One of the most common questions from people just starting out in photography is, “What program should I use to edit my photos?”. There are a lot of free options like Picasa or iPhoto, but the most popular programs are Lightroom and Photoshop.
The next most common question is, "What’s the difference between the two?"
They both are used to edit photos, they're both made by Adobe, but they each serve different purposes. Which program you choose depends on what you are looking to do. Keep in mind many photographers use both.
Lightroom is a photo processor and image organizer. Lightroom doesn't actually edit photos or move your images around your computer. Instead all the changes you make are stored in a separate file called the Catalog. Every tweak and alteration you make to all your images are logged here, while keeping original image intact. This is a process called nondestructive editing, which is different from how Photoshop operates.
Lightroom is like what iTunes is for your music, plus editing.
Photoshop is a raster graphics editor. When you edit a picture like a JPG or RAW file in Photoshop you're always working on the original file itself. You can avoid this by saving a PSD copy but the program doesn't do this automatically.
The PSD file is Photoshop's main file type. It contains all the changes made to a photo, and to share an image it must be first saved to a final format such as JPG.
If you want to make nondestructive edits in Photoshop you will end up with three separate files: the original image, a PSD, and the final copy saved into a shareable format from the PSD.
In Lightroom all your changes for every photo are saved in one single, small, Catalog file. In Photoshop all your changes are saved in unique files for every single picture you edit. You'll have to manually organize all your images edited in Photoshop.
Photoshop is an extremely powerful program and has more tools than any single person could ever need. But it's really the only program of it's kind. If you need to remove a tree from a scene, Photoshop is your only choice. Adding text to an image, Photoshop. Making Kim Kardashian look thinner, you guessed it. Photoshop.
This post is far to small to go into detail about all the tools Photoshop has to offer. So just think of it like this: Lightroom is a toolbox filled with a few tools designed to do a few things very well. Photoshop is a hardware store.
With that said, for 90% of images, Lightroom has plenty of horsepower to make your images pop.
The biggest difference between the two programs are layers. Photoshop allows you to stack different layers on which your edits take place. Each layer can be edited independently from the others.
Lightroom doesn't have layers and most changes occur globally across the image.
Both programs allow you to go back in time to any of your previous edits, but working with layers gives you infinitely more control over how you edit your image.
Most people find Lightroom less intimidating than Photoshop and it’s tools easier to use. Conversely, Photoshop is more powerful but takes longer to learn.
The best part is you can try them both. Adobe offers an amazing deal with their Creative Cloud Photography plan. For $10 a month you get both Photoshop and Lightroom.
So try them both out and let me know what your own workflow looks like in the comments below.