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Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which is Best for Beginners?

If you’re new to photography, you’re likely wondering how to post-process or edit your photos. There is a wide selection of photo editing software to choose from, but the two that you probably hear debated the most are Adobe Photoshop versus Lightroom. So what are the main differences and which program is best for beginners and for you? Read on for a basic overview!

Photoshop v Lightroom

A Quick Note

While going through this article, please keep three points in mind:

  1. This is not meant to be a thorough comparison review of the two programs. There are endless features to compare between Photoshop and Lightroom, but this article is meant to give beginning photographers a point of reference as to which program to start with first.
  2. Ever since the Creative Cloud rolled out, Photoshop and Lightroom are constantly being updated with new tools and features. So depending on which version of the programs you are using, some of the tools and features mentioned below may or may not be present in your version of Photoshop or Lightroom.
  3. There are many other comparisons written several years ago that aren’t up to date don’t reflect the new features and changes in Photoshop and Lightroom. So if you read other comparison articles (including this one), be sure to double check when they were published and if they have been updated. For reference, I have Lightroom CC 2015.10 and Photoshop CC 2017.0.1

What is Adobe Photoshop?


Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which is Best for Beginners?

What the photo editing layout typically looks like in Photoshop.

Photoshop is a name that has become synonymous with photo editing. Today, thanks to its extensive functionality, Photoshop is used by not only photographers, but also by graphic designers, web designers, architects, and publishers.

Photoshop is also a pixel-based image editor, giving you ultimate control of every single pixel that makes up your digital photograph. This means you have limitless options when it comes to manipulating your photos. Want to stitch your friend’s head to a frog’s body or swap out gray skies for sunny skies? These are instances when you would turn to Photoshop.

What is Adobe Lightroom?

If you take a look at the main Photoshop interface for the first time, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed. There is a seemingly endless array of tools and options to choose from, and it’s hard to know where to start. This is because Photoshop contains features not only for photographers but also for designers and those of other creative skillsets. So when it comes to easily finding the photo editing tools you need, this is where Lightroom typically excels, especially for those new to photo editing.

Lightroom takes many of Photoshop’s features that are specific to photographers and puts them in an easy-to-find panel. Previous versions of Lightroom lacked extensive editing tools, but today, Lightroom contains many of the main image manipulation tools you need to process your photos.

Another benefit to using Lightroom is that it is also a fantastic image management software. You can use it to import, organize, manage, and edit your photos. In essence, Lightroom is your all-in-one photo management and editing tool. On the other hand, if you want to manage and organize your images with Photoshop, you must use the accompanying software called Adobe Bridge (which automatically comes with Photoshop).

Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which is Best for Beginners?

What you’ll typically see in Lightroom after you import some photos.

Lightroom versus Photoshop?

Not long ago, you had to purchase Photoshop or Lightroom individually, and it was truly a challenge to figure out which was a more worthwhile investment. Today, you now get access to both programs if you purchase a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. For around $10 a month, you can purchase the Photography Creative Cloud package, which gives you access to both Lightroom and Photoshop (with Bridge). If you need other Adobe software such as Illustrator, InDesign or Premiere Pro, you can upgrade to the $50 per month Creative Cloud subscription.

However, the average photographer will be just fine with the simple plan that includes Lightroom and Photoshop. So from a financial perspective, it’s a no-brainer to get both photo editing programs. But in practice, here are some rules of thumb when deciding whether to use Lightroom or Photoshop.

Use Lightroom if…

You are brand new to photo editing

Most beginning photographers will probably prefer the layout of Lightroom. It presents all of your main editing tools in an easy-to-find column, and it is pretty intuitive to figure out. In Photoshop, you have to do a little more customization to set up your workstation exactly how you want; this leads to more flexibility, meaning you can further customize what tools you choose to appear. However, this can be confusing for beginning photographers.

Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which is Best for Beginners?

For comparison: Lightroom automatically presents your basic photo editing tools in a column.

Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which is Best for Beginners?

On the other hand, you have to customize which photo editing tools appear in your Photoshop work area.

You want to batch process multiple images

If you have a bunch of photos that you want to batch process, it is much easier to do in Lightroom using presets and its smooth workflow. Batch processing can still be done in Photoshop using Actions, but Lightroom is arguably more straightforward.

 You value a smooth, straightforward workflow

When it comes to workflow, Lightroom is arguably much better than Photoshop. Using Lightroom, you can easily create image collections, keyword images, share images directly to social media, batch process, and more.

Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which is Best for Beginners?

In Lightroom, you can both organize your photo library and edit photos.

Adobe Bridge - Photoshop Versus Lightroom: Which is Best for Beginners?

If you want to organize or manage your photo library with Photoshop, you must use another program called Adobe Bridge.

Use Photoshop if…

You can’t do it in Lightroom

This is the easy answer since Lightroom will truly meet the photo editing needs of most beginning photographers. With that said, there are a few instances in particular when Photoshop will outperform Lightroom.

Advanced Retouching

While the latest versions of Lightroom do include some basic retouching tools for patching and removing blemishes, you can do much more in Photoshop. Want to make a person look thinner, whiten teeth, and remove small objects? While you can do this in Lightroom, Photoshop’s retouching tools are much more powerful. It might take some extra time to figure out where these tools are within Photoshop and how to use them, but you’ll be able to enhance your photos much more than in Lightroom.


Do you want to combine the elements of multiple images into a single one? This is termed as compositing, and you will want to use Photoshop to combine and further manipulate images.

In Conclusion

If you are a beginning photographer looking for a relatively intuitive photo editing software, Lightroom is generally best, to begin with. You can always add Photoshop to the mix later, if and when you’re in need of advanced photo manipulation techniques.

What do you think? In the Photoshop Versus Lightroom debate, which is best for beginners? Why? Let us know in the comments below.

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Suzi Pratt
Suzi Pratt

is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. When she’s not taking photos, she’s making travel photography and camera gear videos for her YouTube channel.

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