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It may be inarguably true that Adobe is and has been the industry standard for post-processing photography editing and manipulation. In fact, the name “Photoshop” has come become a house-hold term for editing photography in the same way “Coke” became to be synonymous for virtually any type of soft drink. Ask anyone what a “photoshopped” image is and you’re more likely to get a description of how to digitally edit a photo rather than the name of the software product that is used to edit the image.

Photoshop and Lightroom are both products created by Adobe (formerly known as Macromedia) and are available as standalone products or as part of a suite of graphic and video applications in both downloadable program – Creative Suite CS6 is the latest offering at the time of this writing – and subscription-based platforms, otherwise known as the Creative Cloud solution.

Today, post-processing is an unavoidable and necessary part of the editing workflow. A common question for beginning photographers and retouching enthusiasts alike is what capabilities does each software have and which application is better for post-processing. Choosing the right program can be difficult because there are so many factors to consider. When considering the best option between these two photo editing programs, you’ll want to assess your needs and the capabilities of each program. Both are powerful applications with extensive features; however, the uses for them and variety of application are quite vast in comparison. The available editing tools, ease of use, and price are probably the first factors that you might compare before opting for a program of choice.

Photoshop (PS)

Photoshop is usually the first choice among retouchers, graphic designers, publishers, and editors with it being the industry standard in photo editing – the reason being that it offers the best range of features and a flexible interface. In addition to containing the most advanced editing tools, it boasts a plethora of other highly advanced features such as animation, 16-bit and 32-bit image editing, content-aware tools, photo compositing tools, 3D, basic video creation and editing, and parallax effects. What’s more, Photoshop permits the ability to add third-party plugins, add-ons, and scripting to extend the functionality and even automate some of the tasks for improved speed and efficiency.

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Photoshop is a beast of an application; users usually find that there is practically nothing that can’t be done with it. This also means that PS has a steep learning curve. Though due to its popularity there is an ample supply of resources and tutorials available in print format and on the Internet to help – and often in more ways than one. Tutorials are certainly not in short supply, either.

Amongst Photoshop’s capabilities is the ability to process raw format for digital photographers with a built-in plugin called Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). While Photoshop itself does not process raw files and data, ACR is easily accessible within Photoshop and comes equipped with a wide variety of editing tools. You can also perform sharpening, noise reduction, split toning, and make local adjustments with an adjustment brush. Further adjustments and editing can then be made after exporting from ACR into Photoshop with a just a click of a button.

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For photographers wanting to make advanced edits, Photoshop is equipped with a Liquify tool interface for use with tasks such as slimming and enhancing facial structures in portraits. A refine edge tool permits users to extract objects for background replacement; the lens correction tool corrects distortions in images that can be applied by camera make and model; and painting tools allow graphic artists to convert images into stylized digital paintings.

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Perhaps most importantly – and it has often been a drawback in Lightroom – is that Photoshop bases its editing process on layers, a feature Lightroom to this date has lacked. Layers provide the ability to make non-destructive edits to an image. That is, the layers provide a method for additional modifications to be made to the image without actually editing the image – that is, unless the user desires so. And, these layers can be controlled by opacity; the strength and transparency of any particular effect or edit to an original image.

With so many features, you would be hard pressed to find disadvantages with this software. However, there are a few. First, Photoshop is somewhat pricey – unless you opt for the subscription-based version – although, the features alone well justify the price. Second, it lacks a batch process for editing images in bulk, as well as an image management system. Third, Photoshop can be a resource hog as the extensive edits can build up to use large blocks of computer memory and processors. This can be somewhat alleviated by adjusting the settings in preferences. Finally, as opposed to Lightroom, Photoshop has the potential to make destructive edits if you accidentally save over your original image, though Photoshop attempts to prevent this by having a default psd file setting (which stores all layer information) and has a history panel that can take you back to the original image. In effect, mistakes such as this are highly unlikely even for a novice user.

Now, that we’ve taken a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of Photoshop, let’s look at and compare it with Lightroom.

Lightroom (Lr or LR)

Officially named Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (here, we’ll simply refer to it as “Lightroom”), Lightroom is a robust editing and photo management program. Many photographers use this tool for basic adjustments, such as exposure, white balance, exposure, saturation, and color toning. But, it is much more than that. Lightroom contains an efficient workflow permitting photographers to work from start to finish. From importing, sorting and organization, to processing and export for print or web, Lightroom’s workflow increases efficiency when working with large quantities of images. Simply put, it is designed for bulk editing whereas Photoshop is designed for single edits – or a handful of pictures at a time when using ACR.

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Lightroom provides a higher level of organization than even Bridge allows – another Adobe product used specifically for image cataloguing and organization. Lightroom takes organization a step further by combining features like keyword management, tags, galleries, and collections.

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As for automation, in addition to batch processing, whereas Photoshop uses actions Lightroom has presets. While presets cannot record actions (hence the name “actions”) like Photoshop, it can record any and all adjustments made with sliders which can be applied to select and/or all images if desired. Like PS, the presets can be imported, exported, and organized.

Lightroom also works in a non-destructive mode, though the manner is slightly different. LR creates a catalog of images in the folder you specify and in effect works on copies of originals, so there is virtually no chance of overwriting the original file. Because of the easy slider controls, editing is much simpler. And, with the enhancements of the adjustment brush, graduated and radial filters, you can apply local adjustments to specific parts of an image, much like the brush tool and masking in Photoshop. Also like PS, Lr has the ability to apply healing and cloning – though the feature is not as powerful.

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Like Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) also works with Lightroom, since the both applications share the same image-processing technology, giving you the ability to process raw files there, as well. And, if you have Photoshop, you can export images from Lr to edit in Photoshop, then back again into Lr to finish processing.

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Which One You Should Use

With both applications being strong contenders, many would say that what you choose depends your photographic needs. Lightroom has long been the choice for seasoned photographers due to the workflow and ease of use and Photoshop is the standard for graphic designers, editors, and publishers. If you are a photographer, whose main goal is to produce photographs or you are a beginning or avid photographer and all you do is enjoy taking pictures, then Lightroom could very well be all you will ever need. Lightroom is certainly easier on the pocket than Photoshop or its host of apps.

Why and when would you need Photoshop? Well, the features we mentioned and other tools we did not delve into are the reason Photoshop is the software of choice for many professional editors and photographers. Hands down, as far as capabilities go – Photoshop is the clear winner. Other than workflow and photo management, PS far exceeds the ability of Lightroom.

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If you’re serious about photography and you want to take your images to the next level, then we recommend using both - as they were designed to work hand-in-hand. With both programs, you can use Lr to sort and tag entire sets of photos and make significant adjustments, then make the moderate to complex editing in Photoshop, then back to Lightroom to finish printing and share your work. With Adobe’s Photography subscription plan, you can get both Lightroom and Photoshop CC for as little as $10 per month – including mobile apps and a portfolio website. Annual subscriptions are discounted even more. This is perhaps the best overall value, since subscription-based plans include all updates and upgrades at no additional cost, ensuring that your applications are always up-to-date with the newest features. •••

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