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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I was really getting annoyed at Lightroom speed and crashiness this last Spring. I seem to have solved at least part of that with a new PC, mandated by the mainboard death of my then-current PC. Though the old one was a high-spec unit: six-core i7 with 64GB DRAM. I do wonder if the Adobe software engineers are appreciative of the tools gap between coders and regular pros in other fields. It should not take a 16-core workstation just to browse and tweak the average photographer's work.

Alex Coleman's picture

Hi Carl - not sure if there's a software problem or a misunderstanding when you say hours to edit the panorama. Are you referring to your entire editing process or just the stitching?

Carl Irjala's picture

Hi,
I refer to the entire process from raw images to finished panoramas. The image behind this link https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/13942725/ took four hours to do and the whole procedure went as follows. I had five raw files for this photo:
Step 1. Tried to merge the images in LR to a panoramic image. After a 10-minute process, a warning box was displayed stating that the photographs could not be merged. At the same time, LR stopped working completely. So I forced it to quit and restarted my computer.
Step 2. Merged two of the raw files and then two more and then the two new files was merged together, completely without any problems but it took 20 minutes for the computer to merge my files to an panoramic image. After this I made small adjustments such as contrast and I adjusted the colors to warmer colors.
Step 2. Opening the image in PS with LR adjustment to make adjustments that I think PS is better at. It took 10 minutes for PS to open the image.
Step 3. Added 3 new layers in PS. Contrast and lighting with Viveza, a color filter with Color Efex Pro and the final layer made with Define. these layers were very easy and quick to make.
Step 4. Pressed cmd+s to save the file and send it back to LR. At this point PS stopped working completely and a warning box showed up that something was wrong and I was prompted to reinstall Adobe CC because there was an error on Adobe's software.
Step 5. I reinstalled CC in my computer and while this was going on I thought it was time to have a cup of coffee ;-)
Step 6. None of what I did to my panorama pic had been saved so I had to start from scratch. That day I just got one panoramic image ready for the public.
My editing machine is: iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011). 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5. 4 Gt 1333 MHz DDR3 memory, AMD Radeon HD 6750M, 512 Mt and macOS High Sierra Versio 10.13.6.
So it shouldn't be as difficult as it is and it's not the first time this has happened. This happen on regulary basis. At first I thought it was something wrong with the Nik Collection but it works perfectly and very quickly with Capture one.
So this was my description of a completely normal working day with LR and PS.
Yes, I have also considered updating the computer to a new one with better performance.

That's kind of what I just suggested... you have a PC that should be perfectly acceptable for general photo work. I wonder if the Adobe coders are working on much higher spec gear.

The one excpetion is that panorama work can be very memory intensive. I built myself a PC in 2013 with the 64GB DRAM needed specifically for pano work, then using Autopano Giga, which wanted real ram (did not play well with VM). I do make some very large images, and my current PC, built last May, also includes 64GB.

You mentioned your memory speed, but the more interesting question is how much, versus the number of photos in a merge and the size of the final image. I would not expect to be editing my 250megapixel+ composites on a 4GB machine. I assume that MacOS would have a monitoring tool to let you see what's happening with memory while merging/loading for 10-20 minutes. I won't claim Lightroom couldn't be much faster, but there are problems too big for smaller PCs to do comfortably.

Carl Irjala's picture

You are so right, thank you for your comment.
If the raw file exceeds 50 megapixels, LR gets big problems in my iMac and I spend more time waiting for the counting process to finish.
The following software that I have tested can handle big files editing very fast in my iMac: Capture One 12, Phocus, DxO NIK Collection and Luminar.

Matthias Dengler's picture

Lightroom is a raw converter.
Not a retouching tool. Lightroom is exactly Adobe Camera Raw. Just a different interface with library function.

Alex Coleman's picture

Lightroom is a catalog with keywording functionality, a tool for making books and websites, a printing utility, and more. I don't think implementing more fully-featured versions of the tools already added to LR is an unrealistic expectation.

Deleted Account's picture

"You Shouldn't Be Using Lightroom for That"
I use Lightroom for what I want and nobody has to tell me if I should use it or not…

Dave Morris's picture

On color the main reason LR feels weak is because of it's default bland (compared to C1) profiles. But if you try LR with the RNI film simulation (which comes with its own profiles) it really starts shining. It feels much more delicate and accurate even compared to RNI for C1.

Alex Coleman's picture

I didn't enjoy the shift to the Adobe Color profile, which seems like a cheap JPEG with crushed shadows, at least for my camera. I'll have to check out some of RNI's profiles.

Nick Rains's picture

Panoramas stitch just fine if you feed in the right images, it does not like challenges however so, yes, head to PTGUI for more challenging stuff. It also softens the images slightly in the stitching process which is less than ideal but fine for most uses.

That's the thing, LR is fine, more than fine really, for most uses. For editorial shooters who work with large numbers of images it's easily the best tool out there. For fine art photographers (or pixel peepers) who sweat over every last pixel, then Photoshop is the go, or other software.

Understanding what LR is really meant for goes a long way towards making it work for you.

Alex Coleman's picture

Exactly. That was was the sentiment I hope comes across in the article: recognizing where Lightroom falls short and how to work with that. Well put.

I actually found the composite stitching in Lightroom superior to Photoshop's. Maybe they have fixed Photoshop recently, but LR is quite good. I still use Kolor Autopano Giga for the complex situations, but they were put out of business awhile back. Is there anything with that level of control still on the market?

Actually you missed the most important one: RAW conversion. Just do a test with Capture One and you’ll notice LR is rubbish at bringing back Highlights. The best tool was Aperture - was also great at Shadows but hey that’s past now.

This simple issue disqualifies LR ... from the get go. If the RAW converter doesn’t improve I won’t use it regardless how great everything else is.

Just give an overblown image a try on both LR, C1 (and Aperture if it still runs on your Mac and you’re using an older cam). You’d be surprise...

Rick Pappas's picture

Ctrl-e will fix all of those issues. Lightroom is not and never was marketed as Photoshop. This article is just click-bait.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Disagree = Clickbait

Alex Coleman's picture

Lightroom is "marketed" for each of almost all of these purposes I've described. They have transform, panorama, color, and retouching tools. They just happen to be worse in comparison to other options.

I could rescale my canvas to avoid losing the edges, fill in small gaps with content aware fill. I do this all the time in PS and am amazed at those who use the automated process in LR to do it, losing 1-3mm of equivalent negative focal length in the process. I thought I was the only one who did this, so it was nice to get the affirmation.

Alex Coleman's picture

Agreed! Especially if the correction is bigger, you can be losing a lot around the edges. There's a pretty good trick for filling those empty spaces that I'll be covering soon, so keep an eye out for that.

For some reason, I neglected to put quotes around the first sentence of my post, which was written by the author. My post should have started, "I could rescale my canvas to avoid losing the edges, fill in small gaps with content aware fill." I do this all the time.....

What a country! I love articles that start with, "You Shouldn't..." and end with an epic "Speaking of updates..." because, wow. Nice conclusion. Really summarized the content.

Alex Coleman's picture

It's a brief section added to reflect an update that was released after the article was finalized. If the preceding 2 paragraphs and large, bold subheadings didn't give you a sufficient overview of the article, I'm not sure a 3rd would change things for you.

Will check out Portrait Pro over Wine (I run GNU/Linux extensively) and if it works (on the platform + my needs - skin retouching), I will buy

I totally disagree with this critism. Better change the title to: why you dont use lightroom to do PHOTOSHOP work

It's like criticizing a car not able to sail on water