot healing tool, are another example of Lightroom's skin deep feature set. Luminosity and color masking were added a while ago, but are far from the complete package. Both are relatively slow to preview, without much possibility of refinement. Compared to a dedicated panel or plugin in Photoshop, they too are only good for small adjustments.

Panoramas

Another example of Lightroom's half-measured support falling short is panorama stitching. While I love the idea of Lightroom retaining all your raw information throughout the stitch, Lightroom only supports a very narrow use case. Essentially, you need to be shooting a textbook panorama. Perfect rotation around the nodal point, no moving elements, no parallax issues; if you have something even slightly off, you'll spend a minute waiting on a progress bar, just to see an error message.

If you don't follow Lightroom's exact requirements for stitching, expect to see this message a lot.

I've had much more success editing one file, syncing the changes across, and exporting to stitch in a dedicated program. While I lose some of the flexibility of the raw files, the much better stitching performance makes up for it. Lightroom still doesn't make this workflow easy, since you have to make sure to set a custom white balance and lens corrections to avoid inconsistencies in the stitched shot. Whether you're using Hugin, PTGui, or just Photoshop, you'll appreciate the greater control over your stitch.

Color

Color adjustments, particularly for studio or portraiture work, have always been a strength of Capture One. While I haven't had the opportunity to work extensively with Capture One, its features and reputation make it the clear choice for this kind of work. Support for intensive color matching, via the Xrite ColorChecker Passport, goes far beyond Lightroom's HSL and white balance tools. Additionally, Capture One supports dedicated panels for skin tone adjustments, making it a better tool for tweaking the color of portraits. While my work doesn't typically involve these tools, I've seen other photographers use them to great effect.

Beyond working with raw color, many users just prefer the default look of other raw processing software. Past testing has shown that you can generate an almost identical look with any program, but for many users, getting to that desired look with the fewest steps is preferred. I didn't have a strong position on this issue in the past, but Lightroom appears to interact weirdly with some settings on my Z 7. Besides locking some of the profile corrections on, I find that my raw files don't appear to be as neutral, requiring either changes to the default settings or profile. While I've since worked out a default profile I like, I don't enjoy how Adobe approached this change.

Layers

One of the classic differentiators for Lightroom has been layer support, or lack thereof. While this was fine five years ago, times have changed. Lightroom's competition, like Capture One and Affinity Photo, have brought layer support to the party. Other tools, like Skylum Luminar, also offer some form of layer support, although not to the same extent as Photoshop.

As I've come to rely more on layers and as my workflow has evolved over the years, the lack of layer support is really starting to stick out. I'd love to see an implementation of layers into Lightroom's non-destructive editing style, but I dread to think of the performance impact it would bring. Until then, it seems Control+E is going to still be my friend.

The roundtrip workflow between Lightroom and Photoshop has been fine, but doesn't feel as efficient as it could be. Having to jump over to Photoshop just to use layers feels unnecessary, since an increasing number of tools have come over to Lightroom, at least in some form. The left side panel in the Develop module feels like a natural fit for a layers menu. It already includes history and preset support. Layers, along with better masking support, could go a long way to cutting down my need for Photoshop.

Conclusion

Lightroom can't do everything for every type of photographer. If you're a dedicated studio shooter, you're probably already tethering with Capture One. If you're unhappy with the pricing model, maybe you've given an alternative product a try. If you're like me, having used Lightroom for years, you've grown used to some of the peculiarities. I definitely still see value in Lightroom, however. Particularly as part of the photography plan, Photoshop and Lightroom can cover photographers of every skill level and style, even if you have to rely on both apps for the complete picture.

I've used it for years, for both personal and professional work, and haven't been too unhappy with it. I love the dedicated catalog and ability to go back to refine a years-old shot at any time. I've gotten comfortable with the interface and quirks from years of working with it. Combined with my catalog going back years, I've got quite a bit of lock-in. Features like keywording, GPS support, and the wide (if a bit shallow) variety of editing tools means I can do 90% of my work in Lightroom. For that last 10%, however, I'm relying more on external tools, and it seems that 10% is only growing, despite Lightroom's updates.

Speaking of updates, Adobe has recently introduced an update for ACR and Lightroom that provides improved performance and GPU processing support for a number of tools. In my preliminary testing, things have gotten a bit snappier. I'd still like to see a number of feature updates, but I agree with Adobe's path in addressing performance first.

