Photoshop vs. Lightroom: What to Consider When Choosing Software

photoshop vs. lightroomPhotoshop vs. Lightroom – which should you use? What software is going to be the better choice?  Part of the difficulty in this decision is that there is now more overlap between the two products than there used to be, so that makes the decision less straightforward.

When you are considering which software to use as part of your digital workflow, you should consider it like this: your post production workflow should consist of a number of different software tools that form the workflow or funnel that your images go through, and not every image will make it all the way through.   If you are using LR and PS, then you should think of LR as the step before PS, and not all the images need to make it to the PS stage.  You may very well use different software at each stage of the process.

You need to think of your post production as a funnel with stages that look somewhat like this:

Stage 1: Image Capture

You take all the photos with your camera; end up with hundreds or thousands of images on your memory cards.

Stage 2: Initial Download

You use some type of software to download those images to your computer (and make backup copies that are safely stored somewhere else).

Stage 3: Editing Stage

You use some type of software to edit the photos down (split the keepers from the rejects).

Stage 4: Color Correction

You use some type of software to take the keepers from step 3 and doing basic images adjustments (color correction / exposure and contrast adjustment, etc.).

Stage 5: Retouching

You use some type of software to take some of the keepers from step 4 and do enhanced retouching, such as skin retouching, artistic enhancements, head swaps, etc. etc.

Some people try to use one piece of software for all steps 2 through 5, though there are not many software options that will do all those steps, and none that will do them all really well.  In our studio, we use a different piece of software for each of those steps, software that has been carefully chosen to do that step very well and more importantly, very efficiently, to save us time and get consistent results.

The main thing to understand that the software you choose is ultimately just a tool to get the job done. The tools themselves will not do the work for you. It doesn’t matter if you use a Nikon or a Canon; you still have to know lighting, exposure, and so forth, right?

If you are starting with both Lightroom and Photoshop, you could use LR for steps 2 through 4, and PS for step 5. What's important is that you try some different approaches and see what style suits you and your workflow best.

Photoshop is very powerful for retouching but you can also get lost for hours working on individual images and then you are suddenly working for less than minimum wage. The goal is to spend as little time as possible per image while still attaining great professional results. This is a constant struggle for many photographers, and is actually a topic we're thinking of publishing a book on next year. What has been your experience?

For more reading see digital workflow tips and staying organized with client deadlines


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