Do I need Lightroom if I'm a seasoned Photoshop user?
May 21, 2013 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Are there big advantages to buying Lightroom if I already have advanced Photoshop skills?

I've been traveling more and have bought a DSLR camera as well as taking some lessons from friends about taking good street photography in exotic places. In addition, I'm an experienced web/graphic designer with loads of Photoshop experience. There aren't many things I can't do with it in terms of editing a photo.

Still, with some of these photos I really want them to pop. To be dramatic and have impact. I can adjust the color mixing and Curves in Photoshop and get good effects but they just don't compare to what I see on top-notch photography websites.

So is it worth paying for Lightroom? All my photographer friends seem to use Lightroom for the organization and batch editing advantages. But I also like the options they have for adjusting color temperature, grain and so forth.

I also like that there are plugins like VSCO that make shots look warmer, more like printed film. I know that's cheating. But I don't have aspirations to be a "real" photographer. Just an above average travel photographer for fun.

posted by critzer to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Lightroom is as much a library/organizer as an editor. It's tools are a lot more limited than Photoshop, more like a traditional darkroom (you adjust exposure, color, dodge and burn, etc) but it's really just like an actual "photo shop" as opposed to the full on digital painting tool that Photoshop has become.

It's biggest strength is its ability to catalog and organize thousands of digital photos. If that's not something you care about, you can get all the same effects that Lightroom would give you in terms of editing in photoshop (though some of them might be more convenient to do in Lightroom).

The reason that your own photos aren't as good as what you're seeing on top-notch photography sites is probably no because you're using Photoshop and those people are using Lightroom.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:58 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

As you suggest Lightroom is for organization and batch editing - basically photo management. It does these tasks very well. It is not really useful for editing single photos beyond some very basic tasks...

If you are skilled at Photoshop you will be disappointed in the editing capabilities of Lightroom.
posted by NoDef at 10:00 AM on May 21, 2013

I also like that there are plugins like VSCO that make shots look warmer, more like printed film. I know that's cheating.

Wait, what? How is that "cheating?"

I won't get into the philosophy of it, but this is *exactly* what Lightroom is for- color correcting and making photos look great. They call it "develop" because these are the same choices people used to make in the darkroom, or in their choice of film. Photographers have always made choices to get the look they want and it's not "cheating" in the least.

If you think of "editing" as literally changing the photo- moving things around, making people look skinnier- than yeah, Lightroom doesn't do that. But if you think of "editing" as adjusting the color and look to make the picture beautiful- Lightroom is great at that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:06 AM on May 21, 2013

Response by poster: I said cheating just because older-school photographer friends who are accustomed to developing with film think it's silly to shoot in digital and then make a bunch of edits to make it look more like film. I'm not particularly hung up on it. Probably better for separate conversation.
posted by critzer at 10:08 AM on May 21, 2013

It is not really useful for editing single photos beyond some very basic tasks...

I disagree. A professional photographer friend has a 100% Lightroom, 0% Photoshop workflow, and what he pulls off in it is amazing. I've seen his before/afters and it's striking. For my own photos, I'm a dilettante and I find it a lot easier to get a photo to "pop" in Lightroom compared to Photoshop.
posted by zsazsa at 10:22 AM on May 21, 2013

Let me soften my comment somewhat - Lightroom can be very useful in adjusting the development of digital photos (color, exposure, white balance, crop, noise reduction, etc) - especially when similar adjustments are applied to a large number of photos. I use it in this capacity all the time.

However the adjustments should be viewed as a subset of the adjustments which can be done with Photoshop. Some of the adjustments can be done much quicker with Lightroom for sure, but I don't believe Lightroom provides any "Photo Editing" capabilities with are not replicated in Photoshop. I think it's generally accepted that Photoshop provides significantly more capabilities than what you get with Lightroom.

They are two different tools with two different primary functions. Both are exceptionally good at doing their primary function. Photoshop is for editing photos. Lightroom is for managing digital photo workflow from import to export.
posted by NoDef at 10:32 AM on May 21, 2013

I'm pretty good at Photoshop and a heavy hobby photographer/semi-pro and I use both.
First I'll upload my batch of photos to Lightroom where I can quickly go through the one I want to keep and remove the ones I don't. Then, Lightroom is easy and quick to do all of the usual adjustments - cropping/exposure/color balance/vignetting.
Then I'll take the best few photos of the bunch over to Photoshop where I'll do things like touch ups, burn/dodge and transparency masks to get the final look right.
They work together like a well-made team.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 10:33 AM on May 21, 2013

Lightroom lets you share edits across many raw files much more easily. Have 10 photos shot in the same environment & settings? Color correct one of them and then apply the changes to the other 9. I find myself only using Photoshop to do complicated retouching.
posted by the jam at 10:39 AM on May 21, 2013

Lightroom has a free 30 day trial, why not give it a shot and decide?

