I have been using Adobe Photoshop for years. I even use Illustrator for vector work from time to time. Then along came Adobe bridge and it seems to be an attempt at a better way to browse, sort, and batch work on images. (Of course, I don't much care for bridge.)

Where does Lightroom come in? What does it do that Photoshop, Illustrator, or Bridge doesn't? Obviously Adobe didn't make it for no reason, so what is it's target audience or intended usage?


5 Answers 5


Lightroom offers primarily integration and simplicity. This means a highly integrated workflow which takes care of images from import to publication and a feature set designed to cover the most common processing tasks for photographers. In terms of processing features, Lightroom is far less capable than Photoshop and even includes a workflow to process images in Photoshop as intermediate steps.

Where Lightroom differs significantly is that it uses a Non-Destructive workflow. This lets you work on files without losing the original and being able to back-track your steps, much like having an Undo which persists across executions.

You may be interested in an article I wrote comparing Photoshop versions, including Elements and Lightroom which goes into more high-level details. It covers main workflow implications when it comes to Lightroom.

  • 2
    So it sounds like for general photo shoots it might be a better use of time to buy Lightroom to help me process and adjust those 100+ images faster and save Photoshop for those 5 special photos that need more than just standard touchups.
    – Xeoncross
    Feb 15, 2012 at 17:53
  • Indeed. Actually, Lightroom has good feature to synchronize changes between multiple images.
    – Itai
    Feb 15, 2012 at 18:05
  • Seems that Lightroom 4 will also allow me to edit DSLR video while I'm working on my images. Assuming my white-balance and lighting is the same for most of the photos and videos I could actually adjust them all with a single custom preset. Win!
    – Xeoncross
    Feb 15, 2012 at 18:15

Lightroom is an image-management application, that can also perform non-destructive edits to your photos. That is to say it manages the importing, keyword/meta-ing, basic (non-destructive) manipulation and exporting of images. I know you can do this sort of thing in Photoshop, but Lightroom is designed to make this as easy as possible, and to guide you through your workflow. It's also very important to note that Lightroom manipulations are non-destructive. Your entire workflow works on the RAW files, with the changes you want to make to your images being stored as you go. Only when you want to export your images are your changes used when a JPEG/PNG/TIFF/Whatever image file is produced from the RAW file.

Photoshop can still be used to carry out the heavier image manipulations (removing items, HDR, Stitch Panoramas, amongst others; see the "Develop and Perfect" tab here).

To quote Adobe's "Complete Photography Solution" page

Lightroom offers a broad range of state-of-the-art tools for developing individual images and for efficiently adjusting many images at once. Switch to Photoshop for pixel-level precision, intelligent content-aware editing, and advanced tools for masking, layer blending, realistic painting, compositing, selecting intricate image content, and more.

For my use, Lightroom is plenty enough and I don't find myself particularly limited, but then I don't want to do HDR or panoramas at present. I do have Photoshop CS3, but I can't say I'm particularly well-versed in its use!


The biggest difference for me is that Bridge and Photoshop work off folders. You organise your images how you like them on disk, Bridge will let you rate them, add tags and so forth.

Lightroom, on the other hand, works off a database. You must import your files from folders into a Catalogue, into a hierarchy that can be completely independent of how the files were originally on disk. Folders can be simple, like a date 2012-02-15, but when imported into Lightroom can be put into a collection called "Sam's 30th Birthday".

Yes, Lightroom is non-destructive, but Bridge and Camera Raw are non-destructive too.

If your images are already well organised into folders on disk then Bridge and ACR allow you to work non-destructively. Lightroom is a much nicer and self-contained interface with some more advanced features than Bridge.

Apart from features and workflow, I feel this leap from organising on disk to organising in a database catalogue is an important consideration. You can always mirror the disk structure within the Lightroom organisation, but it's still a proprietary product that is organising your images - what if you want to switch to something else down the road? I guess it's just a matter of exporting it all out again. Maybe it's just me, but as slick as Lightroom is, I don't like handing over control of my images to a proprietary database.

  • I don't really understand your last paragraph. Lightroom allows you to navigate the folder-based disk structure, if that's how you want to work. And it doesn't "organize" your files on disk unless you want it to. You can organize your files yourself, "Add" them to the catalog, and they stay just as they were.
    – coneslayer
    Feb 15, 2012 at 19:11
  • +1 I agree about proprietary formats. In the end, everyone leaves a product. some after weeks, some after decades. Lets just hope that they figure out (or someone builds) and exporter before Lightroom's usefulness ends.
    – Xeoncross
    Feb 15, 2012 at 19:31
  • @coneslayer - keep in mind I am someone who has trialled Lightroom several times, but didn't really "get it" so am not a current user. Yes, you can import images "in place" and mirror your file structure if you want. I'm more worried about the changes you make to your files, in that (some of) those changes are internalised inside LR database. With Bridge/PS I do have proprietary PSD files I suppose, but mostly RAW + xmp and intermediate TIFs. I have to do more work to organise all these files, I just prefer it to importing into a database that's all. Possibly unfounded fear of the unknown
    – MikeW
    Feb 15, 2012 at 19:48
  • 1
    Lightroom can write out XMP also, and your references to "mirroring" don't make sense to me. It sounds like you're talking about setting up a category hierarchy that mimics your folder hierarchy. There's absolutely no reason to do that. You can browse the folder hierarchy in Lightroom. "Mirroring" it to a category hierarchy would be a pointless waste of effort if you're happy with the folder layout.
    – coneslayer
    Feb 15, 2012 at 19:52

Lightroom has some similar elements to Photoshop but is a different user paradigm. It is a photo organizer and raw processor in one. It is also a non-destructive editor where you don't have to worry about pressing "save as" all of the time.


I have used both since their earlier days. Lightroom is primarily a tool to manage and organize your photos. It has some basic editing capabilities that are non-destructive. Photoshop is a tool to perform extensive edits on your photos.

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