Photoshop vs Lightroom The secrets of post-production software


No photographer will ever undermine the importance of post-production.  The unfortunate reality of photography is that it is rare for any picture to be exactly as perfect as the moment you take the shot.  As you first look back at the pictures from your latest photoshoot, you might notice any number of imperfections; overexposure, pesky shadows, even unwanted backlighting can be fixed with the use of any post-production software.

Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom are both excellent post-production software that are often even used simultaneously. 

Both specialise in a variety of different features which often leaves new photographers wondering, which is better in 2021?  Adobe Photoshop, or Adobe Lightroom?


What is Photoshop?

Put bluntly, Adobe Photoshop is the heavyweight of post-production.  Specialising in, as Adobe puts it, “pixel-level perfection,” Photoshop excels at manipulating the photograph in every way possible to create the image in your vision.  With a plethora of simple and complex tools, you really can create whatever it is that you envision.  Whether you want to stay as true to the original photo as possible or create something unimaginable and artistic, Photoshop is a fantastic post-production software.

One advantage Photoshop has over Lightroom is its ability to combine multiple different images to create one single piece which could be nothing like the original photographs.  We’ve all seen the masterminds of the internet use Photoshop to create images of sharks swimming around flooded malls.  As you will know, the reality is that these images are fake.  Made up of one separate image of a shark combined with a completely different image of a flooded mall.  While the concept of this might seem preposterous, the actual end result is a realistic-looking picture that can and has fooled many internet surfers.

Other than being used to make entirely unrealistic pictures, this feature can be used to combine photos to create genuinely believable images.

When considering the strengths of Photoshop, the Layers system is definitely near the top.  Layers can be stacked upon your original image, allowing you to focus on one correction at a time.  You might use one layer to cover up an unwanted element in your photograph, and another to correct colour balance. 

Additionally, since these Layers are separate, it can be easy to do multiple corrections and merge them together if they’re focused on the same spot.  An important note is that, while working with adjustment layers (layers where you can apply colour and tonal adjustments), you can work non-destructively. 

This means that no change you make with these layers will overwrite the original data, leaving your original image unharmed should you decide to revert any tonal or colour adjustments you previously made.  There are also several other ways to work non-destructively with Photoshop, such as non-destructive cropping or masking (used to “mask” or cover a portion of a layer) as a couple of examples.

It is, however, worth noting that there are some limitations for non-destructive editing with Photoshop, such as the Hide option being unavailable for images that only contain a background layer, making non-destructive cropping impossible.


Photoshop and Lightroom


What is Lightroom?

Lightroom is concise and organised.  With eight separate modules to work with, Adobe Lightroom is equipped to suit most of your post-production needs.  

The Library module grants the ability to manage your workflow.  With detailed search options such as keywording and keyword lists, you can effectively organise and manage your photo collection with ease.  The inclusion of a photo rating feature also allows you to find the best photo for your needs.  Also in the Library module is a ‘Quick Develop’ tab, which allows you to apply a preset if desired, applying a quick colour correction or tonal adjustment.  Adobe Lightroom also includes a Map module which can further aid in the organisation of work.  This module allows you to pin photographs to a location on a map, helping you keep track of where each picture was taken.  The Map module also comes with a panel for saved locations, allowing you to keep an eye on key places that are important to you.

As for the actual retouching of your pictures, Lightroom features the Develop module which offers more detailed editing options compared to the Quick Develop panel.  Here, you can do everything the Quick Develop panel offers in greater detail, while also having access to cropping, straightening, and a number of other features.  On top of that, to make your post-production editing easier, the Develop module opens two options to view your photo as you edit.  One option lets you zoom in on a particular part of the picture so you can work on each specific detail, while the other places your original photograph next to the version you’re working on so you can compare your changes as you go.  If you make a mistake, you can simply look to the history panel to undo or redo changes, or you can take snapshots that act as save points in case you wish to go back further. 

A huge strength of working in the Develop module is that, much like working with layers in Photoshop, any and all of the changes made are non-destructive, once again meaning that your original photograph will remain unchanged should you wish to keep the original photo or make a mistake while editing.  For more focused edits, Lightroom offers a series of other modules: the Book module, Print module, Web module and Slideshow module all offer specific tools, such as the Print module’s list of preset templates and filmstrip.  These tools can be used to turn your photos into the format you need with ease, making Lightroom the ideal post-production software to quickly work on most types of work.  


Lightroom software


So which is better?

The simple answer is that you should play around and practice with both Photoshop and Lightroom in post-production.  Both are considered two excellent pieces of software with very similar and different features.  Which you use will vary depending on your specific needs at the time, whether you’re looking at detailed edits with Photoshop or correcting tones in a whole album of photos with Lightroom.  Many photographers as well as Adobe themselves suggest that you work with both software as necessary.  This can mean first taking your image through Lightroom to apply some basic changes before sending it over to Photoshop – easily done by selecting your image and hitting Photo > Edit In > Edit in Adobe Photoshop – to make some more detailed edits.

Of course, there are benefits from one compared to the other.  For instance, while Photoshop has a charged fee, currently starting from £19.97 a month, Lightroom is free with an optional premium service. 

With this in mind, you might decide to first play around with Lightroom to learn the basics before diving into Photoshop.  Should you find yourself wanting to use both, it’s worth noting that Adobe offers a photography bundle, including both Photoshop and Lightroom.

Post-production is an important step for most photographs.  Without it, you can be left with several unwanted imperfections.  Regardless of which option you choose to go for, whether it’s Photoshop, Lightroom, or even a mixture of both, you can be certain that you will have all the tools necessary available to fix your photograph.

And while the many features may seem daunting to begin with, but with several handbooks and guides offered by Adobe, learning has never been easier.  By taking advantage of post-production, you’re sure to have your dream picture in no time.


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