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Since its Version 1.0 release in 2006, Adobe Lightroom has gone from strength to strength, firmly establishing itself as the go-to software for photographers around the globe. With each new update, you’ll be relieved to find you have fewer reasons for awakening the software’s fuller-figured big brother, Photoshop CC.
That said, there are some limitations with Lightroom that have stood the test of time. Thankfully, with more signups for the Creative Cloud Photography plan, there are now few photographers without access to both solutions. But for the times you need it, here are five reasons you’ll likely find yourself firing up Photoshop CC for better results.
Lightroom is a whiz at removing simple sensor spots from that top left corner of your images (Nikon users, you know what I’m talking about!). Punching Q then A allows me to quickly visualize any distracting spots with the handy white on black overlay, and their removal is typically a swift one-click solution using the Spot Healing tool.
However, the same cannot be said when attempting to remove distractions from more complex textures such as dust spots in the grass, for example, or people, as in the image below. For those situations, I rely on the smarter algorithms and expanded capabilities of Photoshop.
To remove and replace objects that Lightroom cannot handle, start by right-clicking the image and choosing Edit in Photoshop. Then create a duplicate layer (CTRL/CMD + J) of your image in Photoshop (I generally do this every time I start processing so I can always get back to the original if I make a mistake or don’t like the result).
Next, erase the distraction with the Eraser Tool (E) so that you can see a “missing piece” where the culprit used to lie (be sure to turn off the visibility of the original background layer if nothing appears to have been erased). Select the area using the wand tool (W) and then in the menu bar at the top of your screen choose Select > Modify > Expand (choose around 5 pixels as your setting).
Next, choose Edit > Fill and select “Content-Aware” in the Contents dropdown list. Hit OK and Photoshop will attempt to replace what you’ve erased with something sensible.
I’ve been able to seamlessly remove crowds of people from the image you see here using this technique, and the process took only around two minutes. Whereas Lightroom relies on finding a similar texture it can use to cover up distractions/blemishes, Photoshop uses its clever algorithms to create its own texture.
Sometimes you just can’t quite capture enough dynamic range in your image to get away with a single exposure (at least not without introducing an unacceptable amount of noise or strange artifacts). While Lightroom has attempted to cater to those who wish to combine exposures with the introduction of HDR Photo Merge, using the feature can sometimes lead to incredibly flat images that are tricky to process (and in the case of the image you see below, caused the sun to completely disappear by virtue of it not appearing in both of the photographs).
The advanced masking abilities of Photoshop, combined with a technique called Luminosity Masking makes combining exposures much simpler. Using this technique, you choose exactly what appears from each exposure, so blending images that have uncommon elements (as in the case of the sun in the example image) is simple.
The local adjustment tools in Lightroom including the Adjustment Brush (K), Graduated Filter (M) and Radial Filter (Shift+M) give you far less need for Photoshop than was the case before they were introduced. They are excellent targeting tools, yet they all suffer a major weakness – there is no access to HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity) adjustments.
In daytime landscape images, you’ll often want to deepen the blue of the sky. While this can be done using the HSL panel, the problem is that blue is not a color found exclusively above the horizon, as is the case with the walls and clothing in the example image below. The only way I could deepen the blue here would also cause detrimental effects to the blue everywhere else. Targeting the sky with the Adjustment Brush didn’t give me access to the necessary HSL sliders.
Color can be better controlled in Photoshop by hitting Select > Color Range, then using the eyedropper tool to select a color you want to affect in isolation. You can then create an adjustment layer of your choice to affect the selected area; most often you’ll find a Hue/Saturation adjustment is the best method.
The benefit of this last method is a dramatic one: Whereas in Lightroom you can only make wholesale adjustments, i.e. changes that affect the entirety of the image, to Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity, you aren’t subject to the same limitation in Photoshop. By selecting an appropriate color, then masking out the effect in undesirable areas, you’ll retain more control, as is the case with the image below.
