Last updated on September 21st, 2018

I’ll cut to the chase. No, you don’t need Lightroom or Photoshop for photography and great images.

Lightroom and Photoshop are the best photo editing software. Even more, most people new to photography don’t know the difference between Lightroom vs Photoshop and how they work with images. I’ll explain that in a bit, but first let me tell you that I’m pro Lightroom and Photoshop and love both software. I have over 5 years of experience with both of them.

Why You Don’t Need Lightroom or Photoshop for Photography

So, let me elaborate where my opinion is coming from.

Photography is the practice of capturing images on to film and paper (now digital) and this is done with a camera.

Modern cameras and even mobile cameras have high-quality image sensors and lenses to photograph sharp images with vivid colors: the camera does most of the work for capturing high-quality images (in addition to the photographer). This is why Lightroom and Photoshop are not required for photography, not to mention the costs associated with the software. Photography is already an expensive hobby.

What About Enhancing or Editing images?

Well, I’m sure you’ve seen some of your friends’ mobile images on their Instagram profile and you were like “wow.” And you know them well enough that they don’t use desktop image-editing software.

The fact is Instagram and several other mobile apps have built-in image editing software that is making Photoshop and Lightroom obsolete for amateur photographers. Anybody with a camera is a photographer; a great photographer is another story. By the way, Photoshop and Lightroom have their own mobile app versions, but don’t have the same power as the desktop versions.

Photoshop and Lightroom Mobile Apps

Photoshop Express

Photoshop Mix

Photoshop Fix

Lightroom

Making amazing images isn’t just about great edits; it’s also about composition, location, subjects and telling a visual story. Photoshop and Lightroom are extensions to the art of photography.

Photoshop vs Lightroom Desktop Versions

Now let’s dig a little deeper into the world of digital photography and image editors.

Are Photoshop and Lightroom the Same?
Allow me to clear up this common question: Photoshop and Lightroom are not the same. They have a few tools in common but are different for the most part.

Are Photoshop and Lightroom Easy to Learn?
Lightroom is easy to learn right from the download unless it’s your first time turning on a computer. Photoshop will take some time to learn through online video tutorials.

What Is the Difference Between Photoshop vs Lightroom?

When I started, I didn’t know the difference between Photoshop vs Lightroom just like anyone else new to photography and Adobe software. They were confusing to me and I fully didn’t understand their image-editing capabilities. I had to learn just like you.

I’ll highlight the important features and characteristics between Photoshop and Lightroom in relation to image editing mostly (because that’s their main purpose). This will give you a better understanding and help you make an informative decision, if any.

Photoshop Basics and Image Editing

What is Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop is primarily a raster image-editing software. It comes with a variety of tools and uses the power of layers to make multiple adjustments to photographs in a stacked order.

A raster (as opposed to a vector) image is a bitmap image composed of pixels used for photos and printing. Most digital images you see are raster images like a JPEG file.

Photoshop can do more than just image editing; the software is used to add text to images, draw art, and even has video editing capabilities. However, most Adobe customers use Premiere Pro or Apple’s Final Cut Pro X for video editing.

Photoshop is used for:

  • basic to advanced image editing
  • text images
  • graphic design (Adobe Illustrator is better)

Photoshop layers

Here is a simple example of Photoshop layers. Near the bottom-right, there is an image layer, a text layer, and saturation layer. The text and saturation layers do not alter the image layer, they just overlap it.The final result is one image.

 

Lightroom Basics and Image Editing

What is Lightroom?

Lightroom, officially known as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, is used to organize photos through its library module. In addition, Lightroom has a develop module which has effective image-editing functions similar to Photoshop.

One of Lightroom’s most useful features is the ability to batch process multiple photos (multi-process) at the same time. Let’s say you have 100 images that you want to convert into black and white, and also what to increase contrast, you can easily do this with Lightroom.

Other important modules for professional photographers in Lightroom are the book and print modules to make albums and prints of photographs.

A favourite of mine is Lightroom’s map module. If you have a camera with a built-in GPS, then you can save your images with GPS coordinates and later view exactly where you photographed your images in the map module. This is handy when you are doing travel photography in remote places and want to know exactly where an image was photographed when signs are lacking.

Lightroom is used for:

  • photo management
  • basic to intermediate editing
  • photo albums
  • printing

Lightroom library module

My Lightroom library module showing a grid view of my photos from Bolivia.

