Update 11/20/2013: Read my updated article, on reasons to subscribe to Photoshop CC.
Photoshop CS6 started shipping yesterday, so I anticipate that a lot of photographers not currently using Photoshop are wondering if they should consider it. I am assuming for the sake of this article that you are already using Lightroom. (If not, you may want to read this post, which talks about why I think pro’s as well as amateurs who really care about their photography should.) The question here is, do you need Photoshop too?
There is certainly much that you can do in Photoshop that you can’t do in Lightroom. The key questions are, do you need or want to do enough of those things to justify the $699 price tag, and are you willing and able to invest the time and money to learn this complicated program?
The first thing I recommend is that you get very comfortable with all of Lightroom’s Develop tools. Many people who have used Lightroom for years still haven’t explored or mastered all of its tools. (Of course an excellent way to learn them is with my Lightroom Fundamentals & Beyond video series.)
Amongst serious amateurs and pro’s, usage of Photoshop for photography purposes runs the full spectrum — some are completely satisfied with just using Lightroom (more and more with each new Lightroom release!), some take some percentage to Photoshop to do more complicated work, and others take all their photos to Photoshop to do more complicated work or to use actions they have built or purchased. I personally take about 5% of my straight photographs to Photoshop to do work I can’t do in Lightroom. I also use Photoshop for creative compositing. Let me be clear that if you decide not to add Photoshop to your toolkit, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t serious about your photography — Lightroom is very powerful by itself.
Here are My Top 10 Reasons Why You May Want or Need Photoshop
1. Complicated Object Removal & Movement
Lightroom’s spot removal tool is more powerful than a lot of people think (here’s a tutorial on using it), but it still has significant limitations — it’s just a circle, and it doesn’t have very much intelligence behind it in terms of what it replaces an area to be fixed with. Photoshop’s patch tool and content aware heal, move and fill features are quite powerful and impressive. You can remove or move things in Photoshop that you definitely can’t in Lightroom, and in situations where you are doing a lot of simple repairs that Lightroom can do, they can often be done faster in Photoshop.
Removing this telephone pole took less than a minute:
2. Sophisticated Retouching
The Liquify tool in Photoshop is very popular in retouching, for the big tasks of making people or parts of them thinner or more defined, but also for more subtle work, such as enhancing cheek bones and eyes. Photoshop also allows you to very quickly and more precisely select and make changes to faces and skin, and has many other tools that professional retouchers use as well. (We have all seen the fashion magazine examples — you can go all the way towards this, or make more subtle changes.)
That said, if all you need to do is get rid of some zits, brighten and whiten teeth and the whites of eyes, make the eyes pop with come saturation and clarity, saturate lips, soften skin, and/or reduce the appearance of circles under eyes and wrinkles, all of this can be done in Lightroom, with the spot removal tool and adjustment brush. (Here’s a video tutorial on the adjustment brush.)
Here’s an example of basic retouching with just Lightroom (a bit overdone — retouching oneself can get addicting!):
I would put photo restoration under this category as well — you can do some basic cleanup and color work with Lightroom, but when the going gets tough, you will need a more powerful tool.
3. Complicated Selections
I use Lightroom’s adjustment brush all the time to make local changes to photos, and when I need to affect something up against an edge, I turn on its auto-mask functionality, which protects me from spilling over the edge. This tool therefore allows me to make some pretty complicated selections. However, auto mask’s edge is very abrupt (there is no feathering control), so if I am making a dramatic change, the result is sometimes too obviously fake. In addition, auto mask does not work well next to fine detail, such as hair. Here’s an example of where I used auto mask to affect the background around my head. I can get away with it if I darken the background, but not if I brighten it up more than subtly:
Photoshop, on the other hand, has very powerful tools to make complicated selections, with a lot of control over edges. It takes time to build the skills to make selections such as this, but it is doable.
4. Merging Multiple Exposures with HDR
When I am photographing a scene with a lot of contrast — very bright areas and very dark areas, I will often bracket my exposures and merge them automatically with Photoshop’s HDR Pro feature. This is not possible in Lightroom. (You could instead by Photomatix or another HDR plug-in.)
5. Merging Photos into a Panorama
If you have a very wide scene that you can’t capture in one photo, or want to make a very high-resolution photo by stitching together several of pieces of your scene, you will need Photoshop or another program to merge them.
I debated whether to put this new feature in the list, as whether this one matters to you will depend on what kind of shooting you do. Shooting with a wide angle lens can really distort the size and shape of objects up close. If it is important to you to correct this, it cannot be done in Lightroom. Here’s an example – notice in the before shot how wide the side table next to the sofa is, how distorted the vase is, and how long the TV and stand appear, compared to the after.
7. Creative Compositing
Whether you wish to simply put one photo on top of another and blend them, or take an object out of one photo and put it in another, this is a task for Photoshop.
8. Applying Artistic Filters
The closest thing Lightroom has to artistic filters is negative clarity, which can smooth out skin and also create a glowing effect, and simple blurring (in the adjustment brush). From Lighting Effects to Oil Painting to sophisticated new Blur filters, there are dozens of artistic filters in Photoshop. Here’s the new Oil Painting filter:
9. Designing Brochures, Business Cards, Posters, and Other Graphics
We can do more and more in Lightroom to combine text and photos, with the Print module’s Custom Package functionality, added in Lightroom 3, and now the Book Module, new in Lightroom 4. Both allow you to output your designs as jpegs. However, they both still have many limitations in layout and text; just as quick examples, you can’t tilt photos, apply drop shadows or other styles to text, or add other graphic elements, such as lines and shapes. If you find yourself unable to achieve a layout you have in mind, it may be time to turn to Photoshop. (Yes, you can achieve even more with InDesign, but for those like me who don’t want to also purchase a professional design program, and who already are purchasing Photoshop for other reasons, I find it to be quite powerful.)
10. Video Editing Capabilities
A lot of photographers are now shooting video with their DSLR’s as well. While Lightroom 4 added basic video editing capabilities — the ability to trim off the ends of a video and do basic Development work — it is very limited. Video editing is now in the Standard version of Photoshop, and I find it quite impressive. You can combine multiple videos, edit as needed, apply adjustment layers and filters to all or parts of your videos, etc.
These are the top reasons that come to mind for me to continue to invest in Photoshop. If you have Photoshop, what are yours? Leave a comment below!