I switched from Photoshop to Lightroom for my amateur-level photography a while back. Truthfully most of my photo editing was in the raw converter, and that's essentially the same code in both Lightroom and Photoshop. And Lightroom is just a lot simpler and streamlined for editing individual photos.

But where Lightroom really shines is working with groups of photos. Adobe Bridge or whatever nonsense Photoshop had never worked for me. Lightroom is great at importing a bunch of photos, choosing the few good ones, tagging them, mapping them, developing them, uploading them to Flickr.. All that stuff is way way easier in Lightroom. iPhoto, Aperture, and Picasa all do similar things here at various levels of professionalism. I like Lightroom best.

BTW with the new Adobe pricing model the cost equation on this stuff is changing. Lightroom is remaining a single boxed product, not a subscription fee.
posted by Nelson at 12:21 PM on May 21, 2013

I used to use Photoshop exclusively, but now I only use it when I need to make pixel-level changes (head swaps, cloning, etc.) And as it's been said already, it's great for keeping photos organized, and for uploading to Flickr, etc.
posted by pyjammy at 1:06 PM on May 21, 2013

What hasn't been mentioned yet is that Photoshop does come with most of the functionality of Lightroom via the Adobe Camera Raw plugin. Despite the name you can even use it to edit JPEG files (with more modest results than from RAW, of course).

Personally as an amateur photographer I've gotten tons of mileage out of Adobe Bridge + Camera RAW. You can organize photos, copy developing settings between photos, and all that. I hardly ever have to use Photoshop itself.

I haven't tried Lightroom since the first version, so it's possible it offers extra developing settings that I'm not aware of, but as far as I can tell Lightroom's main advantage is for professionals organizing thousands of photos.
posted by neckro23 at 2:05 PM on May 21, 2013

I use Apple's Aperture, but the concept is the same. It's as much about organizing photos as it is about editing them, and the workflow is fantastic.

Here's an example (again I'm talking about Aperture but I bet Lightroom does this stuff too): In Aperture, I give each photo a rating when editing. 1 to 5 stars. I also have smart photo albums set up for different things, such as 5 star photos, and photos take with my iPhone.

Those smart albums show up in my iPhone and iPad photos app, but I never have to update them since they automatically include any photos that meet the criteria (in those two examples, 5 stars, or taken with my iPhone).

When someone asks about my photography, I love being able to hand them my iPhone and show them a best-of sampler they can scroll through.

Apps like Lightroom and Aperture are about so much more than editing. If you're really into photography, you'll never know how you lived without an app like these once you start using one.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:26 PM on May 21, 2013

neckro23: What hasn't been mentioned yet is that Photoshop does come with most of the functionality of Lightroom via the Adobe Camera Raw plugin.

I used to think that, and then I started using Lighroom full time, and now I can't even dream of going back to ACR. I had to make the switch because my old version of Photoshop wouldn't support the output files from my new camera but Lighroom would. It took me a few days but I began to love it.

Just like most of the commenters above I use Lightroom for everything but the heavy edits. I especially love the "apply one photo's develop settings (all the way down to the crop and rotation) to all the others in a set" feature - saves me a ton of time. I don't have to worry about which photo is the best before I start curating - I just edit one to within a certain proximity of what I envision the final edit to be, apply those develop settings to everything, and then make a better-informed decision on which one is the perfect one to choose.

One thing I think no one has touched on, though - and I'm saying this in a completely impersonal way, having not seen any of your photography - is that neither Lightroom nor Photoshop will save a crappy photograph. Well, that's not entirely true. They may be able to save a crappy photograph but they can't make it sing. Without good source material it doesn't matter what tools you're using.

When you say, "they just don't compare to what I see on top-notch photography websites" I'm left wondering if you've seen the originals of those shots. I personally have been in the situation where I've asked to see a fellow photographer's edits and their original shot is incredibly close to the published version, which I find both intimidating and exciting.

Do you know any of these photographers in any way? Can you ask for tips on specific images? That's what I've done in the past and it's really helped me understand what I need to do to get the images I want, and I've been able to get those images regardless of what tools I use.

... though some tools (like Lightroom) have made it easier and faster than others.
posted by komara at 7:51 PM on May 21, 2013

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