Students often ask me whether they should buy Lightroom or Photoshop or something else, so I thought I would put down my thoughts on this in writing.
Lightroom is Adobe’s image management and enhancement program designed specifically for serious amateur and professional photographers. With more and more powerful features being added with each new release, Lightroom has become a very powerful program which can help you to stay organized and be able to find your photos quickly, produce beautiful editing results, and for those where time is money, dramatically increase the efficiency of your workflow. In addition, you’ll find that once you learn it, working on your photos in Lightroom really is fun!
I define serious amateur as someone who has a lot of images to manage, and/or can and wants to spend the time to get the most out of their images. If you don’t have a lot of images and you are only interested in doing a few simple adjustments, such as cropping and fixing a color cast, then Lightroom is most likely more than you need. In this case, Apple’s Photos app, Photoshop Elements, or any number of free or inexpensive consumer photo programs would be appropriate.
Back to serious amateurs and pro’s: I am a very big advocate of Lightroom as the foundation of the post-processing workflow. It is an elegant and very powerful program for managing your images, fixing and enhancing them, and for sharing them, whether by creating JPEG copies to email out, making prints, designing and ordering photo books, or creating slideshows or web galleries.
When it comes to fixing and enhancing your images, it has a wide variety of powerful Develop tools, and many handy features, such as the ability to see Before and After side-by-side, to save your image work at various stages as snapshots, keep different versions of your images such as a black and white and a color version, and much more. All of the image fix and enhancement work you do in Lightroom is non-destructive, so you cannot ruin your image! Anything you do can be undone, today or 5 years from now. You can also do things much faster with Lightroom — searches for images are lightning-quick, you can work on multiple images at once, and you can save settings and layouts so that you can use them again in the future with the click of one button.
Should I learn Photoshop?
For all the reasons stated above, plus the fact that Lightroom is cheaper, I recommend that students start out by learning and getting very comfortable with Lightroom, making sure that you understand and are using it to its full capabilities. Only at that point would I advise considering Photoshop as a supplemental tool to Lightroom, and only if you feel that there are things you want to do to your images that you find you can’t do with Lightroom. Don’t succumb to peer pressure to buy Photoshop — many amateur and pro photographers now use only Lightroom, others use mostly Lightroom but occasionally do additional work in Photoshop, and still others use Photoshop for every image they work. It all depends on what you want to be able to do. In any case, Lightroom and Photoshop are designed to work together. If you end up using Photoshop, you will do so from within your Lightroom workflow (rather than abandoning your Lightroom workflow!). For me, Camera Raw and Bridge are no longer in my bag of tools. (Update: now Photoshop is bundled with Lightroom in the USD $9.99/mo Creative Cloud Photography Program subscription. This is a good deal – but prioritize learning Lightroom ahead of learning Photoshop.
Some areas that photographers still turn to Photoshop for include: complicated clean-up and retouching; local adjustments involving complicated selections; applying artistic and other types of filters; and compositing images together. (Lightroom CC and 6 can now merge multiple exposures and stitch together panoramas.)
What’s the Best Way to Learn Lightroom?
I’m admittedly a bit biased on this question, but I recommend starting with my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series. This contains 15 1/2 hours of training on 76 videos, and is perfect for new beginners as well as experienced users who want to make sure they are using the program to its fullest. Once you master the core of Lightroom — Lightroom’s Library, Develop (and Map) modules, then check out my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: Producing Great Output series, to learn how to make beautiful photo books, prints, slideshows and web galleries. Don’t take my word for it though — on the above product pages, you will find links to customer reviews.