Since I teach both Photoshop and Lightroom, I find many people wonder whether they should use Photoshop or Lightroom, specifically which software is best for their needs. Many misunderstand what Photoshop is best used for (pixel moving), and would actually be better using Lightroom instead. So here’s a summary of what the different programs do, starting with the ones I teach:
One of the most popular programs among amateur photographers, Photoshop Elements offers almost everything full Photoshop offers, but at a fraction of the cost. Photoshop is best used for pixel moving. For example, if you need to remove a person or a telephone line, or want to put the skyline of one image with the ground of another, Photoshop is for you. I also like that Elements offers a variety of “guided” options, that literally guide the users through some image manipulations that can be complicated, such as adding a blur to a background (the “Depth of Field” edit). You can see these examples in action on my design page, and here is a fun example of Photoshop below:
Also known as full Photoshop, Photoshop CC is very similar to Photoshop Elements in that it is used as a pixel mover; however, full Photoshop allows you to always work in RAW and also includes a full variety of color profiles (CMYK, 16bit, 32bit, etc). Additionally, Photoshop CC has some extra graphic design features, such as creating paths (vector), typing on a path, and 3D image capabilities. To be honest, I find creating paths in Photoshop to be very frustrating since it is best be done in Illustrator, but it is helpful option for the graphic designer who just wants to do something simple.
In addition to the color profiles, which is most useful in professional level printing applications, full Photoshop allows the user to work at all times in RAW. If you are a professional photographer, or hope to be, it may be worth the extra cost to upgrade to the full version of Photoshop. The downside of Photoshop CC is that the “guided” options are no longer available. This is because full Photoshop is geared towards the advanced user. As someone who has been using Photoshop for over 20 years, I would never use the guided options in Photoshop Elements because I know how to do them in the full section of Elements and like the added control of doing it in the “Expert” mode, which is most like using full Photoshop.
Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CC
Both of these programs have the availability to create masking layers, special effects, and photo filters. I have found little difference between the two programs in how these features operate. An example of a masking layer would be a photograph that is black and white with color sections appearing in specific areas. Special effects would include artistic filters, such as the “paint daubs” effect that makes an image look like a painting. As for photo filters, they work similar to the filters you can add to a camera lens, but are added on the computer instead of the camera.
Lightroom is my favorite program for the serious photographer, amateur or professional. Unlike the pixel moving in Photoshop, Lightroom allows you to adjust exposure, hues, saturation, levels, highlights, shadows, and any other image control with ease. The best part: If you take a photo shot of a family on a cloudy day, you can warm up one image, then add that same adjustment to ALL the images from that day with just a couple of clicks (referred to as “batch adjustment”). Lightroom is literally the darkroom of digital photography. You can also make simple exposure adjustments with a brush that allow you to very quickly and easily lighten up a persons face, or increase the saturation of the sky. If you use your editing software to mostly make these types of adjustments, this is the best program to purchase.
I have more examples on my design page that allow you to see the adjustments in action.
Other noteworthy programs
Gimp is the knock off of Photoshop. I’ve not heard terribly impressive things about it, but it might be a good option for the photo enthusiast who uses Lightroom, but has the occasional need to remove an obstruction (like a telephone pole or random tourist in the background).
Aperture is the Mac’s version of Lightroom, and that’s about all I know about it. I do know that most professional photographers opt for Lightroom instead, which makes me think Lightroom might be the better option (and it can be used on a Mac or a PC).
There are also a wide variety of iPhone apps, and I’ve seen some pretty fun uses of these posted on Facebook. Here’s a detailed description of the most popular photography apps.
Finally, here’s my ranking of the difficulty of these programs, including a flow chart that might help you decide which software is best for you.
Software selection chart:
If you live in the Denver area, go ahead and check out one of my courses.