This post is going to be a bit techie.  OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you up front.

I was surfing the Web recently and ran across a blog post by a well know photographer who does not use Lightroom.  One major point made in the post was the question of why would anyone use Lightroom at all (aside from its cataloging feature) since Lightroom shows percentages for R, G, and B values,  Yes, mouse over an image in Lightroom’s Develop module and the readout is indeed in percentages.  Other RAW file converters show numerical values of 0 to 255 for each of the color channels.  Doesn’t this make using one of those converters better than working with Lightroom?

Most RAW conversion software makes you select a color space.  For example, let’s consider Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  ACR is a separate program, accessible from Photoshop or from Bridge (which you now have to download from Adobe, rather than it being automatically included with Photoshop).  Bridge is a browser, the same as Window’s Explorer or Mac’s Finder, while Photoshop is a pixel editor.  ACR is a separate in-between software program.  When you open a RAW file in ACR, it needs a color space to use.   In simplistic terms, a color space is a group of colors out of all possible colors.  Remember when you were a kid and your parents bought you a box of crayons?  There were different boxes available, holding just 8 crayons up to 64 crayons.  Yep, more crayons, more possible colors.  No matter how you worked with the 8 crayons, you could never have the possible options and mixtures that the big 64 crayon box held.  It had a larger color space.  The basic digital color spaces are sRGB, Adobe RGB, and ProPhoto RGB.  Think of these as small, medium, and large.  Open an image in ACR, and immediately below the image window is a clickable link:

Note that the default is sRGB, the “small” color space.  Click on this link, and Workflow Options opens where you can select the color space and bit depth you want.

Whatever you select, make this your RGB working space over in Photoshop’s Color Settings (you might notice that the default in Photoshop is also sRGB).  Personally I use ProPhoto RGB in both ACR and Photoshop.

OK, so we finally get to where Lightroom differs from other converters.  You ever notice that Lightroom does not offer a choice of color spaces?  Internally it uses a variety of ProPhoto RGB.   But Lightroom differs from those other converters because it is a parametric editor.  OK, so what’s that?  In simple terms, it sums up processing instructions, which are not applied to an image until that image is either converted or exported through that instruction set into an actual editable file format.  Open an image from Lightroom into Photoshop, and it is no longer a RAW file.  A file in Photoshop can’t be saved out as a RAW file, but only in a standard graphics file format.

Well, at last we’re back to the question about those R,G, and B percentages.  Because Lightroom does not assign a color space, it cannot show numerical RGB values, since those numerical values depend on the color space in use.  Open a RAW image into some other converter besides Lightroom, mouse over the image, and read the RGB values for any one spot.  Now switch to a different color space.  The RGB readouts for that same spot will be different.  You have to specify a color space to talk about RGB numerical values.  Do I really care about this one way or the other?  No, not at all.  Photography is a visual art, not a bunch of numbers.  Use a quality calibrated monitor, look at the image, and adjust to taste.

In that same blog post I mentioned it was implied that not using Photoshop was a big mistake.  Well, I partially agree.  Photoshop does allow workflow options, such as layer masking and luminosity selections, that no RAW file converter currently allows.  But wait, this is not an either/or question.  It’s not a choice of Lightroom or Photoshop no more than it is of DPP or Photoshop, or of Nikon Capture or Photoshop.  Personally I find Lightroom’s user interface incredibly easy to use, plus I use the database feature to catalog all my image files.  But I also want Photoshop for fine-tuning images.  For me it’s a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop (and a calibrated monitor).


  1. Myer Bornstein August 11, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    Right on There are so many ways of PP I use LR then PS However the Blog writer you mentioned is very opinionated His way or the highway

  2. George Theodore August 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    There might be reasons why one would choose not to use Lightroom but showing percentages instead of numbers would be at the bottom of the list if on the list at all.

  3. Dennis Kowalewski August 13, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    I agree with Mr. Bernstein that there are many ways of PP. I use LR6 in combination with NIK software. I have not gone down the Adobe CC path and paying monthly fees because I feel LR6 and NIK do everything I want. I’ve also heard someone touting that you don’t need NIK and that you can do it all in LR. Maybe you can but if I have PP software that is user friendly and can do what I want quickly, I’m game. I like the NIK filters and what they do so quickly. As you said John, photography is visual art. Who cares what path you took to get to your vision of the subject you photographed.

  4. Jay Gosdin August 14, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

    What I have found, and it once was true with me, is that the Lightroom haters have not given Lightroom a chance. It took me years to finally try it. Now I’m hooked, but glad I have the PS skills too.

  5. Arthur Morris August 27, 2015 at 7:05 am #

    Hi John,

    Hope that you are well. Your wrote above, ”

    One major point made in the post was the question of why would anyone use Lightroom at all (aside from its cataloging feature) since Lightroom shows percentages for R, G, and B values.

    The RGB vs % issue is NOT at all on my list of reasons that I do not use LR.

    While I do not understand why folks use LR (aside from the great key-wording and cataloguing features), my post on the RGB values vs percentages was intended to help LR folks and also as a learning experience for me. The title of the post was “More Lightroom Insanity; Can You Help?.”

    That is in fact exactly what happened in the follow-up post: “Lightroom Bashing? Lightroom Highlight Percentage Values vs RGB Values: Lessons Learned and Summary.”

    The blog post of AUG 27, “Tim Grey’s Take on Lightroom RGB Values and On My RGB Value Recommendations. And My Response…” continues the discussion.

    Thanks John BTW for allowing comments.

    While I have learned a ton about LR and the percentage values there is one thing that I still do not understand: if LR does not normally show the RGB values because they are based on the profile being used, how are the % values any different? In other words, what are the % values based on?

    And thanks to Myer Bornstein for the pot-shot. I freely admit to being opinionated by I am not at all a “my way or the highway person.” Many of my best friends use both LR and Nikon gear. Again, the point of the post that John mentioned was to HELP Lightroom folks.

    later and love, artie

    Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

  6. Arthur Morris August 27, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    ps: Forgot to thank Myer for the capital H in His.