Photography / Buying Guide

Which Adobe Software Is Right For You?


Regardless of your level of interest in digital photography, there is a requirement to organize your images and, often, the desire to adjust or enhance your photos digitally.

You know you’ve made it in an industry when the name of your product is transformed into a verb, but Photoshop, officially the Photoshop Creative Cloud, today, is an extremely capable and intricate software program that is not suitable for every photographer. Because the needs of photographers vary, Adobe has three primary solutions that cover image editing and file organization for every photographer, from the snapshot hobbyist to the top professionals.

The three software systems have core functionality that overlaps, but each has some unique features that make them more suitable to one customer over another. Here is an informative graphic and information to help make your buying decision easier.

Photoshop CC

Arguably the world’s most comprehensive image-editing software and now available through an annual subscription, bundled with Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Creative Cloud has every tool and function you can imagine for any image-editing task. Not only for photographers, Photoshop CC is known for its capabilities in the graphic design realm with a full arsenal of tools for print, Web, and interactive designers. Unique to Photoshop CC are image-editing tools for dodging and burning, time-lapse photo editing, layer masks, and intricate retouching tools. Adobe Bridge is Photoshop’s image organizational and browsing program that runs separate to the main program.

Photoshop Lightroom

Photoshop Lightroom, available as part of the Photoshop CC or as a stand-alone system, was once described to me as, “Photoshop designed for photographers.”

What Lightroom gives up in photo editing capabilities, it gains in its powerful organizational tools, as the file-management system is fully integrated into the photo-editing program. Lightroom allows for bulk processing of images, cataloging, keywording, rating of images, and more on the organizational level. In the latest version, you can even catalog or search your images using integrated facial recognition software. For image editing, Lightroom provides a full set of tools that can do a lot of what Photoshop does, but it is not entirely suitable for precision retouching or graphic design. Lightroom also has instruments in place to help share your images on the Web, through email, in a slideshow, or you can even design a photo book right in the program.

Adobe Photoshop Elements

The Photoshop CC and Lightroom programs are not only immensely powerful, but fairly complicated, and their operation can be intimidating to a lot of photographers. For those looking for the path of least complexity, Adobe Photoshop Elements might be a great solution for basic photo editing and organizational work.

Targeted at photo enthusiasts and those looking to simply get their digital images collected and organized, the easy-to-use Photoshop Elements interface has a surprising amount of Photoshop CC’s image-editing tool kit available to the more casual photographer.

Elements shares some useful features with its more comprehensive siblings, like integrated file organization, slideshow production, image resizing, cropping, and rotation, panoramic merge, spot healing, and B&W conversion and creative filters. It also features Facebook integration and unique tools, such as Photomerge Group Shot that allows you to combine faces and bodies from a series of images easily to create a perfect group photo.

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I have used all of Adobes programs through the years in doing commercial photography.

My thinking is why settle when you can get it all and then grow into it. It really has helped my career with that type of outlook.

I have the complete AdobeCloud with all their programming and I have had no problems at all. It has saved my a lot of expense. If I were to buy each program the cost would be unbelievable. Remembering that when purchased it is not the same to update as it is from the cloud. The cloud is a fixed expense and remains the same each month and I have the latest updates as they come automatically.



Thanks for reading and sharing, M.! 

What do you use for editing movies, I have a 7d canon but haven't venturted into movie making yet.

Hi carlene,

I am not a video guy, but asking our video production team the question, I got the following:

Adobe Premier

I hope that helps! Thanks for reading and thanks for your question!

Premier is the cadillac program from Adobe, and it is a great program.

Even photoshop will produce video work to a certain level. It depends on what you are needing to do.



Thanks, again, M! We appreciate you helping a fellow B&H customer!

I have been scanning medium format images.  This results in TIFF files up to approximately 300 Mb.  Which, if any, of these products can accomodate files of this size or even larger?  Thanks in advance!

