Adobe has changed its product offerings dramatically over the past few years, raising many questions about which version of what people should buy. How many questions has it raised, you ask? Well, I get at least 42,512 emails per week asking me which program people should buy. (That might be a slight exaggeration.)
Here’s what I tell people.
My Recommendation: Lightroom vs Photoshop vs Photoshop Elements
I’m not going to make you read all the way to the bottom for my answer. I’ll tell you now, and then explain my reasoning below.
My reasoning is simple: you can no longer buy Photoshop CC without Lightroom Classic. They come together as part of Adobe’s Photography Plan.
Photoshop Elements is essentially Photoshop CC “lite.” If you want Lightroom, you will have full Photoshop also, so there is no sense in getting Elements.
What Do They Do: Lightroom vs Photoshop vs Photoshop Elements
Ok, now that you know what I recommend, let me help you understand the differences between these three programs.
In simplest terms:
- Lightroom organizes and edits photos, and can edit those photos in batches.
- Photoshop CC edits photos and creates graphics.
- Photoshop Elements organizes and edits photos and creates graphics.
Lightroom works completely differently from Photoshop CC and Elements. Lightroom is intuitive, easy to learn, and will edit groups of photos at the same time (that’s batch editing).
Photoshop & Photoshop Elements are essentially the same, except that:
- PSE doesn’t have all of Photoshop’s advanced editing options.
- Photoshop doesn’t have an Organizer to help you manage your images.
I use Lightroom to organize and edit 100% of my photos. Lightroom is enough for 80 to 90% of those photos. The remaining 10 to 20% of my images need advanced edits, like intricate distraction removal or sophisticated color adjustments. For those I use Photoshop CC.
I also use Photoshop to create graphics for my blog.
(Side note: I also use Photoshop Elements extensively, but that is only because I teach it!)
Who Should Buy Photoshop Elements?
Photoshop Elements works best for these groups of people:
- hobbyists and scrapbookers who want to keep it simple and affordable
- people who never want to consider becoming professional photographers
- people who are subscription averse (PSE is the only one of these three programs that you can purchase outright.)
PSE is marginally easier to use than Photoshop CC because it has a series of guided edits built in. Using the guided edits, Elements will apply automatic edits like portrait, color, and exposure adjustments to your photo. You can customize these edits to some extent, but most people quickly get to a place where they’d like more control and higher quality edits. That’s when they learn to use adjustment layers like Levels along with layer masks.
(Once you begin using adjustment layers and layer masks, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements work the same way. Photoshop CC, however, has more adjustment layers to choose from than PSE.)
Elements also has a small selection of built-in graphics like digital papers, shapes, and clip-art type icons to add to your greeting cards, scrapbook pages, invitations, etc.
Elements does have a photo organizer that does a good job helping you organize your photos and find the ones you want. The Organizer has facial recognition, and you can sort photos by person, place, or event. It’s not as full-featured as the Lightroom Library, but it gets the job done.
Which Version Should You Buy?
Elements is not the kind of software where you should consider buying prior versions. You should always get the latest and greatest. As of April 5, 2018, the latest version is(affiliate link) Elements 2018.
What Elements Users Will Miss Out On:
Elements users can’t batch edit photo. For instance, if you took a series of photos in the same location with the same lighting conditions, you have to edit each of those photos separately.
Elements doesn’t have the Patch tool, which is great for removing distractions, and the tools like Color Balance and Curves adjustment layers. While Photoshop CC has many more editing options than Elements, you can certainly live without them.
Also, if you shoot Raw photos, editing them is a separate step in PSE.
Finally, without Lightroom, Elements users will miss out on the speed and intuitive learning curve that comes with Lightroom.
Who Should Buy Lightroom Classic CC and Photoshop
- Serious hobbyists who want to minimize their editing time and maximize their shooting time
- Anyone considering going pro
- Anyone who shoots Raw photos
- People who want no more than simple corrective edits for their photos (exposure, color etc.)
If you want a seamless tool for importing your photos (Raw and JPG alike) to your computer, organizing them, and editing them, Lightroom is what you need.
The first word that comes to mind when I’m comparing Lightroom to the other programs is elegant. Lightroom gives you high-quality edits that don’t require too much thinking.
For instance, to brighten a dark photo in Photoshop Elements, you can add a Levels adjustment layer and adjust the midtones slider to taste. (What?)
In Lightroom, on the other hand, if you want to brighten a dark photo you adjust the Exposure slider. All it takes is a single click.
While most professional photographers use Lightroom, its ease of use makes it great for family memory keepers and hobbyists too.
Along with Lightroom, when you subscribe to Adobe’s $9.99 per month Photography Plan, you’ll also receive Photoshop CC. Photoshop has nearly everything that Elements has, plus much more.
(Photoshop CC does not have the built-in graphics that Elements has or the Organizer. You would use Lightroom to organize if you have Photoshop CC. )
In addition, Adobe’s Photography Plan gives you Lightroom CC, which is the mobile version of Lightroom Classic CC. If you want to edit photos on your phone or iPad, you’ll love Lightroom CC.
Which Would I Choose?
While I use all three, Elements, Lightroom, and Photoshop CC, I would go with the Lightroom + Photoshop plan if I had to choose. I suspect that is the right choice for many photography hobbyists too.
However, I do know people that use only (affiliate link) Elements and are completely happy with it. If your needs are simple and you love creating photo art with built-in tools, Elements might be the way for you to go.