LEARN LIGHTROOM SERIES: Part One - What is Lightroom?

Although Lightroom is definitely user friendly, as with any program, there is a bit of a learning curve to it!

In this post I'm going to give you an overview of what Lightroom is and how it's different from the other well-known offering from Adobe, Photoshop.   I see all the time that people try to see if one is better than the other, or which one they get, but the truth is, they both excel at totally different things!  I actually considered not having this particular post as the first in the series,  but I feel that understanding what Lightroom is (and what it is not) is actually one of the key things to get to grips with, because, for me at least, once I understood that, it helped everything else fall into place.  

What is Lightroom?

With digital photography, the taking of the image is only the beginning. You then need to find a way to transfer your images to a storage device, back them up, process them, and eventually get these into a form that can be viewed and enjoyed, such as sharing online or making prints and photo books.  This is particularly true if you shoot in RAW, where you will have a more involved workflow than if you simply shoot in JPEG,  but even shooting in JPEG can get complicated if you shoot a large amount of images in a year.

Learn Lightroom - A free series of lightroom tutorials. The first - What is Lightroom?

This is where Lightroom comes in.  Simply put, it’s a piece of software that allows you to manage, develop, and print and share images all from one place.  Firstly, it’s a file management system, allowing you to manage and organize your digital images,  and it’s also a very efficient RAW processor, allowing you to fine tune and polish your RAW files. Finally, you can also use it for publishing your images, such putting your images online, turning them into a slideshow or making a photo book from them.  You can do all this without ever having to leave Lightroom. You can also do all these things without it of course, by using different applications, so consider Lightroom simply a tool that allows you to manage your images from start to finish, in one place.  

Because it allows you to do so many things, Lightroom is divided into modules so you can work on the different stages easily. The Library and Map modules are both organizational tools and Develop is where you will process (edit) your images. The remaining four - Slideshow, Print, Book and Web - are for publishing your images in one way or another.  

How does Lightroom compare to Photoshop?

Another common question! Photoshop is used by photographers the world over, and so you have probably heard of this editing application.  So, how does this compare to Lightroom?

Although both allow you to edit images, they are actually very different and probably shouldn't really be "compared" at all. Firstly, photoshop is not a file management system like Lightroom. it is purely for editing your images. (you do get Bridge – another application - along with Photoshop that helps with that, but it’s still not the same as Lightroom) 

In addition, although there are tools within Photoshop that help you to automate your workflow, such as actions and scripts, Photoshop really only allows you to work on one image at time. This is great for when you really want to do extra work on a few images, but not very efficient if you want to work on a high number at one time. 

Lastly, Photoshop is a pixel editor, whilst Lightroom is not. Lightroom can only do the barest changes to the pixels in an image, so therefore you cannot do things like change the sky, swap the heads of people in a portrait,  or clone in extra elements from another image (for example adding extra birds into a scene at the beach) or overlays – you’ll need to take an image into Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to do that. 

There is only one teeny tiny part which is the same - Photoshop comes with a free plug in called Adobe Camera Raw, and the adjustment tools in the Develop section of Lightroom are EXACTLY the same as those you will find in in Adobe Camera Raw.   So, you can edit the same way in Photoshop, using this plug in, as you can in Lightroom, however, you cannot manage your files in the same way. 

In a nutshell, Photoshop and Lightroom do not compete with one another, they complement one another. You use Lightroom for managing your files, and developing your RAW images, and preparing them for output, and you use Photoshop to further develop those files that need pixel editing, or where you really want to play with color tones and so on.   (The same applies to Photoshop Elements too by the way - this also gives you pixel control over your images, and is great to have alongside Lightroom) You can actually get both Lightroom and Photoshop together in a photography bundle from Adobe for around $10 a month, which can be a great way to get both programs at a low upfront cost.  

So, think of Lightroom more as a file management system rather than simply an editing tool, and you'll start to understand that there is far more to it  than something to help you edit your RAW files! 


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