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In the world of post-production photography (aka photo editing) there’s one name that rules supreme: Adobe. There isn’t a professional photographer in all the land who doesn’t use this company’s suite of editing software. From portrait, sports, to landscape specialists and everyone in between, Adobe is their not-so-secret weapon of choice. 

But, which of Adobe’s many programs should you choose to use? As a beginner, should you be getting hands on with Photoshop Elements, Photoshop CC, Lightroom Classic, or Lightroom CC? 

For many, even this very first move on the journey toward picture perfection can seem confusing, if not completely off-putting.

To help you make the decision, I’ve detailed Adobe’s popular photo editing programs from the most complex powerhouse down to the intuitive beginner’s haven that puts plenty of power into the fingertips of even the novice.

Photoshop CC: For image editing artists

Photoshop CC is the grandparent of image editing software. It came out in 1987 and was the first photo editing software there ever was (after the physical darkroom) and had been crafted to do everything an image editing specialist could ever dream of doing. Since then, Photoshop CC has been developed into a multifunctional beast, one of such complexity that many professionals who use it on a daily basis don’t even know what all that the controls can achieve.

Photoshop Elements: For less complexity

Elements is the watered-down version of Photoshop. It was developed to give users a simpler interface but at the cost of some functionality. With this program, you lose some options such as advanced color management, advanced text formatting, and pen tools, to name a few. That being said, for many of the world’s image editing artists, Elements comes equipped with more than enough tools.

Lightroom Classic: The professional photographers’ choice

The two Lightroom programs, Classic and CC, were developed specifically for photographers. Classic comes complete with all the tools a professional photographer could ever want to help with uploading, editing, and storing their work. Which means this program can strike an ideal balance between simplicity to use and wide-ranging tools. If you want to make the leap from amateur to professional, Lightroom Classic is the way to go.

Lightroom CC: For the novice photographer on-the-go

For those who are taking a first venture into the world of Adobe editing programs, Lightroom CC is the most intuitive, streamlined, and intelligent editing option out there. It’s designed to work equally well on desktop, app, and web. Plus, best of all, the iOS/Android versions are free to use. 

In both Lightroom Classic and CC, you can enhance the color of your photos, boost highlights, eliminate shadows, stitch together huge panoramas, and even create High Dynamic Range images (HDR).

In short, Photoshop CC and Elements are for people looking to delve into the world of image editing and manipulation, while Lightroom Classic and CC are the programs of choice for professional photographers to perform everyday edits.