Have you ever felt that your images don’t resemble the beauty you experienced while capturing them? Do you feel like you’ve failed to eternalize the magical moments and instead are left with boring or generic photographs?

It might not be the answer you’re hoping for but post-processing is an important step in most photographer’s workflow and it’s often this process that takes an image from ‘normal’ to ‘stunning’. Many beginning photographers find this to be a difficult, confusing and even boring part of the creative workflow but in most cases, you don’t need to make big or time-consuming adjustments.

Obviously, how much you process your images depends on your style and it goes without saying that some photographers spend much more time in the digital darkroom than others.

But where do you start?

Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are two of the most popular photo-editors but which one is best for you? Is one better than the other? Let’s find out!

Do you need to process your images?

Before we look closer at Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, let’s quickly ask ourselves if it’s necessary to process our images at all. Is it really that important?

Post-processing has always been a huge part of photography. Even pioneers such as Ansel Adams spent hours processing his images to perfection in the darkroom.

Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.

– Ansel Adams

I don’t want to stir up the never-ending debate about whether it’s acceptable to process images or not but I will say that I believe post-processing is essential for the majority of your images.

Yes, an image can be excellent straight out of the camera but it often lacks ‘that little extra’. Even purists who are against heavy post-processing admits that the camera isn’t always able to properly represent colors and contrast. This is easy to correct in a photo-editor. The image already looks better after applying only a few simple adjustments.

It is, however, important to understand the difference between post-processing and image-manipulation. When talking about post-processing, I normally refer to correcting color balance, increasing contrast or other adjustments that help represent what you witnessed while capturing it. More advanced techniques such as Focus Stacking and Image Bracketing might also fall within this category.

Image-manipulating is when the image no longer represents reality but instead your rendition of it. This typically involves replacing skies, removing or adding objects, and using elements from different images.

The results can be amazing whatever you choose to do. Also here, it’s important to know the limitations of the photo-editors.

What is Adobe Lightroom?

Adobe Lightroom, or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom as it’s formally named, is arguably the most popular photo editor. It’s an easier tool to use for photographers as its sole purpose is organizing and processing photography. It’s not a tool used to ‘create’ graphics from scratch.

Adobe Lightroom Interface
The interface of Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom is a favorite amongst photographers as it serves as an all-in-one photography package; it’s a place where you can both organize and process your images, as well as prepare and send them for printing.

The Library module was the main reason I started using Lightroom in the first place. Being able to organize images using folders, rating systems, color codes, keywords, and edit images in the same place, changed the way I work. I think we all can agree that it’s too time-consuming to go through thousands of images on your hard drive just to locate one specific shot.

It’s not only the Library Module that’s good in Lightroom, though. The Develop Module is also of high quality and, quite frankly, it’s hard to find many better RAW Editors. Here you’re able to add life to a dull image in only a matter of minutes.

Noteworthy features in Adobe Lightroom

The list of features in Adobe Lightroom is quite long (though a lot shorter than Photoshop) so I won’t mention them all. Instead, I’ll mention some of the most relevant features for processing your images with the Develop Module:

  • Histogram Sub-Module: Histogram, Crop Overlay, Spot Removal, Red Eye Correction, Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, Adjustment Brush
  • Basic Sub-Module: White Balance Temperature and Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation
  • Tone Curve Sub-Module: Highlights, Lights, Darks, Shadows, Point Curve
  • HSL / Color / B&W Sub-Module: Hue, Saturation, Luminance
  • Split Toning Sub-Module: Highlights; Hue & Saturation –  Balance – Shadows; Hue & Saturation
  • Detail Sub-Module: Sharpening; Amount, Radius, Detail, Masking – Noise Reduction; Luminance, Detail, Contrast, Color, Detail, Smoothness
  • Lens Corrections Sub-Module: Profile Corrections, Chromatic Aberration, Constrain Crop
  • Effects Sub-Module: Post-Crop Vignetting Style; Amount, Midpoint, Roundness, Feather, Highlights – Grain; Amount, Size, Roughness – Dehaze; Amount
  • Camera Calibration Sub-Module: Process, Profile, Shadows Tint, Red Primary; Hue, Saturation – Green Primary; Hue, Saturation – Blue Primary; Hue, Saturation

As mentioned, there are many more features in Lightroom that you’ll find useful (such as the great organizing tools). This list is only a snippet of the features, sliders and tools you’ll be using in Lightroom.

Being able to sync images is another noteworthy feature of Lightroom. This is great when editing a series of images where the style of processing remains the same; rather than manually edit all the images, you edit the first and sync the rest. You can also do this by using Lightroom Presets.

What is Adobe Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most comprehensive image-editing software on the market. It was originally created as a simple photo editing software in 1988 but has since grown to become the most popular software among photographers and designers, as well as architects, publishers and 3d artists.

Adobe Photoshop 2020 Interface
The interface of Adobe Photoshop 2020

The list of features, tools, and possibilities in Photoshop is too long to include here but it’s fair to say that there are very few things that aren’t possible. If there’s something you can’t do, there’s probably more than one plugin you can install for that exact purpose.

