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//Ten Reasons Why Lightroom Users May Want to Buy Photoshop

Ten Reasons Why Lightroom Users May Want to Buy Photoshop


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:

Lightroom Adjustment Brush Limitations

Limitations of Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush Auto Mask Feature

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.)


Three Bracketed Exposures and the Final Merged Photo (Right)

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.

photoshop-panorama6. Wide Angle Perspective Correction, New in CS6

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.


Before and After Adaptive Wide Angle Lens Correction

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.

Photoshop Compositing

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!


2017-06-28T20:52:21-07:00 May 9th, 2012|21 Comments


  1. Alan May 10, 2012 at 5:03 am - Reply

    This begs a few questions. I have no interest in learning Photoshop. Having said that, if there are specific things that you want to do, would it make more sense to use a specific plug-in (e.g. NIK Viveza 2 or Onone …) to address the specific need? Now that I have a handle on Lightroom (thanks to your DVD), I plan seeing what the NIK plug-ins can offer in realizing the vision I have for my photos. Having looked at a few Webinars, I am amazed at the way the NIK software presets allow you to preview what the effects will be before you commit to editing the photo. My lack of understanding, at this point, is that it seems you need to output the photo from Lightroom before you can edit with a plug-in.

    • Laura Shoe May 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      Hi Alan, yes, there are certainly good plug-ins out there to do some of the specific tasks from my list, particularly from Nik and OnOne (I have no experience with OnOne, but have heard from others that they are good). These plug-ins work with TIFF files — so as you open a photo into them from LR, LR creates a copy of your file with your LR work baked in.

  2. Franz Amador May 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this article. I’m one of those to whom this was directed: a serious Lightroom user who’s reluctant to spend $700 for Photoshop. I remain on the fence. I’d also like to mention some free programs I use that provide some of what you mention above: Enfuse (for HDR-like merging of multiple exposures), Hugin (for stitching panoramas), and OnOne’s Perfect Layers, which they’re now giving away (though you’ll get bombarded with ads for the rest of the suite). Enfuse and Hugin are open-source and a little rough around the edges, but they work very well. (Enfuse is a command-line program, but there’s a shareware Lightroom plugin for it and also a free GUI – a little Googling will turn them up.)

    • Laura Shoe May 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the info, Franz. You’re right — there are some good plug-ins out there. If people only need to do a subset of what I listed, they are worth checking out.

  3. Kathy Eyster May 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    In addition to the alternate suggestions offered already, I would add Photoshop Elements 10. This version provides masking for pixel layers (something it did not do in the past) to provide compositing & graphic design capabilities. It also contains the same artistic filter set as Photoshop. Elements has PhotoMerge for panoramas (a feature that began in Elements & found its way to full Photoshop). It provides nearly all the selection tools that Photoshop does. However, its “HDR” capability is limited to merging 2 exposures. And I don’t think it has any video editing capabilities. (There is Premier Elements for that.) So depending on your needs, you might be able to get by with a $100 program instead of a $700 one.
    (From someone who still uses Photoshop & Bridge & ACR more than Lightroom)

  4. Don Stanat May 15, 2012 at 5:45 am - Reply

    I was hoping to see a comment about Photoshop’s macro stacking. I know it can be done, and is regarded as a ‘mature’ tool, but I’ve not seen any serious discussion of its useability compared to some of the specialized software.

    • Laura Shoe May 16, 2012 at 9:39 am - Reply

      I don’t have any experience with other software for doing this, Don.

  5. Will Doak May 15, 2012 at 7:28 am - Reply

    I own Photoshop CS5. I certainly haven’t mastered it, but I do use content-aware fill, HDR, and stitching photos together. Any reason I should keep upgrading? I understand that for optimal results I need to let Lightroom do the rendering, but what’s the advantage of using ACR in Photoshop?



    • Laura Shoe May 16, 2012 at 9:37 am - Reply

      The only advantage to ACR doing the rendering, Will, is that Lightroom doesn’t have to create the PSD or TIFF file before you start doing PS work. On the other hand, CS6 does have new content-aware tools (the patch tool, and move/extend).

