Which Photo Editing Program Should I Use?

If you are reading this then you have probably come to the realisation that the taking of the image is just ONE part of the photography process.

The OTHER , and equally important part, is post processing your images in an editing program such as Lightroom or Photoshop.

Most photographers will edit their images, even just a bit, because no matter how good a shot is straight out of camera, it can be made to look even better in editing :) 

When you start out, it can be hard to know which photography editing program or software you should be using. There is a wide array of programs on the market, but I am going to keep it super simple here and tell you about three - Lightroom, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.  

The reason I am keeping it to these is simply because they are arguably the best programs on the market for beginners (and beyond), and the ones that you are going to find it easiest and most rewarding to use. 

So, in this post I'm going to take a closer look at these programs, so I can help you choose which is the best program for YOU.

Right, let's get on with it then shall we?!

Lightroom vs Photoshop Elements | Photo Editing Tutorial | Lightroom Tutorial

Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom is a photo editor and image organisational tool in one.  To think of it as just a photo editor is doing it a great disservice, as it is capable of so.much.more. 

Lightroom allows you to manage your photos, from start to finish, in one place. So you upload your images using Lightroom, tag them so you can find them again, organise them any way you want, and then go onto edit them all within the one program.  You can even go on to create photos books, slideshows, prints and so on, again all directly within Lightroom. Heck, you can even share them on the web from Lightroom too! 

Simply put, think of Lightroom as an end to end photo management tool that has been purposefully designed to meet the needs of photographers. 

This differs greatly to Photoshop Elements, which doesn't really allow you you to do much more than edit your images inside the program, and doesn't have the same robust organisational features. 

Although you can get Lightroom as a boxed version for around $145,  you can also get Lightroom as part of the Creative Cloud Photography Plan for just $9.99 per month.  In that photography plan you get Photoshop too, so you get BOTH of these amazing programs for that price - which for me is why the plan is a no brainer.  Of course there is a downside:  you need to continue paying that fee for as long as you want access to the programs, which does build up over time, but on balance, I think it's worth it.  

If you want to give Lightroom a little try out before you purchase, you can download a free trial of it - just click on the link below to get started. 

Click here to learn more about Lightroom and get a free 30 day trial.

Why choose Lightroom:

  • If you want a fantastic file management system which allows you to easily organise images into galleries or collections, so you can keep track of your ever growing image collection (this gets harder the more years worth of images you have!)

  • If you like the idea of creating photo books directly in Lightroom (time saver!)

  • It also edits non-destructively - meaning that your originals are never touched so you are never in danger of inadvertently saving over your master file.

  • Faster editing - it's super easy to "sync" edits across multiple images, far more so than Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, which only works on one image at a time.

  • Once you get set up and organised, it's much easier to learn than Photoshop.

  • If you take a lot of photos, and don't need to do big "pixel" changes then Lightroom is king.

  • If you take the photography plan, then you'll also get Photoshop bundled in with it, so you have everything you need.

I also know it can be difficult to know where to start with Lightroom, so I have a handy dandy Lightroom Starter Kit that includes EVERYTHING you need to get started with Lightroom. You'll get a guide to importing, an editing checklist, an export cheat sheet and three Lightroom presets.  The best part? It's totally, 100% FREE. Just go here to grab it!

Oh, and if you want to learn EVERYTHING you need to know to get going with Lightroom, in a step by step program, then check out Launch into Lightroom too! 

Photoshop / Photoshop Elements

Photoshop is a big name in image processing, and I'm willing to bet you have heard of it even before you got involved in photography. 

Despite it's name, Photoshop wasn't designed purely for photographers, which is why it is capable of doing so darn much - more than most photographers will ever need. 

Photoshop Elements is basically a pared down version of PhotoshopCC -  think of it's as Photoshop's little brother. However, don't be fooled into thinking that means it is not as powerful: I have heard that it has a whopping 90% of it's capabilities, which is not bad at all when you consider the price difference between the two! You do lose out on the more extensive tools, but there are workarounds.   

For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm lumping both Photoshop and Elements together, because for the most part, they do exactly the same thing. 