Unlike Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop can’t be used to store and organize your images. Its sole purpose is to process them. Photoshop’s tools are more advanced but you’re able to use similar tools as in Lightroom when using the Camera RAW tool.

In Photoshop, you can apply anything from simple contrast and saturation adjustments to more advanced techniques such as blending multiple images for better dynamic range, focus stacking or using luminosity masks for selective editing. This is much due to the use of Layers and Masks.

Adobe Photoshop is an advanced tool that might look scary at first glance but, just as with any other software, it isn’t that hard to use when once you get to know the layout and its functions.

That being said, I doubt that there are many people out there who know Photoshop to it’s fullest, as you have unlimited opportunities.

Noteworthy features in Adobe Photoshop

Listing the features of Adobe Photoshop in the same way as we did with Lightroom would require a whole lot more words than most people are willing to read. It’s simply such a comprehensive software with an abundance of features.

Layers and Masks are two of the most important tools in Photoshop. In fact, it’s these two that make so many of the other adjustments possible. Working on a layers basis while using masks means that you can apply adjustments only to specific areas of the image. Is the sky too bright? No problem. Just create a mask for the sky and use a Adjustment Tool such as Curves to darken it.

Layers in Adobe Photoshop
A layers hierarchy in Adobe Photoshop using a mix of Adjustment Layers, Merged Layers and Groups.

You can use as many layers as you want and you can create groups to keep it more organized. When using Adjustment Layers you can also go back and change their settings later on.

Is Photoshop or Lightroom the best for you?

The information above is definitely good to know but it hasn’t answered the question of which one to choose?

It’s important to understand that Photoshop and Lightroom are two very different photo editors and it’s not necessary to choose one over the other; it’s perfectly fine to use them both (in fact, that’s what most photographers do).

But it’s a lot of work to learn two different software when you’re just getting started. Especially if you’re also just getting into photography. That’s why I recommend that beginner photographers start with Adobe Lightroom.

It might be more limited when it comes to photo manipulation but it’s got everything you need for general post-processing. Plus, it’s much easier to learn.

Here are a few key reasons why Lightroom is better than Photoshop for beginners:

  • It’s easier to learn
  • The library module is brilliant for organizing images
  • Adjustments are applied to a mirrored version inside the software which means that the original image file remains untouched and you don’t need to be afraid of damaging the file
  • The Lightroom workflow is non-destructive
  • All RAW adjustments (which is the main focus in most workflows) can be done here

Adobe Photoshop is a more advanced tool but one that’s well worth learning for experienced amateur or professional photographers; it’s simply the most powerful photo editor on the market.

Most photographers won’t spend hours working on an image in Photoshop but there are some techniques that can be used to perfect your images.

Here are a few key reasons why Photoshop is better than Lightroom for advanced photographers:

  • There are more possibilities when working with selective adjustments
  • Tools such as Content-Aware and Spot Removal are significantly better
  • The use of Layers and Masks gives endless of creative opportunities
  • Techniques such as focus stacking can be used to improve the image quality
  • The abundance of tools can be used to achieve effects not possible in other editors

Alternatives to Photoshop and Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are the two most common software for photographers but they are far from the only ones. There are many new photo editors that have come onto the market in the last years and it’s noticeable that the competition is getting better.

Luminar 4 by Skylum is perhaps the biggest challenger thanks to its intuitive interface and powerful Artificial Intelligence tools. Many photographers (beginners and professionals) have made the move in the past year. Another advantage many point to is the fact that it’s a one-time payment instead of a subscription solution. It can also be used as a plug-in for both Lightroom and Photoshop.

I consider Luminar 4 to be a mix between Photoshop and Lightroom. It’s got similar tools as to what you find in Lightroom but also has Layers and Masks as well as simplified versions of advanced techniques made in Photoshop. There’s also a Library Module where you can organize your images, though it’s not as good as Lightroom’s.

Read our Luminar 4 review here

CaptureOne is another contender and a favorite amongst many photographers. It’s got a similar layout to Lightroom but a handful of more advanced tools. Especially the color adjustments stand out in this software. Also here you’ll find a Library Module.

ON1 Photo RAW and Affinity Photo are two more options that are popular amongst photographers.


Photoshop and Lightroom are two completely different software and it’s wrong to compare them as they each have their own purpose.

I find that Lightroom is a good place to begin for those who are new to post-processing as it’s an intuitive software where you can both process and organize your images. It’s so important to have a good organizational system as your library grows and being able to have that in the same tool as you edit in, is simply perfect.

Photoshop is more advanced and is where you apply more specific adjustments and techniques. There’s endless of opportunities here and it’s only your creativity which is the limit.

The good news is that you don’t need to purchase the individual software anymore. Adobe offers a package made specifically for photographers that include both Lightroom and Photoshop. Having both tools available is ideal and it’s painless to move between the two.

Personally, I do 90% of my processing in Lightroom and 10% in Photoshop – that being said, that 10% is just as important and is what takes some images from average to great.