Do I need Photoshop?

I got this with Lightroom! Why do I need to use Photoshop? 

A couple of weeks ago I was completing a National Park Photography Expeditions (NPPE) First Horizon Workshop in the Mojave National Preserve when a student asked this question in the ‘exit module’ of the workshop. “It seems like we have more than enough tools in Lightroom to create some excellent artwork. So, do I really need to learn Photoshop for my landscapes?” As an instructor I know that if one student asks a question then other students are thinking it too. Sure enough a day later I was watching a recent Matt Kloskowski video tutorial where he tells his followers that one of his students had written in the comment section a similar question. (See Matt, as he always does in his tutorials, did a great job of answering the viewer’s concern that perhaps Lightroom isn’t enough for those who want to create more advanced work. Matt is one of our preferred self-directed training resources for NPPE students, so check him out.

Now back to my student’s question. . . do I need to know/use Photoshop?

At NPPE we teach the ‘the inspirational why’‘, ‘the compositional what’ and ‘ the visualized how,’ of landscape art photography. To achieve meaningful, expressive work, you need Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) and Photoshop. These are must know/ use tools for the creative art photographer.

Image 1: Mojave First Horizons Alumni, Bill Chatwell, brought numerous infrared shadows and highlight elements together in this Valley View Ranch Feeder shed image with Lightroom Masking techniques. His use of Photoshop was minimal and selective of tools to clean up distracting elements. The result is an image with nuanced tonal relationships with masculine characteristics, nostalgic connotations, and experience that cannot be fully grasped.


Lightroom’s Develop Module allows you to enhance image reality.

Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) edits RAW files which are not image files.  They are data files that contain light information created by the photosites on the camera’s sensor. There are endless ways to convert these values into displayable image data, known as pixels, which are tiny dots of a specific color and luminance. Lightroom’s Lens Correction, Tone, Presence, and the Hue, Saturation, Luminosity panel suite (among others) allows you to ‘dial in’ an image and depending upon the photographers intent these ‘Global Tools’ are all that is needed for a given photographic outcome. With Lightroom’s ‘Local Adjustment Tools’ the art photographer can further refine the emotional range of the image and work within segments of the image. 

Image 2: Bob Killen completed this image with a combination of global and local adjustment tools in Lightroom only. Using several range masks allowed him to adjust very small areas of shadows, color and textures to create this symbol of mortality and decay in the Mojave Desert.

Photoshop gives you the tools to create your own.

Adobe Photoshop is a veritable factory of tools, a true image editor, which allows you to extend the visual voice, and the emotional range of the image to express your subjective feelings beyond the image’s representational elements. For example, you can create your own reality by eliminating elements with tools such as content aware fill or add atmospherics by brushing in some fog.

Does that mean that you must learn every possible tool and tool option in Photoshop for creative success? The answer is no, because there are tools and workflows for graphics, video, type, design and much more that may not apply to your art photography. However, you may want to learn some of these to further enhance your creative outcome.

Image 3: Mojave First Horizons alumni Peggy Nugent worked with ACR and Photoshop to create this composite interpretation of a shattered window and relics of the past occupants inside an old Assay Shack. Employing workflows from both programs resulted in an image that is a poetic eulogy of a time and place that once existed but now reinvented by adding the song of a bird. There is lonesome solitude given to her multiple points of view as Peggy creates a world through a symphony of color and arrangements possibilities.


As you identify your inspirational why’ ‘your compositional what’ and develop the skills for a visualized how,’ you will learn to choose the tools that allow you to express a vision beyond documentation.


As you learn more about your postproduction tools you will increase the range of your creative vision with greater refinement, subjectivity and personal expression.

Thus, the more you know, the further you can go— that is why you need to learn to use Photoshop as well as Lightroom.


For creative photographer’s self-expression encompasses the artist’s subjective thoughts, feelings, and a personal vision beyond their image’s physical appearances. However, simple or straight photography captures light reflecting off real objects which creates representational imagery, and while these images may be artistic in their straightforward capture, it is up to the art photographer to transcend their objective appearances. Thus creating an image that communicates with viewers beyond what is in front of the lens is more challenging and difficult workflow, one that requires visualization, composition, capture craft and patience.  While all photographs arise from some level of reality our post production tools— Lightroom and Photoshop— allows us to alter that reality to invoke perceptions and powerful emotions in viewers that are a Vision beyond Documentation.

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