I’ve noticed a trend lately as I teach my Photoshop Elements classes. Students always ask about Lightroom at the beginning of the course, and a fair number of them end up purchasing it before the course is over.

These students aren’t professionals in most cases. Many are hobbyists or scrapbookers, or they think they might go pro one day.

lightroom box

They buy Lightroom when they realize that it can do most of what they want to accomplish in Elements and do it much more quickly than Elements can.

Think about it this way. Two of the most common edits we make for photos are adjusting exposure and white balance.

How do we adjust exposure in Elements? Well, we add a Levels adjustment layer and play with the 3 sliders. One makes dark tones darker, one makes the highlights lighter, and the third makes the midtones lighter or darker. Note that I didn’t even mention how to make the darks lighter on the lights darker.

How do we adjust exposure in Lightroom? We move the Exposure slider to the left to darken the image and to the right to brighten the image.

lr expsure wb

Ok. How do we adjust white balance in Elements? We add another Levels adjustment layer. And then we choose between the 3 color channels to find the one that will fix our color. And we move the middle slider to the left to increase the main channel color, or to the right to increase its opposite color. If you know Elements well, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t know Elements well, you’re (justifiably) saying, “hunh?”

How do we adjust white balance in Lightroom? Go to the WB sliders and move towards the color you want to increase. Very visual, very intuitive.

Lightroom can do many things that Elements can’t. Like:

  • Batch Editing. Edit a group of photos together, or edit one photo and apply some or all of its edits to other photos after the fact.
  • Integrated Raw processing. If you shoot Raw and only have Elements, you have to process those images separately in ACR before you open them into Elements. If you shoot Raw and have Lightroom, you’ll never know the difference. You treat Raws exactly the same as JPGs, and can even edit them both side by side.
  • Control over exposure of small tonal areas. Just want to make the highlights darker without changing the rest of your image? It’s a slider click away in Lightroom. Not so easy in PSE. Same goes for the other tonal ranges (Shadows, Blacks & Whites).

Here are some misperceptions that many have about Lightroom:

  • It’s only for Raw photos. Wrong! It’s for Raw and JPG equally.
  • You can’t make local adjustments. Wrong! You can paint on exposure, white balance corrections or many other edits to just one part of your photo. More easily than using a layer mask!
  • It’s only for professionals. No way! The cost is relatively low and many hobbyists only need the edits provided by Lightroom. PSE has too much power for many people.
  • Lightroom can’t handle portrait editing. Wrong again. You can use Lightroom to remove blemishes, brighten & sharpen eyes and even soften skin.

At the end of the day, you’ll be able to use Lightroom to do most of what your photos require, and you’ll end up taking just a few of your photos into PSE for final tweaks. Anything you can do in Lightroom will be faster than the comparable Elements edit.

Am I trying to convince you to give up Elements? Not for a minute. There are things that you can do in Elements that you can’t do in Lightroom (graphics, detailed distraction removal, etc.). I use them both and wouldn’t give up either from my workflow. Lightroom and Elements make a very powerful photo editing team.

You might be interested to learn that I recommend that most people start with Lightroom before diving into Elements. But I’m very curious why most people seem to start backwards. I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below. Why haven’t you bought Lightroom yet?