 

That’s a lot of reading, so let me do a short comparison.

Photoshop and Lightroom Similarities:

  • Utilize Camera RAW technology for RAW image preview and editing.
  • Make basic to intermediate image adjustments.
  • Remove unwanted dust spots or objects using healing brush tool.
  • Edit JPEG, TIFF, PSD and PNG files.

Photoshop and Lightroom Differences:

  • Photoshop uses layers, Lightroom doesn’t.
  • Lightroom manages photos well, Photoshop can’t.
  • Photoshop is great at adding text to images, Lightroom is horrible.
  • Photoshop can make precise adjustments, Lightroom can’t.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Like anything in life, there are pros and cons to PS and LR unless it’s visiting the Galapagos Islands: there are only pros there.

Photoshop Pros

  • robust image-editing software
  • layers give versatile editing options
  • better retouching options than Lightroom

Photoshop Cons

  • hard to learn without online tutorials
  • requires high-performance computer for certain filters (e.g., motion blur)

Lightroom Pros

  • best photo management software
  • easy to learn
  • great image editor for beginners
  • batch process multiple images

Lightroom Cons

  • doesn’t have layers
  • poor at making text-based images
  • retouching options are limited

Technical Info: Lightroom creates a database file (.LRCAT), also called a Lightroom catalog, to sort and manage all images along with a supporting file (.LRDATA) for image previews, metadata, etc.

Note: There are two different versions of Lightroom that are very different. The newer cloud-based Lightroom vs Lightroom Classic. For this post, I’m referring to Lightroom Classic, which is the better version for photography enthusiasts and professionals.

Which One to Buy and Learn First

It’s better to buy and learn Lightroom first because its image-editing tools are easier to learn than Photoshop. Many of Lightroom’s image-editing tools have properly named sliders giving beginners a better idea of the image adjustment. Furthermore, Lightroom’s library module will give your photography workflow a boost in image management.

In addition, learning Lightroom first will help you learn Photoshop faster if you decide to get both. The other way around will be harder in my opinion.

Lightroom develop module

Ligthroom’s develop module with its image editor on the right panel.

 

Adobe Camera Raw

Remember how I mentioned Photoshop is primarily used for editing raster images. If you’re editing a JPEG, then everything is fine when you open the file in Photoshop. But what happens when you want to edit a RAW file?

In practice, a RAW file can’t be edited or viewed like a JPEG. This is where Adobe Camera RAW comes to work.

Photoshop utilizes Camera RAW as a plugin to help import and display a RAW image file (e.g., Canon’s CR2 or Nikon’s NEF formats) into a viewable and editable image.

In fact, Lightroom’s develop module is built using the same technology as Camera RAW. This is also why learning Lightroom first, and then Photoshop second, is easier.

camera raw and lightroom interface comparison

LEFT: Camera Raw basic adjustment panel. RIGHT: Lightroom basic adjustment panel in the develop module. As you can see, Camera Raw and Lightroom are similar, resulting in Photoshop being similar to Lightroom.

 

If you’re shooting in RAW – and you should be – like me, then getting Lightroom first also makes sense. Lightroom can organize your images and convert your RAW files to DNG files, which is Adobe’s lossless format. You’ll want to do this because DNG files take up less drive space than the usual RAW files; another important photography cost factor is digital storage space.

Speaking of file formats and storage space, Photoshop and Lightroom are resource heavy, Photoshop more so than Lightroom.

A Windows PC or Mac primarily built for documents, web browsing, and watching Netflix isn’t going to cut it when you want to fully utilize Photoshop or Lightroom: avoid Chromebooks or netbooks. However, entry-level computer systems can be used to make most adjustments. Both Photoshop and Lightroom perform better with a dedicated GPU.

Photoshop System Requirements

Lightroom System Requirements

Of course, if you don’t need to manage photos or only want to make the occasional off-the-wall adjustment, then by all means go with Photoshop.

Adobe Bridge vs Lightroom

A common questions that arises for new photographers is do I need to also learn Adobe Bridge? The answer is simply no. The main reason this confusion arises is that many online Photoshop tutorials use Adobe Bridge to open image files in Photoshop.

What is Adobe Bridge?

Adobe Bridge is a visual media browser. Think of it as an upgraded version of a file folder or desktop version of Google Images on Red Bull.

