In this guide we stack up Adobe Photoshop vs Lightroom CC to help you figure out which app will fit your editing and processing needs.

When you get into photography software, you’ll almost certainly encounter the Photoshop vs Lightroom debate. The choice is actually pretty easy. If you’re a photographer considering whether to invest your time and money in Adobe Lightroom CC or Adobe Photoshop CC, you’ll likely only need Lightroom CC.

Lightroom CC will simplify your workflow and makes editing a breeze. That doesn’t mean you should ignore Photoshop’s immense range of functions, but the bottom line is that you might not need all it has to offer.

Read on for an in-depth explanation of the functions and uses for Lightroom CC and Photoshop. There’s plenty to talk about.

When to Use Lightroom CC

If you need a digital photography file management and editing program with capabilities for processing RAW images, then Lightroom CC is for you. It’s an intuitive app, so new users can learn the functionalities quickly.

Lightroom CC lets you manage large amounts of files more easily than using a combination of programs. Import, organize, manage, and find your images, then save them to the cloud so you can access them anywhere. And that truly means anywhere, since the app is made to work on different platforms so you can use it on your phone, your tablet, or your desktop.

When it comes to editing, Lightroom CC features all the common editing and retouching controls, notably in non-destructive form. Convert RAW images from your camera, edit them, and export them as JPGs. When you close a file, the app saves all the control parameters, so you can keep editing no matter which cloud-connected device you open them on next.

In summary, you can import all the files in a project, name and re-locate them, start editing, close the app, come back, and pick up where you left off. When you’re done, share your photos to popular social media and photo gallery sites.

When to NOT Use Lightroom CC

Don’t rely on Lightroom CC for design involving layering, masking, typography, or compositing. Basically anything beyond editing photos and managing your files and photography projects.

Lightroom CC’s focus is on workflow, editing, and sharing photography, so the vast majority of design tools and abilities, like those found in Photoshop, are unavailable. As you edit photos, changes are applied to the entire photograph, though you can retouch certain areas with the Healing Brush tool and select specific areas to edit with the Brush tool. The image always remains a single, flat layer.

If you need to perform complex, detailed editing, like replacing parts of an image with parts from another image, Lightroom CC isn’t for you. That type of editing is usually done using masks and layers to build a large and complicated file.

There’s also no typography or layout functionality, so if you need to build imagery from scratch, use multiple photos for a single design, or add text to a design, you’ll end up on the other side of the Photoshop vs Lightroom debate.

How to Get Started in Lightroom CC

Lightroom CC UX

To get started, open Lightroom CC and hit Add Photos. Choose your source, choose the images to import, then hit Review For Import. You can create a new folder for this collection or add to an existing one. This ensures that you are organized from the start of your project, which is important to busy photographers and amateurs alike, and one of the strong suits of Adobe Lightroom CC.

Lightroom CC importing photos

Make edits by using the Edit pane, where you’ll find controls for Cropping, Healing, Brush, and Gradients. Click on the next photo to edit at the bottom, and when you’re done you can just close the app or hit the Share button at the top right. Changes are saved to the cloud as you work, and files will be found in the folders you set at the beginning.

Get Familiar with Lightroom CC’s Controls

Since Lightroom CC is a photo editing app, you’ll find all the basic and some not-so-basic controls. We’ve highlighted some of the editing functions of Lightroom CC below.

Lightroom CC light controls

In the Light section you’ll see controls for editing the general lighting of the image. Exposure controls the lightness and darkness of the image, broadly, while Contrast deals with the difference between light and dark. Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks control more subtle aspects of the image.

Lightroom CC color controls

Using the Color section, change the Temp and Tint t0 shift the tonality of an image. Meanwhile, Vibrance and Saturation change the intensity of the colors in the image.

Lightroom CC effects controls

In the Effects section, add Clarity to increase the contrast of the differences among pixels. Increasing Dehaze can turn a milky sky blue again or create a ghostly effect by decreasing it. Add darker edges with Vignette. Add a film-like texture with Grain.

Lightroom CC detail controls

In the Detail section, save a fuzzy image by increasing Sharpening. Create a smoother effect in a grainy or high-ISO image with Noise Reduction. Limit the noise between colors with Color Noise Reduction.

