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The differences between Photoshop and Lightroom explained

Photographers used to have to choose between Adobe Lightroom vs Photoshop when purchasing an image editing software package. But these days although Lightroom is still available as a standalone package, it also comes bundled with Photoshop CC as part of Adobe’s Photography Program.

With this Program coming in at £8.57/$9.99 per month it makes good economic sense to sign up even if you plan to mainly use Lightroom, which retails for £106/$143.

But what are the differences between Photoshop and Lightroom and why would you want both of these two powerful software packages?

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Interface
Although they use many of the same algorithms and can perform many of the same functions, Lightroom and Photoshop CC have a very different interface. Lightroom is designed around a photographer’s workflow with modules providing controls for the key steps of downloading, organising and editing images as well as creating prints, books and website galleries.

Images must be imported into a Lightroom catalogue before they can be organised, edited or used to create anything in Lightroom.

The images don’t have to be moved during this importing (although they can be if you prefer), and they can be stored in a variety of locations, but their location needs recorded in the catalogue.

Photoshop doesn’t need an importing stage and images are located by browsing a standard file and folder structure. You can open one or more files that are stored anywhere on the computer or a connected drive.

Another key difference between the two packages is that Lightroom lays out the available controls in each module, making it easier to use, whereas the controls within Photoshop can be harder to find as they’re in dropdown lists under the menu options.

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Image management
Lightroom is a powerful image management tool that makes it easy to identify your best images and find specific shots wherever they are located. Photoshop comes with Adobe Bridge as it’s browser.

While this has keywording and rating tools, they are less sophisticated than Lightroom’s and you need to know which folder an image is in to track it down.

Some photographers rely upon Lightroom for their image organisation even though they do the majority of their image editing in Photoshop.

You can create Collections in Bridge, but they are central to Lightroom. In some ways Photoshop is designed for working on individual images whereas Lightroom is for working on batches or shoots.

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Raw file editing
Lightroom and Photoshop CC use the same raw file processing engine – Adobe Camera Raw.

However, while this is integrated into Lightroom it operates as a separate package with Photoshop and it opens when you attempt to open a raw file.

You can open files in Photoshop from Camera Raw without performing any edits if you want to, but it always goes through this step. Editing raw files is seamless in Lightroom.

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Tools
Lightroom has all the tools that Photoshop offers, but some of them are a bit more restricted. While you can click and drag the Tone Curve to adjust contrast in Lightroom, for example, you can only work on it within four zones; Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows.

In Photoshop you can add numerous points to the curve and contort it dramatically. While Lightroom’s approach may sometimes seem limiting, it helps to protect the image from extreme adjustments that can produce crossed curves effects.

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Layers
One of the key benefits of Photoshop is its ability to work with layers, Lightroom cannot. Layers are useful for making advanced edits, bringing the ability to blend images together and make composites.

Lightroom allows selective adjustments to be made, but Photoshop takes this a bit further with greater control over Layer Masks.

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Actions
Photoshop allows you to record Actions to enable you to apply adjustments that you make on a regular basis with just a click of the mouse.

Lightroom goes someway towards this functionality with the ability to save and use Presets that give images a particular look.

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Audience
The introduction of Adobe’s Photography Program has rather muddied the situation, but Lightroom’s primary audience has been wedding photographers and those who need to work on batches of files to produce cohesive sets of images for creating prints, books, albums and the like.

It has also been popular with enthusiast photographers who don’t need the full power of Photoshop or who can’t justify the previously high one-off purchase price.

The Photography Program makes Photoshop CC more available so the lines are now blurred and photographers can pick which of the two packages they want to use on an image by image basis provided that the files are imported into Lightroom.

Many users find Lightroom less intimidating than Photoshop and it’s tools easier to find and use. Conversely, Photoshop is more powerful but takes longer to learn.

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