|Lightroom (above, left) and Photoshop (above, right) each has its strengths for nature photographers. It’s a matter of choosing the right tool for the job.|
If you’re going to get the most from your digital images, you have to use some sort of image-processing program. A camera doesn’t “capture” reality, it interprets it based on sensor range and limits, camera designer decisions, and processing done by the camera before the image becomes a RAW or JPEG file.
Today, we have a wealth of excellent programs available to help in this interpretation, whether that means making a more accurate photo of a natural scene or creating something more unusual that fits the fine-art category. Adobe Photoshop has long stood at the top of this field, and for good reason, as it’s a powerful program.
But is it still the best program for all photographers? A question I’m asked more often now is, “Lightroom looks interesting, but why should I bother with it if I already have Photoshop?” There’s no question that you could use Photoshop and its associated Bridge program to successfully work on your images. And that’s true whether you use JPEG or RAW. And I definitely believe Photoshop in some form (even if it’s Photoshop Elements) is still needed.
For photographers, there are some big advantages to doing most of their work in Lightroom. If I had to choose between upgrading to a new version of Photoshop or using Lightroom with Photoshop Elements 6 or 7 (7 for PCs, 6 for Macs), I’d go to Lightroom and Elements. This would give most photographers more usable power and an easier, faster workflow for their images.
Here are 10 advantages to Lightroom, and it’s important to understand that they apply to both JPEG and RAW workflows.
1 Nondestructive editing. Nothing is actually changed in an image until the photo is exported. This means you can make an adjustment, change it again and again, but no quality is lost as it would be in Photoshop.
2 Better controls over organizing your photos. Lightroom has Collections and Smart Collections, which are very helpful. Say you’re gathering a group of photos to use in a slideshow. You could put these into a Collection so you could go to them instantly at another time. The photos aren’t actually moved, so the Collections are “virtual,” meaning they need little storage space. Once you start doing this with Collections, you’ll find a lot of uses for them.
3 Large views. Lightroom has larger Compare and Survey views of images when you need to compare them for editing, compared to Bridge.
4 Quickly customizable interface. Simple keystrokes allow you to go from viewing lots of photos to a single image to an enlarged photo. Simple keystrokes also allow you to quickly change what’s shown on the interface so you can simplify it down to just the photo or only keep the panels open that you really need. You can quickly and easily make anything reappear.
5 Interface that keeps controls readily and quickly accessible. In Photoshop, everything is based on opening and closing individual adjustment windows. You can’t go instantly from Levels, for example, to Curves, which you can do in Lightroom. All Lightroom controls are kept available in panels right next to the photos.
6 Always-available History palette. When you close a Photoshop image, history is gone. It always stays with your Lightroom images.
7 Superior batch or multiple image processing. Batch processing in Photoshop is a bit of a pain. In Lightroom, simply adjust one photo of a group that you like, then tell it to synchronize those adjustments with the rest. You also can copy the adjustments from one photo to another anywhere in the Library easily.
8 Superior color control. In the HSL (hue-saturation-luminance) section of the Develop panel, you gain more colors to work with compared to Photoshop and with more precise control. This isn’t so different from Camera Raw except for a “magic button”—the Targeted Adjustment button. Click on that and you activate your cursor. Now move the cursor to the photo, click on a color, then drag the cursor up and down to change that color’s hue, saturation or luminance and no other colors (well, some colors that are mixes will be changed). To me, that’s huge—control that’s faster, easier and more effective than any other program. This can correct problem colors, as well as refine the look of the photo.
9 Nondestructive, easy local control. Local control, or adjusting small parts of a photo without affecting anything else, has long been an important part of photography. This always was a part of black-and-white photography, but it has been a problem with color. It was difficult to do with film and prints, and it takes a lot of time and experience to master such controls in Photoshop. In Lightroom 2, you can darken, lighten, affect color and change sharpness and other aspects of specific areas in the photo simply by brushing your cursor across the areas. And if you don’t like the results, just delete and try again.
10 Nondestructive cloning and healing brush. Photoshop has far more power in its Cloning and Healing Brush tools than Lightroom, but Lightroom offers simple cloning and healing that’s nondestructive. You can make a change, yet if it looks bad, you can adjust the change or even delete it.
Yes, it’s true that, unlike Bridge, you have to get Lightroom to “recognize” your photos by importing them into the program (you actually don’t import the photos into the program, but import information about their location so Lightroom can find them). But you only have to do this once and you’re set. With Bridge, you have to find the photos’ locations each time and wait for Bridge to load their previews every time (you can tell Lightroom to always have full-sized previews at the ready).
Rob Sheppard says he really discovered the power of Lightroom while completing his latest book, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers Only.