Tennessee sky at night

Lightroom vs Elements vs Photoshop

I see this question pop up quite often in forums and discussion groups. I’ve seen it pop up so often that I decided to write a post about it simply so I could have something to refer people back to.

Quick disclaimer: this is all Mac-based. I just don’t know he PC world enough to make a recommendation.

Usually, the situation is this: You’ve bought a new DSLR and have branched out into using Manual mode. Your pictures probably don’t look as good as they do when you shoot in Auto, but they’re coming along. You either want:

  • to edit those photos to pull out detail and clarity while reducing mistakes.
  • and/or to have more creative control over the final product.

Or, maybe you’re still working in Auto, but you’ve taken a kajillion pictures and you need a way to organize and manage better, plus extra creative control would be cool. Or, maybe you just want to remove your ex from what is otherwise a fantastic island shot.

In any case, here are the options:

Pixelmator IconPixelmator is basically a poor-man’s version of Photoshop, but it’s an awesome substitute. You’ll be able to knock out many of the day-to-day PS tasks and the user interface is simple, friendly and very Mac-like. Keep in mind, however, Pixelmatr won’t do anything about organizing or managing or files (though, to be fair, neither really will Photoshop). If you’re just starting out, it’ll be awhile before you hit the Pixelmatr wall, and for $29.99, the difference in price is probably worth it. Two notes:

  • This is what I use at work for the minor graphic tasks that are required there.
  • They have an iPad app now, but I haven’t used it.

Here’s the App Store link, and here’s a nice comparison of the two.

Photoshop Elements is the classic entry-level tool here. You can buy it (here, actually) for $79.99, but honestly, I don’t know why you would, unless you’re terrified of the cloud for some reason because…

Adobe Cloud IconThe Adobe Cloud Photography Plan now exists. For $9.99/month (or $119/year) you get both Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop along with any updates that come out and you’re able to use Lightroom Mobile, which is way cool. For another $2/month, you can get 20 gigs of online storage. Really, this is kind of a no-brainer.

Seriously, if you’re starting out, just go ahead sign up with the best software out there. (There’s a free trial.)

Apple Aperture? Don’t use it; Apple’s moving away from it.

Just to put it out there, I’ve heard a surprising number of people say, “I don’t care about the updates, I just want the standalone program.” From someone who has lived technology for two decades, that is short-sighted. You will regret that, and the math doesn’t support it anyway. When a company offers you regular updates as part of a package with a rock-bottom cost, take them up on it.

Ok, now you know. I’ll put together a post with some resources to aid in learning Lightroom in the future.

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