I've been working with LR for a number of years and am teaching it as a course twice a year at a local college. I also wrote the Lightroom Visual Guide available online
. Needless to say, I'm an advocate of doing as much as possible from using LR's 16-bit pipeline which means about 95% of my nature and outdoor images never see PS. I work from input through cataloguing, developing and process sharpening right through to finished fine art prints only in LR. Am I hand-cuffing myself to only one app - no way. I used PS for even longer than LR and PS still has its place, but is no longer required for most of my work.
However, I still prefer PS "Transform" for perspective correction (buildings, etc.). Even though LR has Lens Corrections, I don't like separate Vertical and Horizontal changes when in Transform I can do them both at once. As well, in PS I can extend the Canvas so as not "lose" parts that may end up off-canvas due to Transform. PS is also helpful for more significant Clone Stamping and Healing. The only other processing plugin I use is Photomatix Pro
for HDR work.
So far, I have not needed PS (or any other plugin) for sharpening or for B&W. I don't think I'm blind to their potential, I'd rather keep pushing LR's envelope until it can;t do what I need it to. Many photographers are also using PS to create Layer masks for "burning and dodging" and selective sharpening which I have also completely migrated from PS to LR for. Each time I use a graduated mask or an adjustment brush (including for selective sharpening), it's like adding a layer that can be manipulated (erased, added to, etc.) ad infinitum
. That being said, I am very much a "straight" photographer and do not, for e.g. drop in skies or so massive healing. Nor do I work for an agency or studio that may have requirements beyond LR capabilities.
Having virtual copies and non-destructive cropping are two of LR's greatest strengths along with its Print module which allows me to prepare a photograph once and print to many sizes without having to resize each time. As well, with printing templates, I can now print high quality fine art prints at the push of a button - LR takes care of the automation by storing all the necessary options (printer settings, paper profile, sharpening, margins, etc.) for each print as a Template.
One question, though: I'm not sure what you mean by:
It seems to me I could probably get away with using Lightroom for the major tonal changes in 16bit, then open in Elements, if necessary, convert to 8 bit and finish it off.
Whether "finishing it off"means fine prints to any size or outputting jpegs, LR is still the way to go. Team up LR's "Export" with Tim Armes' LR/Mogrify 2 (the Photographers Toolbox
) and you have a beautiful way to present images. And with Jeffrey Friedl's "Export to Flickr
" plugin (amongst many others) you have photo site uploads taken care of too. If web output to your own site is important and LR doesn't do what you want, consider solutions from The Turning Gate
and the Photographers Toolbox
that integrate beautifully with LR's Web module.
Is LR perfect? No, not at all, but for 75% of what I do, it exceeds my requirements and for another 20% of my work it meets my expectations. Depending on the photography you do, it might just be as helpful for you, too.