In addition to image files, Bridge can preview other media types such as video and vector graphics (used in graphic design mostly).

For photography, you can open your Photoshop images through your file folder or Lightroom. So once again, you don’t need to learn Bridge.

I rarely use Adobe Bridge for photography or even video editing purposes. I usually use Bridge if I’m looking for missing files that hard to locate using a file folder.

I also use Adobe Bridge when I have thousands of time-lapse images to make a time-lapse video. I don’t add time-lapse images to Lightroom because it is redundant in my opinion: Bridge comes in help here.

Adobe Bridge interface

Adobe Bridge interface displaying my HDR time-lapse images from Peru.

 

Examples of When You Need Photoshop or Lightroom

You can receive mixed answers for this question but you’ll need Photoshop, Lightroom or both when you want full control of your image-editing workflow and you want to make edits that are more complicated. I use them both often and they complement each other; maybe that’s the reason Lightroom is officially called Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Almost all my photos that I shoot with my professional camera, even if I only use Photoshop for editing, are organized through Lightroom’s library module.

In contrast, I stopped synchronizing my mobile photos via the Lightroom app to my desktop version of Lightroom. I did this because I often take mobile photos that have nothing to do with photography and I didn’t want to bother managing them. Consequently, I manage my photography mobile images manually via Dropbox and my laptop’s file folder, and make edits with Photoshop – however simple.

HDR Photography
Samsung Galaxy’s and iPhone can take HDR images but with limited or no control of the final HDR image. If you want to make better HDR images, then you’ll need Photoshop or Lightroom. But even Photoshop and Lightroom’s HDR processer is limited and that’s why I use Photomatix along with Photoshop and Lightroom to process HDR images.

Selective Color
Selective coloring is a great technique to make a subject pop out with color while the remaining photograph is black and white. Mobile apps have selective coloring that is not always pinpoint. In this case, I use Photoshop for all my selective color photography.

Large Image Count
If you have thousands of photos like in my case, it will be difficult organizing them via Microsoft or Mac OS folders. Lightroom is very efficient at organizing, tagging, searching, and finding photos.

Professional Phtotography
Professional photographers will need Lightroom at the very least. My friend Paul Porter does commercial photography and makes his image adjustments in Lightroom.

Tiny Planet
Tiny planets are spherical shaped images, which gives the impression of a small planet. You can use a 360° view enabled camera to photograph tiny planets; or save money and use Photoshop’s polar coordinates filter to make the tiny planet.

If you want to take image editing to an advanced level with pinpoint accuracy, you will definitely need Photoshop.

Photoshop and Lightroom Prices with Creative Cloud

So here’s the bad news. Years ago, customers could buy Photoshop or Lightroom as standalone products. However, this is no longer the case. Now Photoshop and Lightroom are part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, which is a subscription service.

The Adobe CC photography plan costs $9.99/month at the least and includes both Photoshop and Lightroom. The plan comes with a 30-day free trial.

Adobe’s Creative Cloud is an online suite or package of software.

Many users are upset with Adobe’s subscription-based software and I can understand why. I was disappointed as well.

I purchased Lightroom 5 outright in 2013 for $120. A few months later, Lightroom was part of the Creative Cloud. Waste of money on my end. If you want the most updated versions of Photoshop or Lightroom, you’ll need a CC subscription. You can still buy Lightroom 6 on Amazon, which is an older version.

Another annoying marketing tactic on Adobe’s part is they try to upsell Adobe Stock during the purchase of a CC plan or even when you are using Photoshop. Adobe Stock is a range of royalty-free images, illustrations, videos, etc.

In contrast, a Creative Cloud plan somewhat saves you money because a standalone purchase of prior Photoshop versions costed over $500. This way you get the most updated versions of Lightroom and Photoshop at a price of $120 annually.

Another alternative, which is a bit useless but I should point out is to try Adobe Photoshop Elements. It’s a stripped-down hybrid product between Photoshop and the new Lightroom. If you’re serious about Photography, don’t bother with Photoshop Elements. It came free with my laptop purchase and I uninstalled it right away.

Final Thoughts

If you are happy with your photography, then save your money and avoid Photoshop and Lightroom or give there free mobile apps a try.

If you want to take your photography to the next level or want to be a professional photographer, then start with Lightroom, and then Photoshop for advanced image editing.