Lightroom vs Photoshop? It’s the question most of us ask ourselves when we start our post processing journey with our photos. I first started photography in 2007, and up until 2015 I was solely a Photoshop man. I never used Lightroom, except for maybe two occasions where I wanted to shrink down a large number of images.
Why was this? Well, probably because I was being stubborn. I had my way of doing things, and I didn’t want to change or learn about a different workflow process. Photoshop is extremely powerful, there’s no doubt about it. But that sheer amount of power and ability is not necessary for every photographer. Perhaps some studio photographers would argue differently, particularly if they perform heavy manipulations to their work and drastically change the photo. But as a nature photographer, I don’t need to chop and change my photos, so I was sticking with Photoshop for no real reason.
Photoshop vs Lightroom
Then came 2015. I worked on location for a number of months alongside a few other photographers. This gave me the opportunity to see how their workflows worked. I was amazed at the ease with which they edited their work, and en masse too. They crunched through hundreds of photos, achieving edits the same or better to what I was capable of doing in Photoshop. It was then that I made the change, and I haven’t looked back since. Don’t get me wrong, I still refer back to Photoshop for more challenging images that require specific, more fine-tuned adjustments – but that’s a rare occurrence.
So why did I do it? Here are some of the things I love Lightroom for. I think will improve your workflow too.
#1 Exporting is Pain Free
Ok, this is probably the most obvious thing about Lightroom. But the ability to edit, process and export hundreds of photos with a few clicks is just such a life saver. You’ve probably heard photographers are spending more and more time behind their computers than out taking photos – well it’s probably true, and that is such a shame. Lightroom is part of the solution to this, so if computer time frustrates you, then this is for you.
Something really simple I’ve relatively recently started, is export user presets. Most publications have different requirements for photos, so if you’re delivering regularly, these presets are fantastic. For example, PhotoBog.com likes to have my photos at a particular resolution, amongst other things. So, instead of manually entering all of the requirements each time, I have saved a preset. All I do is click, ‘Export’, choose the preset and hit go. Like magic, my photos are prepared just how the editor wants them, and I haven’t had to even think about it.
Want to create an export preset yourself? Just adjust the settings in the export window as required, and hit ‘Add’ (as shown in the screenshot above). Title the preset, and voila! Before I used Lightroom, I would have to find the high resolution file, open it in Photoshop, make the sizing adjustments, and re-save the file as a deliverable image. Not fun, and took a long time.
#2 Post Production is Easy and Fluid
The Lightroom catalog is a great thing. You import all your photos, and it creates one big library of thumbnails and metadata. If your hard drive with photos on isn’t connected to the computer, you’ll still be able to view the photos in some sort of resolution. You can’t make adjustments, but you can browse the catalog and modify the metadata (such as keywords and captions). Plug in the source, and the photos ping to life.
Adjustments in Lightroom are non-destructive. When you make an edit in Photoshop, you’ll be saving a new version of the file. It’s easy to overwrite the original on purpose, or by accident, but going back to the beginning is a frustrating process (and impossible if you haven’t got a version saved). In Lightroom, all your edits are stored as metadata – that’s to say, Lightroom writes its own little instruction manual about what processing you’ve done to every photo. Your processing isn’t actually applied until the export, and exporting never overwrites the original file.
This saves you both time and file space, meaning you won’t export a separate high resolution file until you really need it. Things stay super organised and you can always jump back in the history of an edit.
When you open a raw file in Photoshop, you have to make the adjustments in the Camera Raw plugin first. Then you hit ‘open image’, and the file pops into Photoshop. Want to alter your raw adjustments? No can do – you’ll need to reopen the original raw and lose all your post production work, starting from scratch. There are some workarounds using Photoshop actions, but they definitely are not easy.
Lightroom, however, has raw compatibility built into the software. Open up the ‘Develop’ module and all the sliders are there, primed and at the ready. You can make adjustments at any point during the edit process, without having to lose your work should you change your mind.
Copying Your Adjustments
Got a load of really similar images, such as those in a time-lapse or from an event? You can really quickly edit them all at once. This may be all that you need to do, or it may supply you with a good base adjustment for all the shots that you can later fine-tune. It’s up to you. But either way, it’s easy to do.
In Lightroom CC, just select the adjusted photo and the ones that require adjustment. Next, press ‘Sync Settings’. You’ll be prompted with a checklist of the exact things you want to copy over, so you can avoid copying over crop settings or other things that are unique to the image in question.
You can do the same with the metadata, which is really handy for bulk keywording and other similar tasks.
Have you ever tried doing this in Photoshop? Not going to happen; not without a script installed, that’s for sure. I look back on my Photoshop days and despair at the amount of time I have lost, wasted on editing photo after photo.
#3 Sharpening and Noise Reduction is Surprisingly Good
I used to think Lightroom lacked the tools necessary to properly sharpen a photo and deal with unwanted noise. How wrong I was. In Photoshop I would painstakingly cut out the subject of my photo so I could apply sharpening to just that area of the image.
Lightroom is so much better than this. You can apply sharpening with a simple slide of a slider, adjusting a second to fine-tune the mask. This means you can tell the software which parts of the photo should be sharpened. Sure, it’s not as accurate as selecting the area manually, but it is pretty darn good at it.
You know what’s surprising? The adjustments with noise are so, so good. Clicking the before and after toggle, I am consistently amazed at how the photo is both sharper and clearer with Lightroom. In Photoshop, I always found that it was one at the cost of the other.
#4 Collections Will Mean You Never Lose a Photo
My library has 27,000 images in it. I’ve definitely taken more than that during my career, but most are lost on hard drives somewhere. The Lightroom library means I never lose an image, since I have the thumbnail there to remind me of its existence. But even with 27,000 images, things can disappear into the library itself.
Sure, you have the search function like you would use in a Word document, but the ability to add things to a collection is a no-brainer.
I tend to keep all of my ‘portfolio’ images in a Processed collection, allowing me to quickly find the best of my work. Other collections are those of competition entries, calendar shots… the sky is the limit. I particularly love the quick collection function – just select a photo and hit ‘B’ on your keyboard. Instantly, that photo is propelled into a folder with all the other B-annointed photos. This is great for picking out photos for future reference.
#5 The Purge
Getting rid of photos was something I was really, really bad at. I hated the delete button, more out of laziness than fear of a change of heart. But Lightroom fixes that. Oh, beautiful Lightroom, what would I do without you?
Select the photo you don’t want, and tap ‘X’ on the keyboard. This photo is then flagged with a demeaning crossed flag, fading it out of your library. You can filter flags too, so you don’t have to sit and stare at them when you’re browsing. But the crossed flag isn’t the end for your photo, oh no. You can then leave it for a while, having marked them for deletion.
When you’re feeling brave enough to commit, navigate to ‘Photo > Delete Rejected Photos…’. You’re then prompted to either delete them from the catalog, or delete the original file from your hard drive.
In my opinion, Lightroom is the way forward for any photographer. It really has everything you need – you can even remove dust spots within the software. Should you need to go back to Photoshop, all you have to do is right-click your image and choose to make further edits in Photoshop. It keeps the edited file in your catalog too, so you aren’t condemning the photo to a life without Lightroom.
To cut a long story short, I totally love Lightroom. It’s changed my workflow entirely and saved me buckets and buckets of time. I just wish I made the change sooner! When you find yourself faced with the Lightroom vs Photoshop question, I’d recommend you give Lightroom a chance.