Targeting only specific areas while retaining full access to every adjustment Photoshop offers is hugely appealing. Note the sky is darkened here but not the wall or people’s clothing.
To achieve my aim, I simply created a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and then masked away the effect from everywhere but the sky. I’d tried all manner of adjustments in Lightroom but could only get the sky to look how I wanted at the expense of adding too much blue elsewhere.
Another great option when this happens is to simply create two virtual copies in Lightroom, one with the sky (or another problem area) as you want it, and another before you did the damage with the other edit. You can then blend the two together in Photoshop.
When Adobe announced they’d be adding the Panorama Photo Merge feature to Lightroom, I figured that’d be yet one more thing scratched from my “Must use Edit in Photoshop” list. Alas, it wasn’t to be, predominantly because of the likelihood of “blank canvas” – the phenomenon where you’ll find blank, white space in your Lightroom panoramas. Try it for yourself. CTRL/CMD + Click to select all of the images you wish to stitch, then right-click and select Merge > Panorama. I bet there’s an area missing from the photograph.
The effect is caused by the distortion inherent to some degree in every lens, and Photoshop will produce near identical results. Where Photoshop excels, however, is in its ability to offer a more flexible solution. In Lightroom, you are left to merely crop away the now-useless areas. But in Photoshop you can use the same Content-Aware Fill method described in #1 above to cleverly re-create a convincing replacement area of sky (although you may want to try expanding your selection by 20 or so pixels, as opposed to the 5px recommended for removing smaller items).
Left to the solutions in Lightroom, I’d have been forced to crop away more of the sky than I’d have liked in this image. With Photoshop I was even able to replicate some tricky texture in the water at the bottom of the frame. I still needed to crop away a little of the image, but nowhere near as much.
Lightroom generally does a pretty good job of dealing with chromatic aberration, the color fringing that can appear where dark and light tones meet. You’ll often see this in daytime cityscapes where the top edges of buildings meet a bright sky, for example, usually manifesting itself as a green or purple edge straying into the brighter tone.
Lightroom has a couple of ways of dealing with this. First, there’s the Remove Chromatic Aberration checkbox in the Lens Corrections panel. I’d say 90% of the time, this is enough to correct the problem. Where the fringing persists, heading into the manual tab of the same panel allows you to grab the Fringe color Selector (the eye-dropper-like icon) and click on the offending area.
This will generally fix a more complex problem, but every once in a while you’ll encounter fringing so stubborn that Lightroom can’t handle it. This happens most frequently with blue fringing, which Lightroom is pretty much powerless against. Fortunately, blue fringing is quite rare, but it does happen.
You could try to desaturate the offending edge with Lightroom’s adjustment brush but you run the risk of accidentally straying into the surrounding area. Alternatively, you could try to completely desaturate the blue and cyan in the HSL panel. In this case, I didn’t want to do either of those as it would put my blue-green background at risk, making it look far too much like color-select for my liking.
Photoshop affords so much more control in fixing this problem. It’s as simple as heading to the menu bar to hit Select > Color Range and then clicking on the color fringing with the eyedropper tool that appears automatically. This will create a selection based on that very blue causing the problem.
By altering the “Fuzziness” you’re basically setting color sensitivity. The lower the number, the more precisely Photoshop will select that color; the higher the number, the more leeway you give the software to find similar colors. Don’t worry if there’s an identical or similar color elsewhere in the image that Photoshop picks up on; it’s easy to mask that out later.
Once you see that your mask has isolated the problem area well enough, open a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, which should have automatically applied your selection as a mask. Reduce saturation in the Blues and Cyans until the problem is gone. If you’ve accidentally desaturated some other important area of your photograph, click on your mask, grab the black brush, and mask it out. Easy.
The next time one of the few remaining weakness of Lightroom is exposed, you can try one of the above techniques so the software doesn’t have to get in the way of your vision.
Have you found any other Lightroom limitations? Please share in the comments below.