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Photohsop or Lightroom_What’s Right for You?

My own workflow often involves both Lightroom and Photoshop, with most of the work being completed in Lightroom

Adobe has a suite of programs, many of which are employed by photographers. But with this variety comes the need to choose. Can one program meet all your needs or is it necessary to own several programs? When trying to make your decision cast your net widely and be careful not to make your decision based entirely on advise given by any single individual, particularly if they don’t qualify that advise with sound reasoning. Often an individual will recommend Canon or Nikon, Ford or Holden based on the fact that they own one or the other. And, if they own one, it must be the right choice for you to. For you to contemplate a different model or, heaven forbid, a different brand might suggest they’d made the wrong decision or their camera is no longer as good as it was. Not being prepared to buy a new camera their ego causes them to aggressively recommend the one they currently own as the best camera for you. This is quite primitive cave man behavior, which I frequently witness.

Perhaps you drive a Ford, because your old man did. Or perhaps the fact that he did is the very reason you won’t be seen dead in one. There is, after all, a lot of emotion invested in purchasing a car or expensive camera. It’s all basic psychology.

In the case of software you may use iPhoto for the simple reason that it was part of the bundle of software that came free (though, of course, nothing ever comes for free) with your Mac computer. Perhaps, after mastering iPhoto, you decided to move to a more professional program. You chose Aperture, a very good program. But why did you choose it. Was it because you love your Mac and Apple manufacture Aperture. Brand loyalty cannot be understated.

Maybe you’ve considered purchasing Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (its proper and complete name) for similar reasons. You may already have purchased, or had experience using, Adobe Photoshop Elements or Adobe Photoshop CS3 or CS4. Frankly, the idea of a suite of applications that allow you to move, relatively easily, from one to another always made sense to me. And that, together with my familiarity with Photoshop, was one of the reasons why Adobe Lightroom has become such a crucial part of my workflow.

But there are other reasons as well. I love the application’s modular design. The attractive interface allows you to access any of the 5 modules within Lightroom quickly and with ease. These modules can be described as follows:

Library

The library module allows you to import, store, rate and tag (keyword) your images. This sorting process is critical as these metadata instructions that you’ve attached to your images would allow you to locate a group, or even a single image, from a catalog of several thousand within a matter of seconds. Gone are the days of sorting through shoeboxes of prints and negatives.

The Library module also allows you to group selected images from one or more shoots into Collections (e.g. Christmas 2009, China 2009, Bush/Blair wedding, etc).

Develop

For me this is where the fun begins. Adjustments to color temperature, brightness, contrast, color vibrance and saturation, clarity and sharpness, can all be made quickly and easily in this module. There is a lot to do but, with proper instruction, much of the work can be automated inline with your personal preferences.

Slideshow

This module provides a quick and easy method for you to present your images, in sequence, in a kind of slideshow format.

Print

The Print module is great for setting up files for printing, either directly to a desktop printer or, with the appropriate Color Print Profile attached, saved to a disk for printing at a conventional lab.

Web

The web module provides a quick and easy way for your collections to be placed into a format appropriate for viewing on a website.

It’s worth noting that the Develop module, while it has a jazzier interface, is almost identical to the features and functionality found in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). There are also some similarities between Adobe Bridge and Lightroom’s Library module. And as ACR and Bridge come for free with recent versions of Photoshop, some experienced Photoshop users don’t see the need for Lightroom. I, on the other hand, love it.

Most of my time in Lightroom is spent in the Library and Develop modules. Initially, while the Slideshow, Print and Web modules were of interest to me they didn’t have the same level of development as the first two key modules. With the upcoming release of Adobe Lightroom 3 I’m confident the application would have matured to such an extent that I’II likely be using all 5 modules on a regular basis. And, while I still utilize Photoshop, it’s generally only for specialized retouching, black-and-white rendering and toning (although Lighroom accomplishes these tasks well enough for most folks), and some other hocus pocus that is, at least at this stage, beyond Lightroom.

So, for me, I need both programs. Lightroom to import, rate, organize and develop (process) my images and Photoshop for certain types of retouching and for more artistic interpretations of the image.

When I’m asked to recommend software, cameras or even cars I’m always very careful what I say. Folks are usually hoping for a simple and convincing recommendation, which I’m rarely able to provide. I don’t think it’s right say that one program is better than any other. I prefer to base my recommendation on what’s most appropriate to the individual’s needs, skill set and budget.

Photoshop is an amazing program but, as photographers are only one of its many and varied user groups, it has to cater to a broad range of needs, many of which are not relevant to photographers. Lightroom, on the other hand, is made by the same company (Adobe) and is targeted specifically to photographers. And that’s why I like it. There’s almost no major feature in Lightroom that I don’t use, while most photographers would be lucky to make use of 10% of the features in Photoshop. So, for most people it’s worth considering whether there’s value in paying for the big kahuna, even though you might only need a bite.

There is a substantial learning curve associated with any major software application. And it’s hard to remember everything you learn, particularly when certain features are used infrequently. But, in the case of Lightroom, most of what you learn you’ll use on a regular (e.g. daily) basis.

There are basically 3 segments of the photography market: amateurs, enthusiasts and professional photographers. Which one would you consider yourself falling it? Of course you may not call yourself a professional photographer, simply because you don’t run a photography business. But, you might be a practicing artist or passionate enthusiast who will stop at nothing to make the best image you can. In that case, regardless of what demographic manufacturers might put you into, you’re a definite candidate for the best gear and best software you can afford.

Sticking with the above rational, it might be helpful to try to match each demographic with a camera and software applications. Of course prices change and the prices listed are based on purchasing in Australia, with the Aussie dollar, in January 2010. You can read $2,000 plus as meaning a Canon 7D camera body (or Nkon D300s) or better.

Amateur

Point and Shoot Digital Camera + iPhoto for Mac users or Microsoft Publisher or Vista for those poor souls using IBM-based platforms

Enthusiast

Sub $2,000 (as at 2nd January, 2010) DSLR camera that includes a kit lens + Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop Elements

Professional

One or more $2,000 plus DSLR cameras + one or more top line (e.g. Canon L series) lenses + Adobe Photoshop Lightroom + Adobe Photoshop CS4, including less frequent use of Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera RAW

or

One or more $2,000 plus DSLR cameras + one or more top line (e.g. Canon L series) lenses + Adobe Photoshop CS4, including frequent use of Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera RAW

I hope you find the above article helpful and food for thought. While I have no interest in dealing with the type of barbaric and tribal brand warfare that permeates on-line forums, feel free to make a (reasonable) comment or send me a request for another article.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved

Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography

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2 Responses

  1. That was a very helpful article glen, something i have been thinking about a lot and that has made my decisions a lot clearer.

    Very much appreciated.

    Sean

  2. Hey Sean,

    I’m really glad the article helped. They do take a considerable time to write and it makes it that much worthwhile when I know they are of value.

    All the best,

    Glenn

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