The Photoshop Techniques Every Lightroom User Should Know

lr-psDespite the fact that I’ve owned a copy of Adobe Photoshop since the 1990’s, I’ve rarely made a big deal about it in my workshops and presentations. That’s because the cost of ownership presented a huge barrier to amateur photographers. Moreover, Lightroom has become quite powerful in its own right; many users simply find they didn’t need to leave the Lightroom editing environment.

If you’re using Lightroom via the Adobe Photography Plan (Creative Cloud subscription), then you’re getting the complete version of Adobe Photoshop right along with it. If you have access to this powerful tool, you ought to know how to use it (at least in terms of your photos).

There are so many tools in Photoshop that it’s easy to get lost and intimidated. However, there are a few things that Photoshop lets you do that you can’t do in Lightroom, and for certain photos, those tools can be tremendously useful. Read on to see my list of “go-to” tools.

Layers, Adjustment Layers, & Layer Masks

The biggest feature of Photoshop, in my opinion, is the ability to work in layers. You can combine different images, blend exposures of the same scene, and add effects non-destructively. Adjustment Layers let you add adjustment effects (curves, photo filters, saturation) without “baking” those effects into the actual pixels in your image. You can go back and change the settings of any tool applied in an adjustment layer at a later time, provided you save your image in PSD or layered TIFF format. Layers also allow you to partition your effects, including plug-in software like the Nik Collection. Layers allow me to create unique, artistic images by adding textures or creating composites.

Photoshop layers allow me to selectively and non-destructively edit pixel images and create creative composites.
Photoshop layers allow me to selectively and non-destructively edit pixel images and create creative composites.

Layer Masks allow you to non-destructively show or hide parts of any layer without permanently erasing the pixels in that layer. That’s how you can use brushes and other selection tools to make localized adjustments to a Photoshop file. One of the most advanced applications of layer masking is Luminosity Masks, which allow you to selectively target your adjustments and effects to specific tone ranges, like highlights, midtones, or shadows.

Cloning, Healing, and Content-Aware Tools
Photoshop offers some of the best retouching tools available to photographers.
Photoshop offers some of the best retouching tools available to photographers.

Lightroom offers a basic healing brush, which works quite well for removing dust spots and other small imperfections from your digital captures. However, it’s no match for the power of Photoshop’s built-in retouching tools, which leverage Content-Aware algorithms for serious retouching. The Spot Healing Brush, Healing Brush, and Patch Tools are all incredibly useful when you’re trying to remove large objects from your photos. The Content-Aware Fill tool also lets you quickly remove large and distracting objects from your photos. These tools are super-useful for removing birds, power lines, and background clutter from certain images.

Use Your Plug-ins as Smart Filters
If your plug-ins support Smart Filters, you can apply them non-destructively on Smart Object layers.
If your plug-ins support Smart Filters, you can apply them non-destructively on Smart Object layers.

If you follow this page, you know I’m a big fan of certain effects filters. When you use your plug-ins in Photoshop, not only can you apply those effects in separate layers (instead of creating a new TIFF file for each tool), but many plug-ins support Smart Filters when used on a Smart Object layer. Smart Object layers are totally non-destructive. When you apply a plug-in as a Smart Filter, you can go back into the plug-in and adjust all the sliders and other tools, like Control Points. You simply cannot do this using plug-in software as stand-alone editors from Lightroom.

Adding Text to Images
Add editable text to your photos and add effects like drop shadow or glow.
Add editable text to your photos and add effects like drop shadow or glow.

Adobe Photoshop started life as a graphic design tool, and despite its popularity as a photo editor, it still remains one of the best graphics design tools available. Sometimes, you’ll want to add text or other graphics to your images, and while Lightroom will let you add watermarks (a feature I love), it won’t let you add editable text with effects as well as Photoshop can. In Photoshop, you can add text in a layer, add effects such as drop-shadow or glow, and even use masks to make your text blend into your images like you’d see on a magazine cover.

Did you know? Jason has published nine in-depth tutorials for Lightroom and Photoshop. Check them out here.

High-Pass Sharpening

Photoshop has many sharpening tools, including old favorites such as Unsharp Mask, and new tools like Smart Sharpen. However, high-pass sharpening is one technique every Lightroom user should learn. The Detail panel in Lightroom is good, but it’s fairly restricted in how it operates. By adding a mild high-pass filter to your images, you can get good detail without accentuating noise in most photos. And the best part is that you can apply the effect selectively (via layer masks).

Some Tips on Workflow
Use the Lightroom Develop Module to non-destructively add finishing adjustments, like sharpening, to your Photoshop files.
Use the Lightroom Develop Module to non-destructively add finishing adjustments, like sharpening, to your Photoshop files.

If you plan on sending images to Photoshop from Lightroom, I advocate disabling all sharpness settings in the detail panel. Why? Because you don’t want to enhance any sharpening halos in Photoshop. Images sent to Photoshop are rendered as pixel images, and any adjustments you make in Lightroom will be permanently baked into the Photoshop file. The other reason not to sharpen up-front is that you can use Lightroom as a non-destructive finishing editor on your PSD/TIFF files! Once you save the image in Photoshop, it will return to Lightroom, where you can use the Detail panel to sharpen non-destructively as a finishing step. In fact, you can use ANY tool in the Lightroom Develop Module to “polish” a PSD or TIFF file non-destructively.

Online Training Dec 10th: Photoshop Techniques Every Lightroom User Needs to Know

11am-2pm US Mountain Time (1-4pm Eastern)
Online via GoToMeeting

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