Photoshop vs Lightroom? Wrong question! – WITH VIDEO


Updated:  09/09/21 – BONUS:  See my short video from YouTube here:






FYI, this is Part 1 of a 3-part series on this subject – – 


•  Part 2 is here:


•  Part 3 is here:




Lately, I’ve been asked a version of this question over and over –


“For working on my images, should I use Lightroom or Photoshop?”


To me, that’s the wrong question, perhaps not even a fair question.


Photoshop and Lightroom are NOT designed to replace each other; they’re designed to COMPLEMENT each other – they’re two different programs, with two different purposes.


So, what are the right questions?


•  “For enhancing my image and getting the highest quality output from my digital capture, which is the better program?”  Answer:  Photoshop


•  “And for critically culling, condensing, editing, rating and managing my rather large collection of images, which is the better program?”   Answer:  Lightroom


Here’s another way of thinking about it:


Photoshop is a “Digital Darkroom”, whereas Lightroom is a “Digital Library”.


Let me explain – and to do so, let’s first define each program, both products from Adobe.


•  What is Photoshop? It’s an image manipulation & enhancement software program – or for you propeller-heads out there, it’s a “raster graphics editor”.  It’s an industry standard for a reason: it’s an incredibly powerful (and complex) program.


•  What is Lightroom? I like this definition from Wikipedia – it’s an image management application database which helps in viewing, editing, and managing digital photos.  It’s also incredibly powerful for what it’s designed to do, but not near as complex as Photoshop.


Is there “crossover” in what each program can do?


Of course, and therein lies the confusion – for instance, the program “Bridge” comes with Photoshop CC, and it’s a very good “file browser” (it’s what I’ve used for decades); and Lightroom has a “Develop” and “Print” module to emulate certain Photoshop image-enhancement functions.


•  But you should never confuse what you can do in Bridge with the robust organizational power of Lightroom, nor should you even remotely confuse the “Develop” module in Lightroom to the full capabilities of image enhancement capable in Photoshop!


With that in mind, you have 3 choices when choosing which program(s) to use:


•  In my comments below, I’m going to focus (pun intended) on getting the absolute most out of your digital capture for high quality output, which is my passion and area of expertise.


1) Use Lightroom Only:  without a doubt, the best “Digital Library” out there – but for critical digital output, I don’t consider this the best choice.


•  It’s a fallacy that the “Develop” module in Lightroom is “just as good” as Photoshop – in fact, the “Develop” module is virtually the same as the Adobe Camera RAW Plug-in (accessed through Photoshop), and no more. 


•  In this regard, when it comes to the best enhancement of your file for high-quality output, Photoshop is a “NASCAR race car” to Lightroom’s “passenger car” – no comparison.


•  Another question I get asked: Should a newbie try Lightroom first to enhance their images, and then step up to Photoshop later? 


Answer: Unless you truly need the complex organizational power of Lightroom (Digital Library), I would recommend against it.  If you want to  genuinely discover the power of digital capture, learn Photoshop + Bridge first (Digital Darkroom).  Yes, the learning curve in Photoshop is higher than Lightroom – but the results to your digital output are so worth it!


2) Use Photoshop Only (with Bridge):  As a custom photographic printer for over 35 years, I’ve seen what generally works and what doesn’t, and Photoshop is the best “tool” out there – no serious pro would consider NOT using the best in ANY discipline.


•  A downside: Photoshop can be tougher to learn than Lightroom, no doubt – but as a photographer, you’re only going to need to use about 10 to 15% of this complex program, and you can pretty much ignore the rest.  Oh, and it’s not nearly as complicated with the right instruction designed for photographers (hint-hint: shameless plug – buy my book! – click here)


 • By the way, I don’t run every file through Photoshop anyway – ONLY those that, after critical culling & editing (whether in Lightroom or Bridge or iPhoto, or whatever editing program you use),  I’ve decided need a Master File for high-quality output, printing, etc – see more on my blogpost, “What is a Master File, and why do I need one?”:


3) Use both Lightroom and Photoshop:   Now, I confess:  I’m not a Lightroom fan and don’t use it (I use Bridge for its sheer simplicity), but I admit – I also don’t shoot hundreds of images a week.  And I’m not a wedding photographer, a product / catalog photographer, a professional or serious amateur with thousands & thousands of digital images, etc – if that’s the case, then you may truly need the organizational power of Lightroom.


•  FYI, I’m most definitely NOT suggesting that you ultimately need to run everything through Photoshop – that’s a fool’s errand.  I also understand that, depending on the final use of your image, you may not need (or even want) to run your file through Photoshop. It may be that, if you’re using Lightroom, the “Develop” module meets your needs for the job at hand – depending on the images’ importance, intended use, intended output & original exposure.


•  But keep in mind the added complications to your digital workflow, as well as having one more program to learn.  If you don’t need the organizational power of Lightroom, why learn a second program?


My approach?


As I’m big on keeping things simple (and generally don’t shoot hundreds of images a week), I rely on Bridge as my file browser, and use Photoshop exclusively.


My recommendation?


•  If your goal is to get the absolute most out of your digital capture (especially for high quality digital printing), you really need to include Photoshop in your arsenal.


 If you’re a newbie to post-processing, I’d suggest that you start with Photoshop (Digital Darkroom), and use Bridge as your “Digital Library” … If Bridge is not getting the job done, you can always step up to the better “Digital Library” – Lightroom.




For a continuation/addendum/ update of this blogpost, see Part 2 here:


Also, check out this post (Part 3) – “Lightroom to Photoshop Migration (& safely back)”:




For a closely related post, check out – “How (and why I use Adobe Bridge …”:




By the way, you can download all three programs from Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Photographers, for $10 a month – click here




Was this information helpful?  Sign up for my free newsletter here …


FYI, all of this is part of my Photoshop book designed for photographers,  “Not just another Photoshop Book”,  available exclusively on Amazon:


Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment, and tell all of your photography friends!


Thx again, and cheers,


John Watts  🙂



Leave a Reply