If you’re close to the photography field, whether or not you’re a photographer, you’ve probably heard of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. These two programs are both part of the Photoshop family, but serve different purposes.

So what do these programs do? Do you use them together or separately? How are they different? And, which one should you use on your next big project? The short answer is that it depends on what you want to accomplish! Read more about each program and the major differences below to help you decide.

What is Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop is the industry-standard photo editing software.

Photoshop users who know how to use the software can edit existing digital or digitalized photos (also called raster artwork), combine multiple images, and even create digital paintings. More advanced users can create GIFs—the brief, looped moving images you often see on social media—or even edit simple videos.

The most common use for Photoshop is digital image correction. Photoshop allows you to do anything from correcting color to changing the background to adding or removing people from images. It’s become such a common practice, there’s even an action named after it: “So-and-so Photoshopped that image.” If you can dream it, you can probably do it in Photoshop.

Professionals across almost every industry use the software, and the key components are:

  • Retouching tools
  • Adjustment tools
  • Compositing images
  • Masking & special effects
  • Layers
  • Creating Animated GIFs

What is Lightroom?

Adobe Lightroom is a popular application for organizing and editing photos. With abilities to store, organize, and edit photos quickly but professionally, the program is a must-have for photographers.

Although part of the Photoshop family, Lightroom was designed specifically for photographers with a focus on editing images, not designing creative artwork. There’s a desktop app, Lightroom Classic, and a newer cloud-based program called Lightroom that have similar features.

Lightroom Classic is the original desktop version professionals often use because of the ability to store photos locally, and the additional features. Lightroom is the newer, more streamlined version of the app. This cloud-based program is essentially a pared-down, completely web-based version of the app.

Photographers are the primary audience for Lightroom, but it can be used for photo editing within any industry. If you need to edit a large number of photos, or want to edit photos but don’t need all the bells and whistles Photoshop offers, Lightroom may be the ideal tool for you.

The essential components of Lightroom include:

  • Photo library organization
  • Photo development
  • Batch photo processing
  • Non-destructive editing
  • Integration with other Adobe applications

Major Differences between Photoshop & Lightroom

Photoshop and Lightroom are part of the same family of software. Many photographers use both programs, depending on the services they offer, because they work well together and complement each other.

The programs were designed for different purposes, though, and both bring a lot to the table in terms of features and functionality. These are the three primary differences between Photoshop and Lightroom.

Artwork v. Photography

One of the most important distinctions between Photoshop and Lightroom is what they’re made to do.

Photoshop is a photo editing software, but it’s more than that. There are so many features and nuances that it's really an artist’s tool. It’s meant to support creativity and create beautiful artwork. You can create just about anything, and although you can definitely do photo editing, you’re not limited to that functionality.

Lightroom, on the other hand, was designed for photographers. It’s about the photos, and intentionally has less artistic capabilities, so professionals can focus on organizing their photos and editing them. This is its specific goal, and it shows within the program.

Functionality

Many photographers use Photoshop and Lightroom together, which makes sense because they’re both great at what they do. The functionalities complement each other, but are distinct.

Photoshop is excellent at image manipulation, including simple edits like red eye removal and spot healing. You can use it to “clean up” your photos to your heart’s content.