Adobe isn’t doing themselves any favors having two products (Lightroom and Lightroom Classic) named so similarly. Then there is the confusion about how Photoshop fits into things because most everyone knows that Photoshop is THE editor for photos. This post explains exactly what each is and how to choose between them.
Lightroom or Photoshop?
Lightroom and Photoshop are very different programs. Let’s walk through the functions each can do a little here.
Lightroom offers functionality to manager your photos, something photographers call Digital Asset Management or DAM for short. It offers a way to catalog your photos, apply keywords to them, search through the photos by those keywords and by other attributes like what camera/lens was used to take the photo. You can also mark photos from a shoot that you want to keep versus those that are just plain bad (culling).
Lightroom also offers the ability to edit photos. You can change the exposure of the photo, change the color cast (photographers call it white balance) of the photo, add sharpening, reduce noise, fix redeye, and even do a little bit of object removal using Lightroom.
After going through the Lightroom functionality you might wonder why you would need Photoshop, and for a huge portion of your digital photo needs that is true. However, there are a few things Photoshop can do a lot better than Lightroom.
The name of the program has become a verb because of the powerful things that can be done to a photo. Everybody says that things can be “photoshopped” to fix them or change them. Things like taking a person out of a photo, or adding a person into a photo who wasn’t actually there when it was taken.
Photoshop is a powerful program designed to do very detailed and difficult photo editing one photo at a time using techniques like HDR and panorama merging, focus stacking, perspective stacking, layer masking, and luminosity masking (a special kind of layer masking).
OK, So Which Should a Beginner Use?
It used to be that from purely a cost perspective the advice was that beginners should start off with Lightroom and add Photoshop later. Back before 2015 when both products were available as perpetually licensed software (pay once) Lightroom was affordable for a beginner and Photoshop simply was not.
Times have changed. Adobe stopped updating the perpetual licensed versions of Lightroom and Photoshop in 2015. The only way to get the fully updated versions of either program since then is through a Creative Cloud subscription.
That term, “Creative Cloud”, has been misunderstood by many to think that it means Lightroom and Photoshop now run in a browser. While there is some limited functionality of both programs available in a browser, that is not what “Creative Cloud” means. Lightroom and Photoshop are both still programs that you download and run from your computer.
What “Creative Cloud” means is that when you launch either Lightroom or Photoshop the software is going to make calls out over the Internet to make sure you have paid your licensing fee for that month. If the software can’t connect to Adobe over the Internet (like say you are on an airplane) then you get up to 129 days to do that before it won’t let you edit photos any longer.
Despite how you may feel about subscriptions, it helps make things a lot better for beginners because access to Lightroom AND Photoshop, the both of them at the same time, is now very affordable! Adobe offers a Photography Plan of their Creative Cloud subscription that gives you access to both programs for $10/mo.
So the good news is beginners and hobbyist photographers don’t have to choose between the two programs anymore. I do recommend that you start off learning how to edit your photos in Lightroom and then add Photoshop when it comes time to do something you can’t do with Lightroom (which will take a while).
What’s the Difference Between Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC?
You may have noticed if you took a look at that link to the Creative Cloud plans that it mentions two different versions of Lightroom. There is Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC. Let me explain what each is.
Lightroom Classic CC
This is the Lightroom program photographers have used since 2007. It is a desktop application that has been updated and changed since then, but the workflow and technology involved in using the program hasn’t changed a whole lot since then. Very powerful software, but a little dated at this point. Still, as of the date of this article, it is my very clear preference over it’s newer sibling, Lightroom CC.
Lightroom Classic CC has more functionality than Lightroom CC. The younger sibling is still very much playing catchup to having all of the functions from the older. The gap is being closed with every release Adobe makes, and they generally update both every month or two, but there quite a few things you can do in Lightroom Classic CC that you can’t in Lightroom CC.
The very biggest difference is how your photos are managed. Remember I said that this is one of the key features of Lightroom over Photoshop? The way this is done between Lr Classic CC and Lr CC (Lr is Adobe’s own shorthand for Lightroom as a product and Ps is short for Photoshop) is very different.
Lr Classic CC allows you to manage your photos on your local storage like the hard drive inside your computer and any external hard drives you may use. You import the photos and manage them for that one computer where you have the catalog stored. A manual process, but that means you are in full control of it.
Lr Classic CC was not designed to work with cloud storage. Not the storage offered by Adobe nor cloud providers like DropBox, iCloud, OneDrive, or the like. There are photographers doing that, but you have to know how to do it and be careful about it.
There is a way to sync some of your photos through the Internet to Adobe’s cloud using Lr Classic CC through something called “Collections”, but it is minimal kind of functionality that has some bugs/issues and Adobe has already said they aren’t going to work on it because they have Lr CC.
Lightroom CC (Not Classic)
Lr CC is a ground up re-write of the application and even though Adobe is saying the contrary right now, I don’t see how it won’t be the future of Lightroom in general. Yep, I expect that Lr Classic CC will be discontinued at some point. It may take a few years, but I expect that Lr CC is going to be the only option at some point.
Lr CC has an emphasis on a simpler user interface and was built from the beginning to leverage cloud storage. The user interface has more of a mobile feel. If you download the Lr CC app to your phone or tablet you will see that the look and feel there is pretty similar to what you get when you run Lr CC on your Windows or Mac computer.
I like the way the application functions. I think it makes more sense for beginners to figure out what to do with the application. I really wish I could use it as my primary editor for the photos I shoot. Unfortunately, it isn’t an application I can use, even as a hobbyist photographer, because of how the photos are managed.
Lr CC doesn’t allow you to manage your photos locally. Just like Lr Classic CC you import your photos into a Catalog, but you don’t really choose where they are being stored and EVERY photo you add is automatically synchronized up to Adobe’s cloud storage. You can’t choose to have only your best photos go to the cloud and leave the others only on your computer.
I have over 4TB of photos on my computer as I write this article Adobe charges $10/mo/TB for storage so it would cost me 5x more money to get the same thing I have in running Lr Classic CC. Not to mention how horribly long it would take to get my photos sent up to the cloud.
Should a Beginner Use Lr Classic CC or Lr CC?
Lr CC is going to be easier to learn, perform faster, and totally eliminate some of the headaches you face with Lr Classic CC – especially if you want to do editing on two different computers (like say a laptop and a desktop). As I said above, I really wish I could use it.
The downside is if you get really serious about photography and grow your catalog of photos to be very large (multiple terabytes or about 100,000 photos) then you are going to pay quite a lot per month to use the software.
My recommendation right now is to go with the Photography Plan Creative Cloud subscription and use Lightroom Classic CC.