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Alex Coleman's picture

That's great that you've had a good experience with it. Typically, longer FL panoramas are easier to stitch, in my experience. Where I've had difficulty is with a wider lens.

Lightroom can stitch panoramas, but a dedicated tool has given me better, more consistent results. To me, Lightroom's pano function doesn't offer anything special to make up for inconsistency.

Logan Cressler's picture

Dont get me wrong, I am a huge critic of Lightroom lol, it is so damn slow. But I still use it for the organization features, and because I use photoshop a lot, and paying $10 a month is cheaper than paying $10 a month to use just photoshop and then more for C1 which would be my raw editor of choice past LR.

Alex Coleman's picture

Agreed - between the integration and pricing with Photoshop, it's tough to consider any competing product. C1 would have to be priced a lot more aggressively to justify the switch, IMO, since Photoshop is still essential.

Logan Cressler's picture

I honestly dont even need lightroom as a raw editor, its just a DAM tool for me, but a poor one at that. I almost wish they would make a new program that is just strictly data management no editor at all, and increase the functionality of photoshop that RAW corrections are done to the raw file, ACR in photoshop is limited in that it is no longer working the original file.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Affinity Photo can replace Photoshop for most work. I've never run into something I can do in Photoshop and can't do in Affinity Photo. $50 one time fee.

Carl Murray's picture

Just out of curiosity, what DO you use for stitching panoramas, or what would you suggest using? Always interested in trying out some new tools :)

I don't understand your criticism that LR lacks an option for scaling in the Transform panel. It most certainly does and I use it when necessary. I haven't experienced a lot of your other complaints either. But what mystifies me the most is the need to write an article criticising what LR doesn't offer when you have identified other software that apparently you like better. Why not just use that software and be done with it. Why do you feel qualified to advise anyone else on what to use or not use. Every software has its pros and cons.

Alex Coleman's picture

Lack of options for scaling isn't the same as lack of scaling. The options I'd refer to are how the newly-empty areas are handled. in PS, these can just be left empty or easily filled via content aware fill. This makes for more flexibility in the process.

As for the article as a whole, it is an opinion piece and tagged as such. It is an opinion on what I've felt LR is missing from its worlkflow, as well as the alternatives/workarounds that I use.

I don't understand why this post was written.

The whole point of Adobe CC I that it IS a suite of tools. If Adobe were to bloat Lightroom with all the features of Photoshop just to please you, that would be just stupid.

The suite exists, and has tight links between tools, specifically for this reason.

If you need advanced pixel-level editing, then jump over to Photoshop from Lightroom and vice-versa.

Complain about missing features or things that simply cannot be done with any tools is more productive. Don't moan and groan that you have to use a different Adobe tool. I'm mean really, how hard is it to pop back and forth?

And if you don't have the full CC suite, well, I won't go into the whole subscription vs. purchase versus freeware debate, but if you are pro, you get the tools you need (Adobe or other) and get on with your work.

Last time I looked, a physical tool box had more than just one screwdriver, but of course, when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

Alex Coleman's picture

The article was written as an opinion piece on what LR is missing in my workflow, suggestions for future development efforts, and alternatives that I've used that others should consider.

While LR is linked with PS, needing to create a TIFF and wait for it to open in PS is inherently clunkier than staying in LR.

As a result, I primarily suggest updates and additions to LR's tools. This isn't adding all the features of PS, but instead making LR's existing tools work better.

To go with your metaphor, this isn't mistaking everything for a nail. It's more like having some sizes of screwdriver offer magnetic tips and powered driving functionality, while others have slippery handles and rounded down tips. The screwdriver manufacturer can make a quality product, they just need to do it across the whole line.

I think the author is just showing us the limitations in his ability to do post processing. Of course any changes that require modifying the layers should be done in Photoshop but otherwise you can do wonderful post processing in Lightroom.

Alex Coleman's picture

I'm not sure how a discussion of the deficiencies of software and the suggested alternatives is indicative of my limitations. If LR is missing the button, or the feature objectively doesn't perform as well as a similar feature in PS, there's nothing the photographer can do.

As for processing in LR, "I definitely still see value in Lightroom ... however, I'm relying more on external tools". So, I agree with you there.

Martin Van Londen's picture

I feel like you are tiptoeing around the FACT that Lightroom is TRASH. No one can change my mind about that. It’s just a fact.

