A while back Adobe made the decision to go subscription on most of their products. So, where in the past you could purchase Photoshop or Lightroom, now you have to pay a monthly fee to use the programs. If you stop paying the fee then the programs stop working. The programs check in periodically with Adobe over the Internet to make sure you have a paid up subscription.
Lightroom the great organizer
So what is Lightroom exactly? Well where Photoshop is a powerhouse in photo editing, it is really poor in photo organization. It also does not do well for batch editing of large numbers of photos. It is primarily meant for people that are dealing with smaller numbers of photos. Lightroom is built to handle large numbers of photos from a single shoot, and for organizing images really well. It will also allow you to handle batch edits on photos. So, let's say you have like 20 images that are all underexposed by a full stop, you can select all 20 and increase exposure on all of them at the same time. Lightroom also has a number of other editing tools, although it is only a fraction of what Photoshop has. Think of the Lightroom editing as Adobe Camera RAW on steroids.
The other thing with Lightroom is that all the edits are non-destructive. What that means is that as you edit photos the changes are not actually applied to the photo, but are stored as a list of edits to be applied when you export the photo. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this.
One of the advantages is that you can make multiple virtual copies of a photo and apply different styles of edits to each one. You can crop each different. You can use different presets on the images. And you still only have one file on the hard drive. So you save a lot of space.
You can also go back to the original without any issues. It is a simple menu option to revert to the original. Or you can simply backtrack through your edits to an earlier point, even if you have saved the edits days, or even weeks before.
You can also easily export the image in a number of different file sizes. I have export presets for web sized images, print sized images, and some other sizes for different uses. In Photoshop you would have to make multiple copies of the image and resize each image by hand, and it is more labor than the export feature of Lightroom.
There are also a very large number of presets for Lightroom, both free and to purchase. So you can streamline your editing a lot. For the person that does not want to spend a lot of time at the computer this can be a life saver.
One major drawback to this though is that the edits are simply Lightroom commands. So if you stop paying for the program and have not exported the image with your edits then all your edits are gone. You either have to re-subscribe, or you have to do your edits all over in a different program. And since the commands are Lightroom edits you cannot simply jump over to another program to keep going.
It is possible to work back and forth between Lightroom and say Photoshop. What Lightroom does at that point is to export a version of the image as like a PSD file and embeds your Lightroom edits, and then the image opens up in Photoshop for you to work on. It takes a bit to get used to the workflow for moving between programs. So you need to learn Lightroom's idiosyncrasies for sure. For most people the advantages of Lightroom definitely outweigh the disadvantages though.
You don't have the advantage of the vast amount of presets that you can get for Lightroom. So you are sort of on your own to create your own presets. But you can definitely do that. There are also some plugins for Aftershot Pro that you can get too.
If you want free then there are two open source selections available. These are Raw Therapee and Darktable. Some would argue these might not be quite as good as Lightroom, but they are pretty darn close. And with a little time they will just keep getting better.
Elementary My Dear Watson....
Along with being a great editor, there is a large and growing community supporting Elements. You can find a lot of plug ins for the program to do a lot of different editing tasks. So you can easily get a photo to look just right easily. Plug-ins are awesome tools to streamline editing, so make sure you look for them. I will do some reviews of Elements plug-ins in the future.
You can also get Photoshop Elements bundled with Premiere Elements so that you have both a photo editor AND a video editor. Premiere Elements is an incredibly powerful video editing program. Also, when you get the bundle, if you create a photo slide show (Windows version only) you can then make a DVD right from within Elements. Photoshop Elements will use the DVD creation tools in Premiere Elements.
But wait... there's more!!!!
Another for Windows is Corel Paintshop Pro. This program is again similar to Photoshop Elements in capabilities. Paintshop Pro can actually use Photoshop plug-ins. It has layers and other advanced features for advanced editing. I know a number of people that use and love it. But it does have some interesting quirks according to them. It is definitely worth downloading a trial and checking it out. It is a Windows only product though, so if you use Mac you will need to look elsewhere. Price is the same as Elements.
On the Mac you can look at Pixelmator. This is a program that a fair number of Mac users love. The interface is clean and Mac-like. There is quite a bit of power in the program. It supports layers like Photoshop Elements and Paintshop Pro. This gives you a lot of editing power. It is also the cheapest of the commercially available solutions.
The final one is GIMP. This is an open source program that is their answer to Photoshop. In a lot of ways it is just as powerful as full Photoshop. There is a lot to love about GIMP beyond the fact that it is free. On the negative side the interface is a bit awkward and cumbersome. It does not support adjustment layers (this is a huge loss compared to Photoshop). And some of the tools are a bit clumsy to use. But if you want a lot of editing power and don't have or want to spend the money on Photoshop Creative Cloud then this very well might be your solution.