Hi Seth,

My sense is that Photoshop will give you the best bet for your large files. Unfortunately, I don't have any way to test compatibility, as I do not have files that large!

Creative Cloud might be the way to go for your needs!

I have used both Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 and CC with files larger than 500GB and have had no issues. But it also depends on your system and available drive capacity that may affect performance.

Thanks for chiming in, Steven! 

Maybe I'm looking at this wrong, but if not please tell me what version it was when Adobe dropped RAW support from Elements.

I thought maybe I read the graphic incorrectly too, but I've used Elements for several years now and it does support raw.  As a matter of fact, I have shown one of my professional photographer friends the raw capabilities in Elements and he was surprised and impressed.  Elements doesn't contain as many raw "menu tabs" but it supports the important functionality. 


Thanks for catching our error! We are fixing the infographic ASAP.

Thanks for reading, definitely keep keeping us on our toes!

Sorry, Bob! It was our error. Photoshop Elements does support RAW files. We are correcting the infographic.

Thanks for bringing our attention to this error!

I started using Photoshop Elements 2, 6 and now photoshop 13. I do wish that Adobe would have done some user research in developing Elements 13. When I first installed and used 13, it was quited difficult to use, from the organizer to the printing function. I print a lot of photos and time is very important to me and the fact that I have to check 'Borderless Print' is very frustration. I also edit 100 to 200 photos before posting to my website, this is a nightmare because in earlier versions of Elements the photos you wanted to edit could be placed in the bin in the Editor and when finished processing could be placed back into the bin and then saved into a album, which then could be shared onto CD,  The CD can still be made but with more effort. I just wish they would produce a Elements that would give the important basics and a little less fluff.  Alas, I also tried Corel X7 and could not get past the printing presets, not to mention it only works in sRGB. The conclusion is that Adobe leaves a lot to be desired, but it is still better than anything that I know of is out threre in the marketplace..

Hi Ralph,

Thanks for your comments and sharing your experience with Elements! I am sure the other readers will appreciate it.

Thanks for reading!

Would it be wise to purchase and use both Lightroom and Elements? Or just choose one and stick with it?

I use Lightroom for organizing and editing my RAW files, and export TIF files to Photoshop Elements when I need it for combining two or more images into one, or for painting. I most often use Elements for windows in interior architectural photography. I shoot one image exposed properly for the interior and another image properly exposed for the window(s). I combine the images in Elements by putting the two images on separate layers, and by creating a mask for the image for window(s). Also, I have Lightroom 5, so I don't have the ability to create panoramics in Lightroom, so I export TIF files to Elements to create panoramics. When I'm finished in Elements, I export a TIF back to Lightroom and make any final adjustments there. That way, my Lightroom catalog has all the final images.

Hi Randy,

Thanks for sharing your tips! Great stuff. That is one intense workflow you have sorted out for yourself!

Thanks for reading!


I would recommend choosing just one and sticking with it. Lightroom is going to give you all the editing power of Elements and more, but less of the easy social media interaction features.

That is just my $0.02.

Thanks for your question and thanks for reading!

As for this article, it came right at a time I'm trying to answer that exact question but I must admit, I'm still a bit confused. I've only used Elements thus far and my impression was that PS and LR were much more powerful but now I'm not too sure. Also, does anyone know if the $19.99 CC deal includes LR with PS? It's not clear and even a chat session with Adobe didn't answer it.   

Hi Captain,

PS and LR are much more powerful, but that is not to say that Elements is lacking. Elements will meet the needs of most photographers these days.

The Creative Cloud subscription comes with both Lightroom and Photoshop.

Thanks for your questions and thanks for reading!

I got my start with version 5 of Adobe Elements many years ago. After upgrading all the way through version 7 Adobe offered a great deal on Photoshot cs5 that was too good to turn down. I upgraded to version 6 before switching to Photoshop CC for $9.95 a month. Even though Creative Cloud comes with the latest version of Kightroom as well I could never get into Lightroom, being that was was quite adept at Photoshop. I still own Elements 13 as I teach photography and my students seldom could afford the costlier full Photoshop. I've found Elements can do almost everything I need to do and therefore recommend it to my students. I teach photographic post processing to my students as well.

