Lightroom 5 Is The Only Post Processing Software Real Estate Photographers Need

February 11th, 2014

CloningHealingI’ve been updating my e-book, Photography For Real Estate recently so I’ve been thinking about how post processing has evolved over the last few years and what specific tools to recommend to beginning real estate photographers.

My conclusion is: Lightroom 5 is the only post processing software real estate photographers need.

Here’s why:

  1. Lightroom 5 is now best in class for everything that real estate photographers need to do. Aperture and the other similar options aren’t even in the running anymore.
  2. You can get to the same place with just Photoshop CC or some of the older versions of Photoshop, but Photoshop CC in the long run is way more expensive and just not essential for real estate photography.
  3. You can also get to the same place with Photoshop Elements but, Photoshop Elements is a toy compared to Lightroom 5. The interface in Elements is just too awkward and slow for professional use.

I know what you are thinking…

  • What about layers for window masking and sky replacement? Lightroom 5 doesn’t have layers but we are much closer to living without layers as several readers have pointed out to me in comments and e-mail responding to my post a few days ago about window masking. The Highlights and Shadows sliders are very powerful on RAW files and reduce the number of situations where you need layering. However, as Aaron points out below to get that convincing windows you need to use flash or layers in Photoshop.
  • What about cloning out objects? Watch the above tutorial by Laura Shoe It shows that the cloning/healing features in Lightroom 5 are quite good. Granted, they are not as good as content aware fill in Photoshop CC but I think they are good enough for real estate work. Besides, you need to restrain yourself from massive modification of real estate images.
  • What about HDR/EF post processing software? You need that don’t you? HDR, Exposure Fusion and blending are being obsoleted by the rapid advance in the quality of RAW images from modern sensors and the improvements in software that processes RAW images. This development started in Lightroom 4 and Adobe Camera RAW version 7.0 and continues in Lightroom 5. Scott Hargis has a great six page example of this at the end of his new Post-Processing chapter in the second edition of Lighting Interiors and it doesn’t involve using any flash at all. If you have Lighting Interiors, it starts on page 211.

Yeah, there are a handful of things you may not be able to do with Lightroom 5 but they are small and insignificant in the overall scheme of real estate photography. Many of us do things in Photoshop just because that’s the way we’ve always done them and there may still be a handful of real estate photography things you can’t do in Lightroom 5 but they are not significant and not essential. If you are starting out in real estate photography go with Lightroom 5!

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20 Responses to “Lightroom 5 Is The Only Post Processing Software Real Estate Photographers Need”

  • After re-reading Scott’s updated edition of his Lighting Interiors book I was finally convinced to switch from exposure fusion to shooting RAW and doing my basic processing in Lightroom 5. Lightroom 5 has some remarkable abilities to process RAW files so that the number of times that I layer in window shots has dropped dramatically. Having said that, I still prefer some of the tools in my old Photoshop CS3 so I still am editing some of my shoots in Photoshop after my basic adjustments in Lightroom. It may be my lack of experience in Lightroom but I still prefer Photoshop’s curve adjustments, shadow slider and cloning in addition to layering. I’ll be sure to check out Laura Shoe’s tutorial for the tips on cloning in Lightroom.

  • @Gary – I admit that I feel the same way about many Photoshop features… I have to force myself to learn many of the LR alternatives. I’ve been using photoshop since 1995 and it’s hard to change.

  • Have you used GIMP or RAW Darktable? I use them as free alternatives to Photoshop and Lightroom. Granted, they are free software, so they do not offer as many features, but they certainly can accomplish what I need them to do.

  • Making the switch to LR(5) was one of the best business decisions I’ve made. Saves me hours, literally, when editing weddings, and has cut my editing time almost in half when doing RE work. I rarely use photoshop anymore. In fact, when I bought my new computer last month I found Adobe was giving away for free (yes, free!) complete downloads of Photoshop CS2. Works for me!

  • I have to agree as to Lightroom 5 being all that a real estate photographer needs to edit thier images. One thing I have added to that as a plugin is Perfect Effects 8. This plugin can be used as a stand alone or as a plugin. I use this for cloning and healing. This program has a lot of great features. You can buy it as individual modules or as a complete package. They have Webinars all the time to help teach you how to use the various modules.

  • I think if you have photoshop, the only thing you need is an add on called Topaz Adjust…. Simple and anyone can you it to quickly to sharpen your pics. Worth a look!! If you are on this site, photoshop and Lightroom are awesome. and required. If you are advanced, you use them both. If you were to pick just one, maybe Lightroom 5 gets the nod. MAYBE.
    ~Will

  • I largely agree withe the writer of the original article. I was doing fusion for a while but finally stopped when I discovered it wasn’t worth the effort. I can bring out shadowy areas and darken light areas with the brush in LR and then tweak the levels in the whole photo with good results. I use PS Elements to replace white skies or blown out windows and for panoramas. I also used PE 10 for perspective modification but LR5 does it so much better now with its enhanced staightenig tools. I recently subscribed to CC with Adobe which gave me LR5 (I had used LR4) but I’m thinking of opting out ( which you can do in the first 30 days) and just buying the upgrade to LR5. As far as I can tell so far PS CC offers no real utility for me tht isn’t in Elements.

