I have heard or thought of many terms for what Lightroom is such as image management, digital asset management, photo editing software, and the list goes on and on. Does this package or type of software have a definitive name so I use the right term from now on?

It would be great if someone had a direct quote from Adobe to give us a bit of proof on the matter.

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    Not an answer, but I've started to call software like Lightroom and Aperture "Post-Photoshop" applications -- in the sense that they offer image management, export options, and non-destructive image editing that Photoshop traditionally does not do alone. Dec 20, 2011 at 16:23

6 Answers 6


Adobe itself says in its FAQ

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 software is an intuitive digital darkroom and efficient assistant designed for advanced amateur and professional photographers...

So digital darkroom is surely a good candidate, another would be photo post-production which is the "type" wikipedia puts it in.

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    Nice. I looked all over the website and somehow missed that!
    – mattdm
    Feb 21, 2012 at 14:48

The official stance is clearly to be coy with what exactly the product category is, which is why you're unsatisfied with the answers you're getting. As Craig Walker points out, the description tag in the HTML used for Adobe's web pages about Lightroom says:

Lightroom is the leading software for digital photography editing.

You can find this "official" text by going to http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/about/ and doing "view source". Or, you can go with the more colorful description currently in the page text itself, under the heading "What is Lightroom?":

Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 3 software unites your digital photography essentials in one fast and intuitive package. Create something beautiful. Express your vision. Move your audience.

Lightroom gets you there with the tools you need to create great images, manage all your photographs, and showcase them with style and impact.

Meanwhile, in the practical world, tech publisher O'Reilly calls it an "integrated digital photography workflow application". Or, in Inside Lighroom from Focal Press, author and "Lightroom export" Richard Earney says (available online in the sample chapter):

What is Lightroom?

Lightroom is an end-to-end photography workflow tool, primarily aimed at digital photographers, but can also be used by analog photographers who have digitized their collections. It is for professionals and serious amateur photographers.

... and that sounds about right.

Or, author Martin Evening, in a sample chapter of The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book from Peachpit Press:

What is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom?

Lightroom is a high-quality image processor and image database management system rolled into one, with a modern interface and fast image processing capabilities. [...] Lightroom is not a single, monolithic application; instead, it should be viewed as a suite of application modules that combine to provide an ideal workflow for digital photographers.

This is linked from the important concepts section of Adobe's own "Learn Photoshop Lightroom 3" page, so it's about as close to official as you're going to get — although you may also be interested in reading the elided part of the quote above for more backstory, along with related articles like The Shadowland/Lightroom Development Story.

Scott Kelby also has a book on Lightroom from the same publisher, but in quick perusal he doesn't really bother with trying to define what the product is exactly.

It also might be worthwhile to look at similar software. The open-source program Darktable calls itself a "photography workflow application and RAW developer", and "A virtual lighttable and darkroom for photographers." (Emphasis added based on Stan Rogers' suggestion in a comment below.)

That's more useful than what Apple gives us for their Aperture product, "a professional photography application that lets you refine images, showcase your photography, and manage massive photo libraries."

One is sort of reminded of the "It slices, it dices, it juliennes!" advertisements in reading that, but given the success and reading the backstory, I think that's actually not unreasonable. The intention is to cover the range of needs for photographic workflow.

