Lightroom is liberating and fun. It gave me back the results I used to get finishing my pictures in the dark room, plus several techniques that I never learned. It’s a great tool. It’s just not enough.

I still need photoshop to help me finish the visions I have for my imagery, and there are three things I need to do regularly that Lightroom just can’t make happen. That’s why I pay for the CreativeCloud photography plan from Adobe (by the way, Adobe is a partner on this blog, but I pay for my CC subscription out of my own pocket). These three make it more than worthwhile.

1. Swapping Heads

Lightroom isn’t like an onion: it doesn’t have layers. Layers in Photoshop allow me to make several photographs of a group of people and combine the exposures together for the best expression of everyone involved. I shoot using a tripod so that nothing moves between frames, then in Lightroom I get the color looking good and apply the same settings to the frames with the best expressions. Now I just select the pictures I want to combine, right click on the images and choose “Edit In>Open as Layers in Photoshop.”


Now that the pictures are all stacked up, I place a Layer Mask on each image layer and use the paint brush to add the right face from the right layer. It’s really simple! Adjust the brush hardness and opacity to refine the changes. It’s a great way to get everyone looking great in a picture, and while you can do it if you shot handheld, it’s a million times easier if you use a tripod.

Here you can see everything I’ve added to my base layer, blending from the other frames I shot. In a group picture of more than 80 people everyone’s eyes are now open, and that’s no small feat.


Photoshop also has Layer blending modes. I duplicated the image twice and set one layer to Soft Light, the other to Screen and adjusted the opacity of each until the image looked good. These settings adjust contrast in a way I can’t explain…but it looks good.


This photograph still needs some color adjustments, but even though Photoshop could do those well, I’m a Lightroom man, so I’ll do them in Lightroom. Just save the image (File>Save) and it automatically pops back up in the thumbnails in Lightroom. It’s so easy.

Here’s the final image with a few White Balance and Camera Calibration adjustments.

Panasonic Lumix GH4, Sigma 60mm f/2.8 lens, f/5, 1/125s, ISO 400.

2. Using Text

The fact is, I often have to help my clients use my pictures, which I consider the job of a marketer and graphic designer. Still, I’ve got to be able to help them, and that means more photoshop work. The text tool is a terrific way to embellish your image with a message, or even just finish it off for printing and sharing. Two ways I’ve had to use text with the image above were for the team’s Facebook page, and also for a gift print the whole team received. Simple to do in Photoshop, nearly impossible in Lightroom.



3. Panoramas

There are lots of applications that can stitch your images together to make a panorama, and some are better that Photoshop. I’ve never used any of them, though, because Photoshop works really well, and integrates perfectly with my workflow.

My suggestion for you is to expound your thinking of what a panoramic picture is. It may be a wide picture, but it may also be a grid of multiple rows and columns with increased depth of field control, as I described in this article, or it may be a vertical image, like this one I made under the full moon in Moab last month.

Panasonic Lumix GH4, Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/2.8, 60 seconds, ISO 400.

This vertical panorama also utilizes a long lens to create a shallow depth of field, ensuring the background is softly out of focus. This just isn’t possible with a wide angle lens and one frame. It’s also not possible to stitch this together in Lightroom.

Lightroom really helps me finish off my images–the color controls are incredible, as are all the brightness and contrast controls. Still, it’s not able to blend multiple layers together, embellish an image with text, or stitch a panorama together. Photoshop is an integral part of my workflow. At just $10/month, I think it’ll serve you well, too.

Sheesh! I didn’t even get to mention how I use Photoshop for time lapse! Another day…