I have Lightroom, do I need Photoshop?

Mist and Snow, Cummings Creek Wilderness.  One of multiple flaws in this image is the convergence of the tree trunks, they're slightly closer together at top than bottom.  This could be easily corrected in Photoshop, not so easily in Lightroom alone.
Mist and Snow, Cummings Creek Wilderness. One of the multiple flaws in this image is the convergence of the tree trunks; they're slightly closer together at top than bottom. This could be easily corrected in Photoshop, not so easily in Lightroom alone.

One of the most common questions I get when teaching my Adobe Lightroom workshops, is whether Lightroom is enough. The answer to that question depends on your needs and goals. But it is worth spending a bit of time reviewing reasons a photographer who has Lightroom 2 might also want to invest in Photoshop:

  • Graphic Design: If you are authoring your own web site or other publications, you may want Photoshop (or other tools) for laying out text over images, and so on.
  • Healing Tool Differences: There are some really nice things Lightroom can do that Photoshop can’t (like synchronizing correction spots on identical compositions), but Lightroom’s spot removal tool works best on small spots. Photoshop’s healing brush seems a more powerful option for larger scale healing, such as removing linear defects like branches or cracks in scanned images.
  • Soft-proofing: In general, color printers cannot reproduce the full range of colors that might appear in your images.  When printing from a color-managed workflow, Photoshop provides the ability to see an emulation of what your image will look like when printed, and similarly can provide a warning of where the colors of your image have exceeded the range of  what your printer is capable of. Lightroom currently lacks this facility. (This would be my first choice for “features  we might see in Lightroom 3.0.”)
  • CMYK printing: Lightroom lacks the capability of producing or adjusting CYMK images, which are still a primary part of working with printers when producing greeting cards, postcards, and the like.
  • Correcting Perspective:  Occasionally, I’ll photograph trees and find that the way the tops of the trees appear to converge near the top due to perspective is a problem. Lightroom doesn’t have a tool for correcting this, Photoshop does (the “Lens Correct” filter).
  • Correcting Barrel or Pincushion Distortion: Photoshop’s Lens Correct filter can also correct for curved horizons caused by lens distortions, Lightroom doesn’t have the capability itself.
  • Panorama Stitching: Photoshop has some integrated tools for stitching together images into a higher-resolution composite, Lightroom doesn’t. (Lightroom does have excellent integration with Photoshop on this feature if you have both, though.)
  • High-Dynamic Range (HDR) Imaging: Photoshop has integrated support for creating and  manipulating  high-dynamic range images out of multiple original exposures, Lightroom does not.
  • Focus Blending: Photoshop has integrated support for merging images of the same scene with limited-depth-of-field into a composite that emulates a wider depth-of-field. Lightroom does not.
  • Automation Tools: Both Lightroom and Photoshop provide a number of ways of automating some types of tasks, but Photoshop’s actions and scripting interfaces provide a more general interface for automating complex tasks. While many, even most of the tasks that I used actions for in Photoshop can be handled by pull-down menus in the export dialog, other tasks (such as automatically producing different sizes of each of a set of images, segregated into different folders by size) can’t be completely automated in Lightroom.

These aren’t the only ways in which Photoshop has a tool that Lightroom lacks, just those differences that are both frequently important to photographers (as opposed to, say, digital artists, graphic artists, web page designers and folks doing photo restoration) and that really accomplish something in Photoshop that would be difficult to accomplish in Lightroom.

Despite the length of this list, many photographers do just fine using Lightroom  sans Photoshop, many of these tasks just aren’t that important for many photographers. And many of these gaps can be filled in with software from other sources, such as PTLens, Panorama Factory and Photomatix.

Lastly, I’ll add that Lightroom has a number of features Photoshop (and Bridge) lack. Lightroom is far, far more than Photoshop’s little brother. The point of this list is just to help folks using Lightroom understand the ways in which Photoshop might be able to add to what they can accomplish. Let me know if you can think of anything I’ve missed!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. My take FWIW. If you’ve got Lightroom all you really need is Photoshop Elements; it does 90% of what Photoshop does and costs a fraction of Photoshops cost – even if you take into account any “student” licences which do something to mitigate the cost of Photoshop.

    So, no, you don’t need Photoshop if you have Lightroom – but it’s worth getting Elements.

  2. Totally agree. I can’t imagine life before Lightroom now, but I still wouldn’t be anywhere without Photoshop. In a word: ACTIONS. And another word – filters. 🙂

  3. @jgp: I’m not as familiar with ELement’s feature set, what does it do that LR doesn’t.

    @Trude: Except for Lens Correct, I don’t use any of the Filter menu anymore. teh sharpening stuff (in LR) are well-enough handled by sharpening and clarity options. What filters do you use much (just curious)…

  4. Don’t forget Aperture. I’m spending 90% of my time in Aperture and occasionally using Photoshop. I only wish Aperture had curves adjustment tools. I really like Lightroom but find Aperture better for organising and archiving images.

    If I use Photoshop it’s often with Nik software plugins like Silver Efex Pro.

  5. Dave: I do plan on taking a longer look at Aperture, I haven’t yet. I’d be interested to know, if you’re willing to share, what’s cool about Aperture’s organizational tools, that’s definitely something interesting to me. Thanks. 🙂

  6. Interesting list — I would add retouching, which I know you don’t do much/(at all?) as a landscape photographer, but working in portraits/wedding is often essential (by which I mean mostly things Healing Brush alone can’t handle).

    Of course, I’ve yet to see the need for Lightroom, since I have Photoshop (and therefore Bridge) 🙂

  7. Jane: Indeed, I don’t think there’s much that LR does that PS/Bridge doesn’t, in terms of direct functionality (although I’m not as sure what Bridge’s support for things like hierarchical keywording is). For the stuff they both do, though, LR fits my brain better. Your mileage may definitely vary. 🙂

  8. Lightroom fits my brain better too. Yes Photoshop, Bridge, and Camera Raw can do almost everything that Lightroom does, but in a clunkier, more convoluted way, using three applications to do what Lightroom integrates into one. Plus Bridge doesn’t have Collections – a grievous omission.

    Having said that, for serious photographers Photoshop is essential. I’d add to your list of things you need Photoshop for:

    – Serious retouching, whether using the healing brush or clone stamp tool.

    – Compositing images, like when expanding dynamic range or depth of field by blending two or more exposures. Yes, Photomatix or Helicon Focus can do these things, sort of, but not as well as Photoshop at the hands of a skilled practitioner. But then again, most people aren’t going to go that far…

    – Sophisticated sharpening.

    – Complex selections.

    I’m sure there are many more things I can’t think of right now.

  9. Bridge does actually support hierarchical keywords (and Collections, though I don’t use it). More to the point for me, you can use Bridge in a multi-workstation networked environment, and Lightroom’s insistence on “Collections” makes it go completely pear-shaped in that context.

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