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Should I Learn Lightroom or Photoshop (or Both or Neither)?

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!

Lightroom Tutorials for Beginners

Lightroom’s Library, Develop and Map Modules

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.

Lightroom 5 Book, Print, Web, Slideshow Tutorials

Creating Output with Lightroom’s Book, Print, Web and Slideshow Modules

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.

Developing a Photo in Lightroom - Before and After

Developing a Photo in Lightroom: Before and After

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.

Click here for Lightroom 3 and Lightroom 4 training.

2017-08-02T11:23:20+00:00September 9th, 2011|11 Comments


  1. Christopher September 10, 2011 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    This is all sound advice and it’s the exact same advice that I give every person that asks me about what they should buy. Every soccer mom/dad that I know swears that they need Photoshop to handle the snapshots coming out of their P&S. I tell them otherwise but half of the time the buy it anyway only to realize later that they are in WAY over their head. I know that some people just want to say that they use Photoshop, but really….that’s a lot of coin to lay down for bragging rights.

    The progression for amateurs who are interested in photo editing should be Elements -> Lightroom -> Photoshop. You could possibly skip straight to Lightroom if you are fairly serious about your photography. I find it extremely easy to use and while not being cheap it also isn’t in the stratospheric cost zone of Photoshop.

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  3. Photoshop Workshop | Brecksville Arts September 22, 2011 at 5:42 pm - Reply

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  5. John Hooton October 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    Very sound advice from Laura and the statistics speak volumes. My only criticism of Lightroom is that because on first use it appears so simple, it is easy to miss all the amazing features and tools that are contained therein. For this reason alone, I really would recommend Laura’s videos/DVD set as the fastest short cut to a thorough understanding of Lightroom. Her command of the software is only equalled by her calm and clear communication skills, she is indeed an excellent teacher.
    Once you know your way around Lightroom, you can accomplish most enhancements more quickly, logically, and easily than any other software. Not only that, but within Lightroom, you have a complete solution from workflow, to enhancement, to publishing or printing, all complete in one smooth total operation.

  6. Audrey Drake October 20, 2011 at 11:33 am - Reply

    The only reason that I bought LR was that with my new IMac (and iPhoto and Aperture and my new-enough-for-me Panasonic) I could not upload or work with raw photos. It was very annoying, to me that I had all this new equipment but couldn’t do what I wanted. So I decided to bite the bullet and go for Lightroom.

    I love it, but must admit that it was difficult getting to the stage where I know — for the most part — what I am doing. It took patience and determination to feel comfortable with it. But I’m glad I persevered.

    A lot of the recent knowledge I’ve gained is thanks to Laura. I’m very grateful to be able to learn online from her tutorials. And I look forward to learning everything I can.

    • Laura Shoe October 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the note, Audrey!

  7. Kay Brown September 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I have been using Photoshop CS5 since 2010 and CS6 since 2013. I just recently began to use a trial version of Lightroom 4.4 and having great difficulty learning it. I find it very confusing and feel like I would have to take a lot of time to look at a lot of tutorial videos just to learn Lightroom.

    • Laura Shoe September 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Kay,

      Lightroom’s complexity has to do with how it works with a catalog, and the implications of this. Once you get past this hurdle, I think you’ll enjoy it. A lot of people find that my Fundamentals & Beyond series gets them there.

  8. Dennis July 12, 2016 at 8:30 am - Reply

    I’m a 73 year old commercial photographer who is officially retired but still working with several clients. I have been using PS since version 2.5 which I began in about 1990 or so. I have a huge investment in time and money in PS and I stopped updating when PSCC came out. I only recently subscribed with NO intention of trying LR but willing to ignore its availability with the subscription in order to get on with PSCC. I tried LR3 several years ago because I thought it would address the organizational issues of cataloging, as it promised. That effort was a miserable failure and I uninstalled it declaring it cryptic and impractical.

    Now I have access to LRCC and am willing to give it another try, but I’m not interested in doing ANYTHING in LR that I can already do in PS. Is the cataloging thing any more usable in LRCC?

    • Laura Shoe July 12, 2016 at 9:59 am - Reply

      Hi Dennis,

      Cataloging is the same as in Lightroom 3 – but I believe that if you learn how it works so that you can avoid the painful mistakes that new users make, you will come to appreciate it. I would highly recommend my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series so that you get off to a better start. (Note that a minute ago I gave the wrong link here, but it is corrected now.)

      When I switched to Lightroom everything felt more difficult and awkward, but I stuck with it, and now I couldn’t imagine going back to Bridge/ACR/Photoshop. (I do still use Photoshop for a limited number of editing tasks that Lightroom can’t do, but I never use Bridge or ACR.)

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