Let's start with editing. You can do exactly the same edits with Photoshop / Elements as you can with Lightroom.  If you use the free plug in "Camera Raw"  (which you get free with Elements) then you are using exactly the same editing tools as Lightroom -in fact, camera raw and lightroom use the same editing "engine".  (Please note, you only get the same editing features, not the whole image management capabilities!)

However, once you take the image into Photoshop /  Photoshop Elements, you can do more advanced edits than you can in Lightroom. For example, if you want to clone out large areas, add things in that weren't really there, change out sky or swap heads in a portrait, Photoshop is your man.  This is because it is a pixel editor, so it allows you add, swap or merge pixels in a way that Lightroom does not.

It also allows you to be much more precise with your edits by using layers and masks, and allowing you to change the opacity.  

Although there is a steeper learning curve for editing in Photoshop / Elements you can also create or buy "actions" which runs through an editing sequence for you, and you also have access to creative plug-ins like RadLab, that make editing your images creatively an absolute doddle. 

However, what you lose out on is the photo management capabilities. Although you can do some key wording, it has nowhere near the same as the end to end management you get with Lightroom. 

It's also slower to edit in Photoshop / Elements, as it only really works on one image at a time, unlike Lightroom, where you can work on multiple images easily.

Photoshop Elements is reasonably priced, at around $79 for the latest version, and it's only available as a boxed version, which means you will want to upgrade every couple of years or so. 

Photoshop CC is not available as a boxed version, only as a creative cloud "rental". It costs $19.99 to rent one program, or $9.99 to rent both Lightroom and Photoshop.  (Who came up with that pricing structure?!) 

Essentially, if you want Photoshop, you'll be getting Lightroom with it too :) 

Why choose Photoshop / Photoshop Elements

  • If you want more advanced editing options that allow you to "change reality" by adding sky overlays, merging two exposures, adding textures, flipping parts of an image and so on

  • You don't need or want a file management system.

  • You need better cloning tools so that you can remove objects much more easily.

  • If you are using the program more for design - for example creating collages, adding text to images etc

  • You want to do more advanced editing, working with layers and masks.

Er, that's all great Audrey, but which one should I get?

Choose Lightroom if you like the idea of an end to end management system, since this is Lightroom's big plus point. It is definitely the one to get for more robust organisational capabilities, and how easy it is to edit your photos since everything is essentially in one place.  For people who take large numbers of photos and don't really need the big pixel editing like swapping heads and stuff, it's definitely the winner. 

I am personally a huge fan of Lightroom (and you can see 8 reasons why I love it so here) because it it makes managing your images so much easier and quicker. I also find I can edit from start to finish in Lightroom on most of my images, and hardly ever find the need to take an image into Photoshop.

Choose Photoshop Elements if you want to do more "pixel" editing - and by that I mean replacing skies, cloning out huge parts of the image, adding in things that weren't really there, or if you want the option to flip or move parts of the image and so on. 

Whaddya mean you want to do both?!

The good news? You don't have to choose! 

The best option, and the one I recommend, is to get both Photoshop and Lightroom in the Creative Cloud Photography Plan 😄

It's only $9.99 a month, and with it you get BOTH Lightroom and Photoshop (the big boy version) which means you can do absolutely anything and everything you want for the price of a couple of Starbucks a month. 

Click here to learn more about the Creative Cloud Photography Plan (and get a free trial!)

You'll use Lightroom for managing and organising your images, and for doing 95% of your edits (since it allows you to edit most of your images quicker and easier than Photoshop)

You'll also then be able to take certain images into Photoshop as and when you want, for example to change out a sky or swap out a head. 

Remember, rather than one being a substitute for the other, they both complement one another perfectly, and work together to give you everything you need for staying on top your image collection, and editing them beautifully - whatever you decide to do to an image. 

If you need training on using Lightroom and editing your images, Launch into Lightroom has everything you need in clear, easy to follow tutorials and videos too.  

If you are not ready to dive into that quite yet, remember you can download a free Lightroom Starter Kit right here: 


I hope you found this useful, but if you have any questions, don't hesitate to jump in and ask!