David Boyars's picture

It's very quick to learn which is important for beginners. What software do you use?

Martin Van Londen's picture

That’s true. I did used LR a lot when I first started photo editing. Now for the most part I use bridge, camera raw and photoshop.

Alex Coleman's picture

I've got to disagree.

I definitely think there are some flaws, but I think it has a place in many photographer's toolkits.

I think it's a good tool for beginners, despite the catalog style being more confusing at first. The sliders and layout of Develop are easy to grasp. For more advanced users, performance and some missing features can be annoying, but the tight integration with Photoshop means it is still serviceable, especially if you shoot a mix of content.

Martin Van Londen's picture

It is good for beginners. But at the same time I feel like people just learn it and use it as a crutch and never really deep dive into PS, Camera Raw, and bridge.

My biggest beef with LR is the color science. I think the best word for it is dingy.

Alex Coleman's picture

The same color science, profiles, and raw processing (ACR) that powers Lightroom powers Photoshop's Camera Raw.

Yup. I never found a color issue in Lightroom that could be solved in Camera Raw or Photoshop. Sure... maybe I'm holding it wrong, but that's been my experience. I have DxO PhotoLab for a different take on color, which sometimes does improve things.

Martin Van Londen's picture

I could be wrong. I’m not an software engineer so I can’t tell you for sure. But I’ve talked to a number of high end digital techs that have all told me the same thing. And that is that’s the images are processed differently. Maybe it’s physiology now that I’ve been told that.. but I can for sure see a difference.

Alex Coleman's picture

I'll double check, but I believe that set identically, LR and Photoshop's Camera Raw should produce identical results. It's why any time ACR updates, LR updates too.

Martin Van Londen's picture

I did not notice that. But I’m also going to dig deeper lol sense I have such a strong opinion about it.

Alex Coleman's picture

Check out this link on Adobe's support site: https://helpx.adobe.com/camera-raw/using/introduction-camera-raw.html

At the bottom, under Working with Camera Raw and Lightroom: "Camera Raw and Lightroom share the same image-processing technology".

Just something nice to keep in mind, since you don't have to roundtrip an image in PS back to Lightroom just to make a LR style adjustment. :)

No one can change your mind is the only fact in your comment.

Deleted Account's picture

The old adage, use the right tools for the job. Then again, we have so many tools available and all to create one end goal. An image we like and our customers like.

On the subject of LR tools and bloating it. Who the heck still uses the red eye tool? It’s still there, in a handy and prominent position. Ready for us all to use.

Alex Coleman's picture

While it didn't fit the theme of this article, I've mentioned in the past how Lightroom's interface really needs to be customizable. Custom leyboard shortcuts and movable panels would be great. You can already hide or rearrange panels, but why stop there?

Carl Irjala's picture

I have also used Lightroom and Photoshop as long as they have existed. I also purchased an iMac machine to get a more stable and smoother workflow compared to Windows.
Lightroom and Photoshop have both been easy and pleasant to work with. The only thing that has been disappointing is that after each update, they get slower and slower. For example, a panoramic pic with three raw files from Fujifilm X100F takes at least an hour to edit. With four raw files, it takes four hours bacause the software have a tendency to crash at least twice during this process. So in my opinion, Adobe's products are not worth their price anymore.
Yesterday I canceled my annual plan and received the following response from Adobe: I get two months free if I keep Lightroom and Photoshop a another year. If I choose to quit, they will punish me with the full prize for the rest of the year period and they will shut down all their services on August 23, 2019.
Yesterday I purchased Capture One for Fujifilm and Davinci Resolve to edit my videos.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

If you need a Photoshop replacement, you could try Affinity Photo.

Gordon Cahill's picture

Really? Three hours? Is that for LR to do the stitch and render the new raw file? Or a full edit?

I've been stitching 9 shot stitches from my X1D in LR in about a minute and a half (Surface Book 2). And that's just a tripod and no nodal slider.

Apart from the lag from a lot of spot healing, LR is pretty OK with the latest upgrade. LR 'aint perfect (I've got my own list of improvements) but three hours?

Gordon

Alex Coleman's picture

The most recent update (Aug 2019) actually has made things a bit snappier. While some of the technical limitations to the tools still exist, I'm having a lot easier time scrolling through the catalog.

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