  • I am currently using LR 4. Is there a big difference in the straightening tools in LR5?

  • @dorinda – a good place to see the differences between LR 4 and LR 5 is at: http://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/help/whats-new.html

    Yes, the upright – automatic perspective correction is significant. Also, the features that Laura Shoe demonstrates in the tutorial above are new in LR5. I think these two feature alone make it worth the update between LR4 and LR5

  • I have used Lightroom only for 95% of my work now. Like a lot of us, I used to automatically shoot bracketed exposures, bring them into photomatix, and then straighten the verticals. I will still use flash if the room needs a little more light, and I do enjoy the look of combining brackets and flash exposures. However, I have been spending less and less time outside of LR. I get through my edits 10x faster, and only going into PS when I need to Puppet Warp or replace the sky, or Photomatix if I have a really bad lighting situation that a flash couldn’t help.

  • Have been using acdsee pro and is fast and works great

  • I have to echo what Mike said. I rarely use PS any more for any of my work- RE, weddings, portraiture and landscapes. Take a day or two to get comfortable with it and your post time just might decrease by 50%. Mine did.

  • “The Highlights and Shadows sliders are very powerful on RAW files and virtually eliminate the need for window masking and sky replacement we used to use to solve the same problems.”

    Disagree with this one. In my experience there are very few situations where you can keep an interior properly exposed and pull a convincing window view from a single ambient exposure adjusted in Lightroom. At the very least you’ll need to process out the single file in Photoshop as two layers. Even then – it’s a somewhat tedious process considering the usually sub-par results. Even in this day and age you still need Flash or Photoshop – pick your poison!

  • Hi Aaron- Well perhaps I exaggerated a bit on this point… What I should have said probably is that since LR4 the Highlights and Shadows sliders are so much better than they used to be there are fewer times I’m willing to put the time into layering. You’re right, to get windows really well done you need flash or photoshop layering. I’ll change the wording on that point. Thanks for point that out!

  • Larry, I agree that LR5 is a welcomed upgrade from LR4 and worth every penny for the new capabilities in the Lens Correction panel alone and being able to “paint” with the Healing Brush. As for post processing, I still find CS5 a valuable tool to give the photographs a “finished” look. And prefer the look of Nik now the Google Suite of PlugIns … Sharper Pro 3 and Color Efex Pro 4 for color tweaks. And still use the Edit -> Transform -> Skew function to get architectural lines parallel that I could tweak perfectly in LR5. P.S. Thanks for having a great blog and useful information for us real estate photographers.

  • I would echo exactly what Marc said above. That’s the same mix I use with the addition of DxO Viewport for the few images LR5 cannot correct for distortion etc. Otherwise, 99.9% can be accomplished in LR5 with the added benefit of having a photo management system!

  • Disagree with LR5 being a standalone for RE processing. You absolutely need photoshop for layering/masking in window and sky replacement. Granted LR5 is an amazing tool. In fact it’s all I use for wedding and family photos. But NOT for real estate.

  • I switched to Lightroom 5 and I must say that besides switching to elements for those tricky wall straightening jobs. Lightroom 5 offers through the brush – Some serious window treatment jobs. I can expose my room a little more now and with a quick zip of the brush – get my overexposed windows looking normal again. Forget bracketing ! I can manage the exposures on my own now.

    And I’m experimenting with doing some HDR like shots using just lightroom5. Very promising!

  • I thought I would add something about Lightroom 5 that others may not know. If you are switching or currently using LR5 you should make sure you are upgraded to the current version. When downsizing the images to the MLS compliant sizes such as 640 x 480 your edits may not be exporting as you intended. The issue I was having was with the luminosity slider/noise reduction in my images. The low resolution images were not as clean as they were before exporting. The high res photos are fine but anything reduced more than 1/3 were not including my adjustments as I expected. After updating to LR5.3 I have had no issues with adjustments not being included in the smaller images. Hope this helps!

  • I agree with Aaron. Also, I would say that, even if you are proficient with using supplementary lighting for real estate photography, there are still going to be times when the retouching capabilities of Photoshop, which far exceed those of Lightroom, will be very useful for maintaining a consistent quality level, not to mention accommodating specific client requests for retouching. If you look on the Flickr PFRE forum, you will find that a significant number of the discussions involve retouching that only Photoshop (or maybe Gimp, or something like it) can do. The amount of discussions about replacing or enhancing skies alone is significant, and that kind of technical issue is beyond the means of supplementary lighting or Lightroom to deal with. So, while you can get by with only Lightroom for PFRE at a basic level, I think you really need Photoshop if you are going offer a relatively mainstream service.

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