Now long retired as a professional portrait photographer I donate my images to National Geographic, CalPhoto at the University of California, Berkley and the Oregon Zoo. I haven't charged a penny for my photos of teaching in 20 years, preferring to play it forward to create the next generation of crazied photographers. - Bob Mielke -

Hi Bob,

Thanks for sharing! I agree, Elements has a lot of really great tools for a huge majority of photographers out there! It is kind of a "best kept secret" of the photo editing world in some respects.

Personally, my transition to Lightroom was difficult. I waited until Lightroom had geometric correction capabilities before making the switch, but part of me misses the days of only Bridge and Photoshop!

Thanks for reading and thanks for paying it forward!

Those of us who live in rural areas without fast internet capability don't use cloud services. Add in that Photoshop and Lightroom both have stand alone disks we can use and we think Adobe should be collectively castrated for trying to furce us into their new and costly plan - and you have the reason we will move on when CS6 no longer does the job.

Thanks for your comment, Jim. I also prefer stand-alone software. With the Photoshop Creative Cloud, the program does live on your hard drive, but you are required to "log in" to Adobe periodically for updates and license confirmation.

Thanks for reading!

I find that this graphic is quite misleading. It implies that you cannot dodge and burn in Lightroom. And yet the use of adjustment brushes seems to do exactly that. And then Image Organization (Bridge) would make one think that Lightroom is somehow lacking in the area of tagging and organization. A better way to state it would simply be to say that Photoshop works hand in hand with another external app to do its organizing instead of keeping it all within one program, as Lightroom does. (And yes, I see "Integrated Photo Organizing" listed above, but it's confusing. And going to another app - Bridge - is listed like it's some kind of a feature instead of a hinderance.) And finally, Basic Retouching is listed for Elements, but not the other two? I guess maybe that's just assumed, but it seems an odd omission, since the paragraph above says, "Each has some unique features that make them more suitable to one customer over another." That's true, except for the features that aren't actually unique. Any of them can be used for basic retouching. 

Hi Rob,

Thanks for your comments. You are not incorrect, but the bottom line is that the three programs have a lot of overlap and the infographic was based on published information on the different software systems. We worked closely with Adobe on this project to ensure we were getting the most clear information out to the customer.

Thanks for reading!

In an integrated environment, Bridge makes sense, so it's not a hinderence.  When one is searching through a bajillion photos, many of which will be loaded into a video or After Effects project, but some which may be going into Photoshop to be manipulated first, Bridge is the logical place to do this.  One avoids loading any images, one has a tool that can view and tag ALL types of assets, including AIs, SVG, EPS, MOVs, and whatever.  

That said, having the functionality integrated AS WELL, as in Lightroom, would be nice.  

Hi che,

I agree. Bridge is a nice program. Back in the days before I was using Lightroom, I used it as the gateway to PS. Today, I still often use it's bulk file renaming function when I need to renumber a bunch of images instantly. That feature has saved me countess hours!

Thanks for reading and contributing to the discussion!

Good points about Bridge, especially regarding other types of assets. I find LIghtroom's management to be so slick and intuitive, I wish it could be used with more file types. Now, I only use Bridge when I have to. Even browsing to new directories is a chore, waiting for everything to load. But it has its place. It's just not one I go to very often!

Thanks, Rob.

Yep, Bridge is powerful, but not as slick nor is it as integrated. Honestly, in a perfect world, I might have really liked a slicker Bridge program that did Lightroom's organizational stuff while allowing me to still work in Photoshop. Yes, I know the processes are similar and you can get to Photoshop from Lightroom, but I think you catch my drift.

Thanks for checking back!