If you’re looking to seriously edit photos, Adobe Lightroom is the best you can get. It’s designed to scale for everyone, from beginners through to professional photographers, and it comes in a variety of types to suit the way you take and edit photos. We recommend picking it up as part of the Photography package on Adobe Creative Cloud, as you get both versions of Lightroom included (the regular Cloud-based app, and the ‘classic’ desktop version) along with the latest version of Photoshop too. For around $10 per month, depending on discount codes, it’s a bargain and it can genuinely transform your photographs. It’s the top pick in our guide to the best photo editing software.
Adobe Lightroom review: Features
For the purpose of this review, we are reviewing the regular Lightroom, which is included with Creative Cloud. Anyone familiar with Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite will be well at home with the layout of Lightroom, but for the uninitiated, you start with a home screen that allows you to add photos, check out editing tutorials, or access your existing library of edits. Whether you’re using Mac or PC, the interface is largely the same.
Once you’ve added photos to your workspace, you can begin editing immediately, and you have a small gallery view of all the images you’re working on at the bottom of the screen. The photo manipulation options here are fantastic - everything from basic contrast, brightness, and saturation can be adjusted, as well as more advanced techniques like dehazing, adjusting for aberrations in your lens, and so much more. That’s your start, and if you’ve already perfectly framed your image, that’s all you need to do. There is an auto-enhance option for beginners, which adjusts all levels according to Adobe’s own algorithms, and once you’ve applied that you’re not only shown what has been changed, but you can further fine-tune everything.
You’re also given the option to crop, zoom, skew, and manipulate the size and shape of the photo in a large number of ways. While you don’t get quite the same level of control as in Photoshop, you get what you need for photo manipulation. One of our favorite features is the brush tool, which allows you to ‘paint’ a specific area of your photo to highlight it, and then adjust all the levels and colors within that area. So, for example, if you want to lighten an object in the foreground because your camera’s flash wasn’t powerful enough to pick it out, you can brush over it, and adjust all the levels while leaving your background intact. This is very handy for sunrise and sunset images, where you’re shooting into the light and don’t want to wash out foreground objects with a flash.
The healing brush allows you to quickly remove unwanted aberrations or objects from your image, and works a little like the clone tool in Photoshop. It’s good for quick fixes, but more detailed work should be done in Photoshop itself. You can set the brush to Heal or completely clone, for more defined results.
Another feature we love is the Linear Gradient tool, which allows you to adjust large areas of your photo, like skies, without impacting the other sections. So, if you want to pick out the pink hues of a sunset in the upper third of your photo, without adding a pink hue to your entire image - and you want to to blend naturally, as a sunset would - the linear gradient is incredibly effective at doing this. Combine with the brush tool, to darken any skyline elements or objects poking into the sky, and you can seriously boost the colors and overall impact of sunset and sunrise images.
What's more, almost all the features are available on app, for phones and tablets, and it's super-easy to use. You get most of the features of the desktop app included, and if you're using the Creative Cloud version, all your images are automatically added to your workspace. This is very handy for social media sites, like Instagram, where it's easier to add images via a phone or tablet.
Adobe Lightroom review: Compatibility and export options
As Lightroom is part of the Creative Cloud suite of programs, it’s easy to take an image and quickly flick between things like Lightroom and Photoshop, or Lightroom and InDesign. Sure, you need one of the best home computers to do this at any kind of pace, but it’s great to be able to swap between editors with a couple of clicks, rather than having to close the window.
You can export photos from your workspace direct to your computer’s internal (or external) drive, or you can upload them direct to Adobe Cloud or most other forms of cloud storage. Windows, for example, allows you to export straight to OneDrive. Here you can rename images, adjust size and quality, and manage format settings. The number of file types is limited, but if you need to convert to something like .psd, or you want to adapt color to CMYK, you can simply move the image to Photoshop and save from there.
If you’re using Creative Cloud, you get 20GB of storage space with the basic Photography Plan, and 1TB with the advanced plan. This allows you to store images in the cloud, which you can then add to all compatible online sites and accounts - ideal if you have a portfolio website or an online store for selling your prints.
Adobe Lightroom review: Price and support options
We use Lightroom as part of the basic Photography Plan on Adobe Creative Cloud, and this currently works out at $9.99 per month with 20GB cloud storage. You can upgrade to the 1TB option for $19.99 per month, or you can just get the Lightroom package for $9.99 per month with 1TB storage. If you’re a beginner photographer looking to simply enhance images, the Lightroom only package is fine, but anyone more serious about editing will want the Photography plan, as it includes Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, Bridge, and a number of other image enhancing software tools. You’ll also get tablet and smartphone versions of these packages too, which is good if you connect your camera to your smartphone and want to edit on the move, without a laptop, and post direct to social media. If you really don't want to subscribe to Lightroom, and you want a powerful editor and enhancer as a one-off payment and download, we suggest something like Corel PaintShop Pro 2021.
In terms of support, Adobe is good at answering enquiries about the software itself and your subscription. The Creative Cloud website has a very extensive FAQ section, and a wealth of videos with editing tips, and advice on how to use specific tools within Lightroom and Photoshop. You can access many of these videos from the Lightroom app too, and when you mouse-over tools in Lightroom you’re shown a gif and portion of text explaining what it does. It all combines to help you become proficient very fast - all you have to do is remember all the hotkeys, if you want to get quicker.
Should you buy Adobe Lightroom?
If you’re in any way interested in editing photos beyond the basic ‘crop and color’ options, then you need Lightroom in your life. It’s relatively inexpensive, extremely powerful, and very easy to use. It has all the options you need for almost any image enhancing situation and, if you get it with the Photography Plan, you can handle any additional edits using Photoshop. The downsides? Well, if you don’t need a good photo editor, you can get basic image manipulators for free. And if your computer isn’t powerful enough, it will struggle to run Lightroom and Photoshop side-by-side. These are incredibly minor downsides and overall we think Lightroom is far and away the best option for editing photos.