  6. Tim May 16, 2012 at 10:37 am - Reply

    A lot of the above mentioned examples can also be adjust with Viveza 2. No need to buy $$$ PS6 at all imho. – Tim –

    • Laura Shoe May 16, 2012 at 11:01 am - Reply

      Viveza is great, Tim, but beyond what Lightroom can do, it pretty much only does #3 in my list.

  7. Emily Schiller September 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    I have PSElements 10, but struggle with it the same way I struggled with LR until ordering your DVD. So two questions:

    1. Your object removal example here is used (briefly) on the LR DVD in the lesson about moving between LR and PS. Can this be done in PSE10? And could you/do you explain in detail elsewhere?

    2. Any chance you’ll be making tutorials for PSE? If not, is there someone you recommend?

    For something like this, I usually move from LR to PSE and clone. It takes forever!


    • Laura Shoe September 16, 2012 at 11:27 am - Reply

      Hi Emily, I keep thinking that I am going to learn PSE so that I can address questions like this, and teach it, but it hasn’t made its way up my to-do list. I would suggest posting your question on

  8. jluisjimenez October 12, 2012 at 4:38 am - Reply

    First of all, sorry by my english. I’m gonna try to explain as well as i can.

    – The cost of lightroom is $150
    – To enhance all of our photos, i think the suite of Nik is neccesary to add, at least as a lightroom pluggin, and it cost about $500.

    – Photoshop $700.

    Which of these workflows do you think is better or more complete to edit photos?

    Thank you
    J. Luis

    • Laura Shoe October 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      Hi J., that is a very difficult question to answer, as it depends on what you want to do with your photos. Are you sure that you need the whole suite of Nik plugins, and that you otherwise need PS rather than PS Elements? In any case, I believe that Lightroom should be the foundation of your workflow — and that you should do as much as possible in Lightroom before turning to a plug-in or PS.

  9. Cristie November 28, 2012 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Hi, I love your blog and all the helpful tools it provides! My question is simple. I have LR4 and I have a client that needs one of her pictures edited in a way that I cannot do in LR4. She needs me to remove a smiling face to another identical picture where her child is crying. Also she needs me to remove bulky images from pictures (blanket on a bridge). Can you offer me some advice on PSE vs PS? I don’t have the money to buy PS but I want these capabilities. Thanks!

    • Laura Shoe November 28, 2012 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      Hi Cristie, I don’t know Elements well enough to say whether you can do this. I would post on

  10. brian April 1, 2013 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Thank you Laura,All the info helped me out alot,I did buy C.S.6 six months ago,but hell iam still mastering light room 4.2.It would be nice for you to beable to offer a class on creative live for us all to bridge the 2 programs.~brian~

  11. brian April 1, 2013 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Thank you Laura,All the info helped me out alot,I did buy C.S.6 [1000.00]six months ago,but hell iam still mastering light room 4.2.It would be nice for you to beable to offer a class on creative live for us all to bridge the 2 programs.~brian~

  12. Ron Raven May 16, 2013 at 3:13 am - Reply

    Hi Laura,very interesting comments from you.I have LR and PS 5,I generally stay in LR if I can as it is more friendly to use but,as you say,there are occasions when only PS will cope with the adjustments required.Getting to terms with all the capabilities of PS is a massive task,certainly for me!
    Would be interesting for you to say how often you have to go to PS to complete your adjustments.
    There is now a Cloud on the horizon in that Adobe is now going to put future upgrades of PS out only in the Cloud.Your monthly subscription to the Cloud will allow you to keep up to date otherwise forget it!
    I hunted around on the Adobe website but could not see any mention of upgrading from PS5 to PS6.
    Seems like Adobe has written off the non-professional users of PS,thankfully LR has not{yet} followed on this path….Ron.

    • Laura Shoe May 19, 2013 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      Hi Ron, on, go to Products>Creative Suite. You will see Photoshop CS6 listed. I don’t use Photoshop very often — maybe on 5% of my straight photos. I do use it for HDR, panoramas, and compositing.

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