Lightroom CC optics controls

In the Optics section you can click Remove Chromatic Aberration to remove that purple or green outline on certain objects. Click Enable Lens Corrections to find your camera’s profile and automatically distort the image to look more normal. Or do it manually with the sliders Distortion Correction and Lens Vignetting.

Lightroom CC geometry controls

The Geometry section contains various ways to un-distort your image where it has become warped due to lens issues, odd perspective, or some other anomaly. You can also play around with this for creative or intentional distortions. Click the arrow next to Upright to see a list for manual or automatic straightening methods.

When to Use Photoshop<

Photoshop can do photo editing, photo manipulation, and design really well, so it will satisfy the needs of almost anyone. However, its breadth of functionality can be overwhelming, and new users will find it less intuitive than single-function apps like Lightroom CC.

Photoshop’s advanced capabilities come from layers, masking, and effects. With Layers you can build upon an image from the ground up while organizing separate parts and pieces. Instead of whole-picture editing, you can perform very precise and detailed edits. You can make selections, refine them, then crop the rest of the image to isolate a subject or remove it.

With its masking function, you can treat very specific parts of a layer while leaving the rest of the image alone. Add effects or change the values of any number of lighting and color filters to a specific area.

This is the tip of the iceberg for Photoshop. It is pretty much the last word in image creation and manipulation. You can uncover Photoshop’s capabilities as your skills grow, providing you more and more options for insane levels of editing and manipulation.

When NOT to Use Photoshop

If you’re looking solely to edit photos, mastering Photoshop might be futile. While its Camera Raw program gives you the same functionality as Lightroom CC, it doesn’t have the same file management system or intuitive workflow.

Though it sounds like Photoshop can do anything (and if we’re talking about raster images, it pretty much can), you don’t necessarily need it if you’re doing photography workflow and simple editing procedures. In order to process RAW images, you need to access the Adobe Camera Raw Filter. Through this, Photoshop has capabilities similar to and beyond Lightroom CC, but you’ll also have to leave the program to access them. (Though you’re technically still “in it,” Photoshop will access the program as a separate window.)

See below for the similarities between Camera Raw in Photoshop vs Lightroom CC.

Photoshop camera raw filter vs Lightroom CC

You can see that Camera Raw has some of the same stuff with a different look. It also has more advanced functions, like Histogram, and more menus for editing. Camera Raw also works with JPGs, so it’s not totally chained to incoming RAW images.

While Camera Raw provides the real overlap between Photoshop vs Lightroom, you don’t get the workflow functionality of Lightroom CC. You can use Bridge, Adobe’s file management app, but that’s another separate app and not a dedicated feature.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a streamlined and dedicated photo-editing and management solution, Photoshop may simply be too much. You might want it down the road for more complex editing, but it’s not the slick and intuitive app that Lightroom CC is.

How to Get Started Sorting and Editing RAW Images in Photoshop

Select one or more RAW files, drag them to Photoshop, and it will automatically open Camera Raw and display the files on the left side.

Editing RAW images in Photoshop

If you want to use Camera Raw to edit JPGs, simply open the file in Photoshop, then go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter in the main menu, or hit Command + Shift + A.)

You can import, edit, and sort images by scrolling through the list on the left side of the window. Use the arrow keys to highlight one-by-one, and hit delete on the ones you don’t want to keep. This will mark them with a red X.

Perform your edits by clicking one of the sections below the Histogram and adjusting the sliders. When you are finished you can choose to open files in Photoshop for further work, or simply click Done.

When you click Done, Camera Raw will save the edited photos and trash the photos you deleted. If you choose to open in Photoshop you can convert them to JPGs or other files types.

Bottom Line:

If you’re still debating Photoshop vs Lightroom, here’s the final word:

Lightroom CC is a light and agile photography workflow app. Import, manage your files, edit, and share them, all in one box. The learning curve is short – it’s easy to get your bearings and start working. User controls are incredibly simple, but more importantly, powerful.

Photoshop is a large-scale digital darkroom – from film processing to retouching to designing, it can do it all. It relies on layers and masks to open up the world of photo manipulation. It’s also a raster-based pixel-editing program for digital illustration, web design, typography, and WYSIWYG layout. Thus, the learning curve is very steep, and possibly unnecessary.

If you don’t need the full functionality of Photoshop, and just want straightforward exposure controls, cropping, and organized file storage, you’ll find Lightroom CC a very worthy companion.

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Sunset beach image via Don Pablo, background image via Stock-Asso