Update April 2014: $9.99 has become the “going rate” for the “Creative Cloud Photoshop Photography program”, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom. A Creative Cloud subscription also now gives you unlimited syncing from your desktop catalog to Lightroom mobile for the iPad. This new app and Lightroom may be justification enough for you for the $9.99/month price tag. If not, read on to see if you might get value out of receiving Photoshop CC as well.
Written 11/20/2013: With Adobe’s Current Black Friday sale on Photoshop CC + Lightroom, 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. 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
$19.99/month $9.99/month Photoshop CC price tag, and are you willing and able to invest the time and money to learn this complicated program?
I generally recommend that photographers learn Lightroom’s Develop tools well first, so that you appreciate fully what you can already do with Lightroom. 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 11 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 (the second video on this page will teach you how to use it), particularly with the addition in Lightroom 5 of the click-and-drag brush capability, but it still has significant limitations — to cover something up, you have to have a clean source in your image to draw from. Photoshop has “content aware” functionality — it can analyze the area around what you’re removing, and intelligently make up new information to fill the fix area in.
Removing this telephone pole took less than a minute:
You also have more tools available to help you with object removal — the patch tool, for example. Finally, you can copy in elements from another photo to cover up problems — watch my video on swapping eyes and heads to see how.
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.