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    ...the key words being "light table" (including a loupe) and "darkroom", from which the product name was derived. While the file system still plays the part of the negative envelopes and shoe boxes (um, I mean "archival containers"), the catalogue stands in the place of the actual paper cross-reference catalogues we used to keep (to tell us what shoe box to look in). Everything about Lightroom has a direct analogue in the silver-halide world.
    – user2719
    Feb 16, 2012 at 21:54
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    I'm amazed at how blatant the thievery of the Darktable UI is from Lightroom...its essentially an exact ripoff. I'm surprised Adobe hasn't tried to protect their signature UI from that kind of thing...
    – jrista
    Feb 17, 2012 at 1:32
  • @jrista — I think the Apple/Microsoft case in the 80s answered that well enough to keep the lawyers away from "look and feel" cases. Bibble and Capture One look very, very similar as well.
    – mattdm
    Feb 17, 2012 at 3:39
  • @jrista — I don't know what else one would expect, since they even took their name from Lightroom (it's derived from the same two phrases Adobe used to name their product, just using the halves Adobe left out). Call it "sincere flattery". Somehow, though, I don't think they'll manage to integrate the GIMP as cleanly as Adobe integrates Photoshop.
    – user2719
    Feb 17, 2012 at 14:48
  • @mattdm - I very much appreciated your answer, this is very detailed and well put. I am awarding the bounty to subsub though because I feel as though he found the most "official" quote from Adobe that I was looking for. Although the official quote is quite unsatisfying :)
    – dpollitt
    Feb 22, 2012 at 17:07

In the Google search results, Adobe themselves call it "the leading photo management and editing software solution". (Adobe's landing page itself is filled with marketing-fluff that doesn't actually define it.)

As of today at least, Wikipedia calls it "a photography software program."

I think those are about as official as it gets.

But "official" isn't the be-all-end-all; what people actually call it is another matter, as you've illustrated.

(Personally, I call it "photo-management software". This seems most accurate to me. It's primarily about photos, even though it can handle video and non-photo images. It's not as much about editing as Photoshop, even though it does a lot of that. It has organizational features absent in any other product from adobe.)

  • I would take "official" as being what multiple highly regarded authors call it also :) But I have to think that someone on the Lightroom team has given us a clue at some point.
    – dpollitt
    Dec 20, 2011 at 16:37

I've used the term "workflow" to describe tools like Lightroom and Aperture. They are aimed at making the process of making the common work of the photographer as simple and painless as possible.

Workflows that tend to be covered by these types of software:

  • Importing photos
  • Organising and locating photos (using hierarchical structures, tagging, geotagging, and face recognition)
  • Enhancing photos
  • Publishing photos (to the web, or to physical prints or a book)

Lightroom is not a pure photo editing or photo management solution. I guess the more correct definition is: The Batch Camera RAW & Photo Editor with File Management Capabilities.


Lightroom is in the same category as Apple's Aperture. They both do RAW image conversion, some measure of image correction and maintain a database apart from the underlying filesystem that understands not only where the image is on physical media, but also metadata that describes the image (size, date created, keywords, etc.).

For RAW image processing, Lightroom uses the Adobe Camera RAW engine, exactly as does Photoshop. However, unlike Photoshop, Lightroom cannot do pixel-based image editing. What it does do well is color correction, some measure of spotting/cloning/healing, lens correction. I won't regurgitate the feature set, except to note that Lightroom is more than just UI sugar on top of Adobe Camera RAW.

The other main feature (other than RAW image processing) is digital asset management (DAM, as it is inconveniently referred to in the industry). There are other digital asset management tools that are, debatably, more capable but Adobe has nothing to apologize for in this regard. It's a single user solution, so if you are in a networked environment with a need to share the asset database, this part of Lightroom will be less valuable to you.

In characterizing Lightroom as a RAW converter combined with a digital asset manager, I believe I give Lightroom short shrift. Also in Lightroom is a print module which is good for creating proofs and I might explore it more but I deliver everything digitally. Additionally, there is a Web module and I might explore it more but there are much better solutions than creating one-off Web sites (IMO) for each batch of images. There's a slideshow feature if you want to look over some subset of your images. In LR4 beta, there is a map feature that allows you to use the GPS data in your images or add geo-position information if it's not already present.

I think you get that LR is everything but the kitchen sink at this point. And still... it doesn't do some of the precision things that Photoshop can do. And it's not multiuser like, for example, the Extensis Portfolio server tools. My take on it is that it's good enough to use of great images, but if there is anything complicated about the changes you are making, you are most often going to wind up in Photoshop at some point.

But all of the above still doesn't answer the original question "what category of software". The closest I can come to this is "Image Management and Processing". Not an official category, but that's how I think of it.

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