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11 Oct 2014

What is the Difference Between Lightroom and Photoshop?

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What is the Difference Between Lightroom and Photoshop?

That question — What is the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop? — comes up frequently from students new to the post-production techniques of digital photography. On the heels of this question is, “Do I need both?”

Lightroom allows you to enhance reality; Photoshop allows you to make your own.– Bob Killen
Instructor
The simple answer is that you get both for the same price of $9.95 per month as part of your Adobe Creative Cloud Photographers package, but the more complex question is should you use both and the answer to that depends on what you expect of yourself as an image creator and the types of images you capture. For most photographers, employing tools from both programs in harmony with each other provides a path of greater creative freedom.

Lightroom mimics the darkroom or yore. One essentially imports photographs into a file on the hard drive while simultaneously making thumbnail previews in the Library Module. This module allows you to quickly sort and categorize your images much as we used to do with negatives and slides on a light table. The difference, of course, is that these are digital files and the sort and rating process is quicker, more efficient, with oodles of flexibility.

The Develop Module also reflects the traditional darkroom and it is here that we can ‘process’ individual images to optimize the digital negative as well as adjust the tonal range, establish things like black and white points, and adjust the hue, saturation, and luminosity of the entire color spectrum. Since you are working on a preview, these are non-destructive processes and you can adjust your images infinitely without damaging the digital negative. Try that in the traditional darkroom!

The aforementioned adjustments are global but there are many precise local tools, such as the Adjustment Brush, Graduated and Radial Filters, and gear for cleaning up spots and power lines. You can crop an image into any conceivable geometry and there are many enhancement effects to satisfy most creative needs. The other modules are service modules for mapping, printing, slideshows, book making, and web output.

At the end of the process, you can output your work into one or more file formats and of course, you can transfer your work to other computers with Lightroom as well as work with a very cool Lightroom mobile app.

Lightroom is the go to tool for any photographer who wants to enhance his or her images with results that are often quite stunning. The learning curve is gentle, and the production speed for high volume shooters such as weddings, portrait, fashion, sports, etc. is exceptional. But for the creative artist within the photographer, Lightroom has limits.

Photoshop is the go to tool for unlimited creative possibilities. And after completing adjustments in Lightroom you can open the image into Photoshop. The three images depicted in this article point out the difference in process and capability. The Raw file is what the camera saw when I captured this picture, and one can see the stratification and colors in the Badland’s formations. I imported the image into Lightroom, made all of my basic adjustments in the Develop Module, and teased out some additional colors with the HSL sliders and the deft use of clarity. Applying the Graduated Filter allowed me to pull down the distant sky and these enhancements in total extended the images emotional range. However, I felt something different when I captured this late afternoon scene and that is where Photoshop allowed me to tell a new story or, if you will, create my own reality.

Photoshop’s toolbox of layers, masks, nondestructive adjustment layers, and brushes opens endless possibilities to the photographer who wants to create a new story from an existing image or to simply add a few more enhancements. In this image, I invested several more hours and selected various strata formations, which I placed on their own layers and treated as sub images of the whole. With these tools and a process of light painting, which uses the power of channels, I arrived at an image that displayed what I felt about this incredible area of the Borrego Desert.

Photoshop’s learning curve is much steeper than Lightroom, but Photoshop provides tools for the photographer, graphic artist, and designer. For the art photographer, Photoshop is the go to tool to repurpose one’s reality and to establish a new voice with their audiences.

I teach both, and more, because if you want to create original images that will take your work to the next level you need use each of them in harmony.

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