Photoshop? Elements? Lightroom? David Asch helps you choose

If you have just started to get into the world of editing photos, you may scratching your head when it comes to software choices.  Why is Photoshop so much more than Elements?  Where does Lightroom fit in?

Adobe photo editing guru, David Asch, agreed to a Q&A to help us all out.

Most people assume that Photoshop is for pro togs and Elements is for amateur photographers.  Do you think this is true?
Yes, that is true but only by design. Often, people will go to Photoshop because they think they have to. Despite its similar range of tools, Elements is sold as a consumer product and is rarely considered by serious photographers. I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of amateur photographers using Photoshop when Elements would be more than capable of doing the same job. I don’t think Photoshop is as much of a requirement in the photographer’s workflow as it once was; Lightroom can handle the adjustment side of of digital photography; it’s the same as Camera Raw, which is generally the first stage of the workflow in Photoshop. Any other editing such as repair work on the photo can be carried out in Elements, it shares most of Photoshop’s toolset in that respect.
You are an expert at both softwares.  When do you find yourself using Photoshop and when do you find yourself using Elements? 
That’s a good question and I will be candid in saying that, aside from the beta testing and the books I write, I use Photoshop a lot more than Elements. This is not because it isn’t of use to me, far from it, it’s because my work often involves more graphic design oriented work, where Photoshop’s advanced features are essential. Much of what I do is achievable in Elements but there is a point where it simply becomes impractical.
OK, so let’s talk pricing.  Elements is about $80 as a one-time license fee and Photoshop (now in CC!) is $20 per month ($240 per year).  What are some of the key features Photoshop offers that Elements does not?  
As far as photographers are concerned, I would say the difference in features is minimal; it does, of course, depend on the level of the photographer as well. You can’t address individual colour channels in Elements, so many of the targeted colour adjustments such as Color Balance and full Black and White conversion aren’t available. Elements also lacks features like HDR toning, editable Smart Objects and Smart Filters. Both Photoshop and Elements have Adobe Camera Raw; Elements has a more basic version but it still has the essentials. Elements lacks true 16 bit image support, it can open them but only as a single layer, which means the editing process is fairly restricted. New features in Photoshop such as the Adaptive Wide Angle correction and the much-anticipated Shake Reduction filter that’s making its debut in Photoshop CC are not available in Elements but that’s not to say they won’t ever make an appearance in future releases.
So, if someone is aiming to break into the wedding photography business or portraiture business, do you think Elements is enough in terms of editing?  Will Elements cover the key adjustments that need to be made to professional photography (not graphics-related work)?
Yes, I would say that it’s possible to produce perfectly good results with Elements, particularly if you shoot in Raw; which, if you’re getting serious about photography, you should always be using as you are getting the most out of the image to begin with. Elements still has very limited support for 16 bit files but if most of your correction work is done to begin with, you can still do spot-correctional work afterward without adversely affecting the quality of the final image. Photographers managed perfectly well before Photoshop was capable of working exclusively in 16 bit and nobody complained about the quality of the images then.
Aside from the Photoshop vs. Elements debate, do you recommend Lightroom for users of each?  Are there any other softwares that you feel are useful to have or on par with these Adobe products?

Absolutely, yes. For most, Lightroom is a one-stop workflow solution. Especially with Lightroom 5′s new features such as freehand cloning and healing. Many photographers would now not have the need to do additional work in Photoshop or Elements.
There are some good alternatives, although I haven’t used them, so I can’t really comment on how they compare.
If you had to pick your favorite/go-to features of each software: Elements, Photoshop, and Lightroom, what would they be?

Elements has some very useful ‘guided’ features, two in particular are the Scene Cleaner, which lets you pick areas of similar photos in order to remove people from the shot and Style Match; a great way of transferring the colour and tones from one photo to another. It also has the Graphic Novel and Comic filters, which work incredibly well!
For Photoshop, it would have to be the completely non-destructive workflow (Smart Objects, filters, etc) and its 3D capabilities.
Lightroom is where most of my purely photographic work is done. I like having the live preset views so I can see how an effect is going to look before I apply it. Again, the fact that everything in Lightroom is non-destructive is a huge part of using it.
What is your final advice to an unsure photographer that is ready to consider a photo editing software?
Simple. Download the trial versions for each. They are available for 30 days, which, if you dedicate a little time, is enough to get a feel for the software. There’s a wealth of free information out there as well, so check out YouTube, and for some really great introductory tutorials.
David Asch is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop CS6 and a pre-release tester for Elements. He is the author of several books and offers excellent tutorials on his site Twisting Pixels.  He is also a frequent contributor to and You can also find him on Facebook.
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