Photoshop or Lightroom for Landscape Photography?

Adobe Photoshop vs. Lightroom for landscape photography

As a landscape photographer being out in the environment is a huge part of the work. Along with braving the elements and scheduling your life to be in the right places for the perfect lighting conditions. It can be a huge contrast to then sit down in your studio and confront the task of sorting and editing your images. That studio might even be a laptop in the back of your camper van at times.

For some photographers editing is a matter of a few quick tweaks and done. Pick the best images, do a clean, simple edit and then get back out and shoot more.

Other photographers consider the editing process itself an integral part of the whole creative endeavour. They would never release an image into the world unless it has been hand crafted. Attention is given to every last detail within the image. Hours are devoted.

It is also safe to say that there are many photographers whose workflow and editing approach falls somewhere in between these extremes. How you approach the task of editing will influence your preferred software. The two most widely used choices are Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

What is the difference between Lightroom Classic and Photoshop?

A quick, but very important note. Lightroom now comes in two different forms β€” a desktop program call Lightroom Classic and a cloud-based suite called Lightroom CC. Lightroom Classic is the full featured desktop program and the one that is referred to here. However, for most purposes in this discussion both offer similar image editing features. Though there are clear differences you should look at before deciding the best one for you.

What is the difference between Lightroom Classic and Photoshop?

Both of these programs will let you to process your RAW files, edit them, and allow you to export the completed photo in a variety of file formats. Lightroom Classic is designed specifically with photography in mind. All of its tools and options are set up to edit photographs.

The strength of Lightroom is the way it is designed to organise, sort, edit and manage large numbers of files with ease.

When you edit an image you are never actually altering the original file. What is created is a series of instructions of the adjustments you made to the photo.

Photoshop is brilliant for editing photographs. It is also a very complex and comprehensive image editing program.

You will find it is not only used by photographers, but also graphic designers, illustrators, 3D designers, motion graphics designers, web designers and for creating digital art.

There are some tasks that you can easily do in either program. You will find all basic adjustments of exposure, colour temperature, saturation, noise reduction, lens corrections, tone and contrast are there. Of course there are plenty more and that is not a full list.

Adobe Lightroom on a laptop

Lightroom Classic for landscape photography

For landscape photographers Lightroom has some perfectly suited tools. It is intuitive to use. You can add visual impact and lift the look of an image very quickly. Are you regularly faced with the challenge of balancing the exposure of the sky and the foreground in your images? A very common issue. Graduated filters are amazing and tremendously useful for this task.

It only takes a minute to create a darker and more dramatic sky. Without loosing the details elsewhere in your image. You can also adjust the colour temperature or bump up the saturation a little. Really accentuate the separation from the land or sea.

Do you enjoy shooting immense sweeping panoramas? Lightroom makes it very straightforward to stitch multiple shots together.

It is just as simple for HDR images. Lightroom will take your bracketed exposures and merge them in to a single image of correct exposure. The ability to use presets is another great feature of Lightroom. Presets are basically a recipe to create a specific look. They are a huge time saver and also allow you to edit with a consistent mood across your imagery. You can either purchase Lightroom presets like my preset packs for landscape photography or create your own.

Lightroom Classic editing workflow

Why Photoshop is the premium image editing choice

One word best sums up why sometimes only Photoshop will do: Layers.

It is the ability to work in a layer stack that truly sets Photoshop apart from Lightroom. Layers allow virtually infinite possibilities and a range of editing options that are not ever going to be achievable in Lightroom.

The ability to combine multiple images into a new image is just the beginning. For landscapes think of tasks like swapping in a new sky that was shot slightly later than your foreground. Or, even adding some extra clouds shot at a completely different time and location. That might sound too extreme for what you want to do to your own images, but it gives you an idea.

Additionally, you can edit down to pixel level detail. Very complex masks can be created to allow effects to be applied to only select areas. The sun light that has hit a series of tree branches can be isolated and enhanced.

Adobe Photoshop on a laptop

The clone and healing tools are far more precise in Photoshop than Lightroom. And the range of tools for selection and editing are greater. Dodging and burning can be taken to a level of intricacy you never dreamed of. Fine details are easier to clean up and distracting elements to be removed. Take out an ugly fence, a car or sign in the distance that you wish wasn’t there.

It would never be possible to list everything that you can do in Photoshop.

There are multiple ways that tasks can be completed and it really is only limited by your imagination. Though the steep learning curve may be a challenge at first. When you initially open Photoshop it can be daunting. It will take some patience to unlock many of the capabilities of the program. However, when you want to craft an image in fine detail there is really no other choice.

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The final verdict

Now you have a better understanding of what you can accomplish with each program, you might still be asking which one you should choose.

As the answer often now goes. Why not have both?

With the different strengths of each, many photographers incorporate both programs in their workflow. It is easy to shift the emphasis. You can work either mainly in Lightroom or predominantly in Photoshop.

Both programs are made by Abode so it is a seamless transition to take an image from Lightroom directly into Photoshop for further editing. Then return to Lightroom to keep everything organised and for final exporting.

The recommendation would be to start with Lightroom.

This is indispensable. Then venture into Photoshop when you feel you have some images you want to push further and really bring out extra drama with detailed editing.

The Adobe Creative Cloud subscription model offers a plan specifically for photographers which has Lightroom, Lightroom Classic and Photoshop. If you opt for Lightroom, the cloud based application suite, you can get it along with a larger amount of cloud storage for around the same price.

Adobe Lightoom Classic CC Screenshots


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Northlandscapes – Jan Erik Waider | Atmospheric landscape photography of the North: Norway, Iceland, Greenland and beyond

About the Author – Jan Erik Waider

I'm a visual artist and fine art photographer based in Hamburg. My work focuses on atmospheric and abstract landscape photography, capturing the essence of the remote polar regions. – Learn more about me and discover my fine art photo series, prints and books or download my Lightroom Presets or Capture One Styles.

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