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Software Reviews

What is Lightroom? Is it necessary in my workflow?

Yvonne Berger (Yvonne_BergerBros)

Keywords: adobe, lightroom, software, postprocessing

Lightroom is an Adobe product that is a powerhouse of an organizer, processor and output solution.

This a program that was designed with the professional photographer or serious amateur in mind. Like other editing software programs it gives you the ability to download and organize your files.  In addition, you can further catalog your photos into collections, rate, label, flag and keyword tag them. If you are shooting a lot of images ,especially RAW format, this is the program that is really going to streamline your workflow. The following is a typical workflow scenario:

Let's say you go out and shoot a job, or just go out shooting for fun or even a vacation.   You come home with a few hundred RAW files.  After you download and sort out your images using Lightroom's flagging system you can select the 'picks' and the 'rejects'. You can then take the ‘picks’ and further rate them with Lightroom's rating system. So hopefully you have knocked down that file count to something more manageable.

You still have a hundred or so files that need to be 'developed'. Chances are you may have taken several photos in a row that may require similar adjustments. Lightroom allows you to make an adjustment to one file and then 'sync' those settings to any other files that would need that adjustment.


Next  you have all of your files edited but they are still RAW files.  Lightroom has a powerful export dialog box that will allow you to specify the criteria that a file needs to be exported as. For example, your client may want low res versions of those edited RAW files.  You can create a low res preset and Lightroom will resize and apply all the export options to all the files you have selected including watermarking. You can then burn them onto a DVD, or email etc.  Additionally the Print module in Lightroom has a lot of great templates and allows you to streamline your workflow there as well.

For all the power that Lightroom has it does not replace Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS6. Although Lightroom has a couple of minor retouching tools in the Develop module it does not compare by any stretch to the retouching tools that Photoshop has. So if you are looking to remove or add things to photos or any other retouching work you will have to take the file from Lightroom and continue to edit it in Photoshop. The good news is, after you are done editing the file in Photoshop when you save it, it goes right back into Lightroom.


Generally speaking if Lightroom becomes part of your workflow solution you will probably spend about 85% of your time working there.  The other 15% will be spent either using plug-in programs or editing in some version of Photoshop.



Yvonne Berger



(8 Votes )

Originally written on July 15, 2013

Last updated on August 24, 2016


Sandipan Bandyopadhyay (sandipanandnikon) on November 24, 2013

I use LR5 with great satisfaction; I wanted to buy CS6 for exhaustive PP .... but the strange policy of Adobe, recently, to subscribe monthly plan, which includes heck lot of unnecessary software for me, is preventing me to get the CS6 .... I hope Adobe will change their mind .... I am still in the process of learning the LR5 in depth ... but the B&H tutorials online are fantastic ....

Ian Johnson (JAID) on August 16, 2013

Do any have a comparison to make between LR (4 & 5 in my case) and Nikon's Capture NX2? I used Nikon ViewNX2 which works nicely and does some of what LR does. LR has taken over here completely now however. Perhaps biting the bullet and spending the time to get more proficient with PS CS6 is more sensible but it occurred that if CaptureNX2 went a bit further than LR I may not ever need to get into PS in depth. Sounds lazy but there is plenty to do. Thanks

Rick Spehn (PSAGuy) on July 28, 2013

I edit between 200 and 400 photos a night during my busy season (hockey season) and I use LR5 for all of it. I have had every version of LR since day 1, and LR 5 has features that continue to benefit my work process. Kelly was wrong in one area though...I use LR5 for about 98% of my workflow....and then about 2% NIK or On-One plug ins as needed. LR5 is another great edition of the Lightroom family.

j r jacobs (system13) on July 23, 2013

Sorry cant figure out how to change an error in my post so I reposting the corrected portion... If you're interested in an inexpensive but impressive Alternative to PHOTOSHOP... try Sagelight Editor ( http://www.sagelighteditor.com/ ). There's a 30 day free trial and a one time purchase fee of $39.95.

j r jacobs (system13) on July 20, 2013

Mark, currently Photoshop Ellements and Lightroom are the only software Adobe will not migrate to the cloud. The plan is for them to remain stand-alone. If you're interested in an inexpensive but impressive Alternative to Lightroom try Sagelight Editor ( http://www.sagelighteditor.com/ ). There's a 30 day free trial and a one time purchase fee of $39.95 As for Lightroom, I take between 800 and 1600 photos of an event such as a football game. With light rooms reject (x) and pick (p) keyboard shortcuts along with left/right arrows I can first sort down to half in 15 minutes. I then go through and rank them by stars (1=1 star, 2=2 stars, 3=3 stars, (I never use 4 or 5 stars until I'm done with post so I know my gems) ) and only work on 3 star photos. This takes only another 15 minutes. In 30 minutes I've narrowed my pictures down to 10 % After this I can delete all rejected photos and start post with just a right-click in any of my other software, including Photoshop 5 ( never upgrading now) , DxO, NIK, Topaz, Photmatix Pro, and all of them work with Lightroom. (Assuming your plugins are Lightroom compatable, all mine are) In short the saying goes that the last 10% uses up 90% of your time. Lightroom lets the 90% of the work only take up 10% of my time. This alone is worth the price of admission

Stephen Drake (sduck409) on July 20, 2013

I've been using Aperture for years. I'm only an amateur, enthusiast type photographer, but it does everything that LR does, at least as far as this article describes, so I see no reason to add LR to my computer. Aperture works with the handful of plugins I use, like the Nik suite and PTLens, integrates perfectly with photoshop, and works quickly and smoothly with my huge 100+gb photo library.

