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Photoshop and I are getting old(er)! I started working with Photoshop 1.0.7 in May 1990, only a few months after its release. It’s hard to believe we are both 18 years older. It’s been amazing to see Photoshop grow over the years and an honor working with Adobe as a beta and alpha tester since version 2.5. I’ve seen a lot of products over the years attempt to compete with Photoshop. Anyone remember Color Studio, X-Res, or Live Picture?

One of the most exciting image processing products I’ve worked with since the introduction of Photoshop is Lightroom. For those of us working with Photoshop for many years, Lightroom represents (excuse the cliché) a quantum paradigm shift with respect to image processing. Mark Hamburg, Lightroom’s architect has described Lightroom as being “The Anti-Photoshop”. It’s OK for Mark to say this considering he was the chief Photoshop architect for years before creating Lightroom.

Applying a Photoshop bias towards Lightroom can be problematic; Lightroom operates in a totally different manner. Lightroom targets a core user group, provides a unique set of functionality while having the ability to work with lots of images at once. Photoshop is a pixel editor targeted to many groups of users. From day one, it was designed to work on one image at a time. Sure, you can use Droplets, Actions and Automate commands to process multiple documents, but essentially you’re opening each, full resolution pixel based document into RAM, altering some or all pixels and saving these newly baked pixels back into the document.

At its core, Lightroom, like its older brother, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is a raw processor that creates idealized pixels using metadata-based instructions. You define these instructions and the original data, which is never altered, is used to build a new, desirable appearing image. You’re never baking a color appearance into a pixel-based image until you export or print this new data.

Some Photoshop users dive into Lightroom’s Develop module and expect the controls to behave like Photoshop’s controls. That’s often a risky expectation. For example, both ACR and Lightroom’s develop tools are presented in an optimal working order; top down, then left to right in the case of ACR. Some old time Photoshop users gravitate directly to Lightroom’s curves since in Photoshop curves are the tool to alter color and tone. Yet Lightroom’s curves are presented below other develop control sliders. It’s really designed for fine-tuning. While you can work with the tools in Lightroom in any order you wish (Lightroom is real smart about automatically applying all the metadata instructions in the ideal processing order), you may end up chasing your tail by ignoring this orderly design. This is vastly different in Photoshop where you’re affecting pixels on a per-edit basis and working in differing order, even altering the position of adjustment layers, can cause undesirable results and wasted time.

I recently had a conversation about Lightroom’s Develop controls with the head of the photo department at a major university. He told me he didn’t like the sliders and I asked why. “They remind me of the Photoshop Contrast and Brightness sliders and we all know these are poor tools”. The sliders in Lightroom don’t behave at all like Contrast and Brightness in Photoshop. Plus the hair on the back of my neck always rises when someone says “but we all know….”. We don’t all know. In fact, there are situations where these tools could provide a desired result. I tried to convince this new Lightroom user that he should remove his Photoshop bias and try working with the controls in the order provided. If at such a time he can’t produce the desired color and tone appearance, then we might investigate if this is indeed a flaw in the application (not likely with the pretty smart Adobe engineers) or if there’s a flaw in the usage of the toolset. Its often the later. Suggesting that curves in Photoshop and Lightroom should operate identically fails the logic tests because the source data is so different as is the final image processing. You can see the same disconnect if you play with the exposure tools on a Raw in Lightroom versus the Exposure or Shadow/Highlight tools on a rendered image in Photoshop. The tools may have the same name, yet the processing and results are often significantly different.

Another bias I’ve seen is the idea of being very casual in handling your raw rendering and “fixing” the image later in Photoshop. There’s a kind of macho mentality, (or maybe its just due to familiarity), that cause some users to dismiss rendering the best possible image data before using Photoshop. This is the old “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” mindset. Never forget GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out! The result of edits applied in Lightroom and ACR is a totally new image, from either an existing rendered image (TIFF, JPEG) or better, raw. Edits are applied on high-bit linear data using the greatest color gamut from the raw data. It therefore makes sense to do all the heavy lifting, in terms of producing the desired color appearance, with such tools, long before you even consider launching Photoshop.

Those who’ve used Lightroom for a while often say, “I’m doing so much less work in Photoshop”. Some may find this alarming, almost criminal. Photoshop hasn’t lost its shine and is still an indispensable tool. Lightroom and ACR provide new ways of bringing ideal data into Photoshop. Use Photoshop’s vast arsenal of tools to do the work that makes most sense: Layers and blending modes, compositing, precise retouching, and perspective control, to name a few. Global tone and color “correction”? Not if you can create the preferred, global and tone rendering of new pixels using Lightroom. The toolset in Lightroom and Photoshop do overlap in some areas, but both complement each other. The message here is abandon the bias and use the right tool for the right job.