Kelly McGrew (kmcgrew) on July 19, 2013

I use Image Trends Fish-eye Hemi; Pearly Whites; and Shine Off. Their web site only lists Photoshop and PSE, which makes me think there may not be the appropriate APIs for universal plug-in compatibility.

Allen Henderson (AAHNikon) on July 18, 2013

Yvonne, Great article. I am getting into PP and am currently in a trial of LR5. I could not decide where to start, LR or PS so I started with LR because it seemed to not be as overwhelming as PS. Your article help bring some clarity. Allen

John D. Roach (jdroach) on July 18, 2013

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

Kelly, I use Lightroom 5 with All Topaz, onOne Perfect Effect Suite, and Nik Software Suite with no issues. I also have them integrated with CS6, Aperture, and Elements 11. You might want to re-install the plug-ins. Also be aware that each plug in interfaces with Lightroom in terms of how you access them in the menu in different ways. At first I was confused as to where to find the plug in to work with in the LR menu. Finally, double check you preferences to ensure that you have the plug ins set up right in LR.

Mark Mauro (MarkM10431) on July 18, 2013

although it's creal that PS(X) and lightroom are the standards, I'm interested in the alternatives. I despise Adobe's new subscription schemes, and if i can find a good alternative, I'll step away from Adobe products in total.

Paul Cassidy (PCassidy) on July 18, 2013

Actually Lightroom 5 can do retouching. For evidence I simply point you to the NAPP, National Association of Photoshop Professionals, web sight where Scott Kelby just recently did an hour video session on retouching with LR5. Some of the highlights are brightening the eyes and teeth, softening the skin, removing lines & shadows, blemish removal, etc etc. So it may not serve the power professionals use to using Photoshop's extensive tool list but LR5 certainly can do touchups for many folks that do occasional facial retouching. Then with the numerous plug-ins I believe that most folks will do fine using Lightroom 5 is all they really need.

Allen Round (Sing141) on July 17, 2013

I've been using Lightroom since before there was a Lightroom. The software I had was purchased by Adobe when it started developing LR. After that purchase my software no longer worked. Then, when the first LR came out I received a free copy to replace the software they had purchased. I now have LR6 and do most of my editing in LR. All NIK, OnOne, Topaz add-ons and plugins I have work. I think most of the "Pros" who put LR down by their negative comments do a disservice to new users who could really benefit from it. Given if you are into heavy-duty editing, removing, re-arranging, artsy, changing the photo stuff it's great to have Photoshop. A negative of Photoshop is that Adobe is in the process of losing a lot of PS users with their required subscription program and its monthly pay or lose it plan.

Robert J Grau (bjgray) on July 17, 2013

I started with Elements 6, was not happy with program. Too much jumping to left side, click no this, then click on another item. then I bought Lightroom 3, then LR 4, what a difference & easy to use. Every thing on the right side. All plugins work with LR4. Going to LR 5 next. Lot of good tutorials to watch & learn. LR is just fine for me.

Mike Banks (unclemikey) on July 17, 2013

Conny, I'm completely new to Lightroom. In my professional work I'm not able to control more then just contrast. (Medical, Dental, Criminalist, research photography). But what do you do to eliminate unwanted objects that you may find in your vacation or family photos?

Conny Eriksson (Mindmeld) on July 17, 2013

I think lightroom can replace ps 100% if you dont do any serious retouching. Like you said there are plugin tools outhere wich can help you with that. Myself i never remove more than dust from a photo so the benefit from ps dosnt apply to me.

Alan Eames (adeames) on July 16, 2013

Hi Yvonne I agree with Kelly. I have been using PSE for years but I find myself using Lightroom most of the time now. I found the following tutorials excellent for Lightroom: Phil Steele http://www.steeletraining.com/ I purchased his series of videos on Lightroom and use them by having the video running on one screen while working on another. Hope this helps. Alan Montreal

Lesley Skipper (Zareeba) on July 16, 2013

Kelly, which plugins are you using? I use the Nik collection and Perfect Resize and all work perfectly with Lightroom (4 and 5)

Kelly McGrew (kmcgrew) on July 15, 2013

Yvonne: My plugins work with CS6 and PSE, but not with LR. Do you know if--with the new subscription-based CS Cloud--Adobe plans on porting the ability for plugins to LR? I understand you can do "presets" but I'm looking for the ability to use the plugins I own with LR4 now and LR5 eventually. Thanks!