Bridge Or Lightroom: Which One Should I Use?

I recently had a discussion with a photographer who bristled when I neglected to consider Adobe Bridge in a discussion about useful digital imaging tools. For each point I made about Adobe Lightroom, the photographer countered with a reason why Bridge was just as good if not better. It served as a reminder for me that while Adobe certainly emphasizes Lightroom as one of its two primary photo-specific applications, there’s a lot to love about Bridge. So, in an effort to paint a fuller picture of the most useful applications for photographers, here’s a look at whether you should use Bridge or Lightroom, how they’re similar and where they differ.

Access To The Applications

Lightroom is a standalone product with versions available for the desktop and mobile devices. (For the purposes of this discussion, I’m focusing on the traditional version of the application for the desktop, known as Lightroom Classic.) Lightroom can be licensed from Adobe for as little as $10 per month—accompanied by either 1 TB of cloud storage or in conjunction with 20 GB of storage and a license of Adobe Photoshop as well. Either way, while some photographers bristle at the subscription model of licensing, $10 per month strikes me as quite reasonable for access to the pinnacle of world-class image editing.

These licensing plans mean photographers can get both Lightroom and Photoshop together but also offer the option to get just Lightroom for the select few who may not be interested in Photoshop. Bridge, on the other hand, is a standalone and totally free digital asset management application. Adobe requires users to log in to use it, but downloading and using Bridge is free of charge. And technically, it doesn’t require users to work with other Adobe apps.

File Handling And Accessibility

Lightroom creates a catalog file to store image metadata and editing information. Some users incorrectly believe the catalog file itself contains all of their image files, but it doesn’t. What the catalog does contain is ancillary data about a given image file. That means the image files themselves—the JPEGs, TIFFs and RAW files you’ve imported—live unblemished wherever you’ve downloaded them on your hard drive, but any edits you may make to those image files via Lightroom aren’t directly applied to the original files. All of the Lightroom adjustments to color, contrast and sharpness made in the Develop module are saved as data in the catalog and only applied to the image files when they’re viewed in Lightroom, opened up in Photoshop from Lightroom or exported as new image files.

In fact, such edits to exposure, color, sharpness and more can all be made within the confines of Lightroom. This is a major difference between it and Bridge because the latter really isn’t intended as an editing application. Bridge is designed first and foremost for sorting and organization. It’s fundamentally a file management app.

Unlike Lightroom, which is designed specifically for photographers and has limits to the types of files it can accommodate, Bridge is built for anyone who works with a variety of digital assets—from JPEG and TIFF image files, of course, to PDFs and vector illustrations, video files, animations, audio files, documents and more. Bridge is meant to be useful to a wide audience of creators, including graphic designers and animators who may work with a broad variety of file types, as well as a number of different Adobe applications including InDesign, Illustrator, Acrobat and more. Bridge isn’t an image editor, it’s a file manager.


Where They Overlap

If you’re looking for an application to help you view, sort, organize, label, keyword and generally browse your image files, both Bridge and Lightroom are well suited to the task. One fundamental difference here is that image files must first be imported (or, looked at another way, indexed) by Lightroom before the application can be used for the aforementioned organizational tasks. Bridge, on the other hand, can be effectively aimed at any folder on any drive containing any files, and the app will allow you to view, sort and label the media files inside.

Another thing that both applications do well is synchronizing with Adobe’s flagship image-editing application, Photoshop. In Lightroom, sending an image file to Photoshop is as simple as clicking Command+E or choosing Edit Image in Photoshop from the Photo dropdown menu. In Bridge, not only can you open up RAW image files via Adobe Camera Raw or send them to Photoshop for the same, you can also send other media assets such as vector files, videos and animations directly to Adobe applications including InDesign, Illustrator, AfterEffects and Premiere.

Bridge Vs. Lightroom: How They Differ

Most fundamentally, Bridge and Lightroom differ in their ability to edit and manipulate the content of digital image files. Bridge doesn’t have this capability inherently (though you could argue its integration with Adobe Camera Raw, which can open files the exact same way via Bridge or Photoshop) and instead generally relies on opening image files in other applications when it’s time for editing.

Lightroom does offer image editing capabilities—most notably, non-destructive editing via the aforementioned approach that doesn’t apply edits directly to original image files. Better still, Lightroom is specifically designed to make RAW image processing easy. Because photographers familiar with JPEG image files might have a steep learning curve when they begin to capture and edit RAW image files, one major benefit of Lightroom is that it makes such RAW file edits easy and intuitive in a single application. By switching from Lightroom’s Library module to its Develop module, the app essentially converts from image management to image editing and allows for lots of adjustments to be made without ever needing to send an image file to Photoshop.

Conversely, if you’d prefer to leave your image editing to the grandaddy application of them all (Photoshop), you can rely on Bridge to make sorting and organizing of digital image files easy and intuitive, without all of the bells and whistles that for some photographers might make their workflow feel too cumbersome.

In the end, if you’re planning on building a growing database of image files and you’re looking for a system for both organizing and editing those files, Lightroom is a sensible choice. However, if you’re faced with a large group of existing image files or other digital assets already in place, or if you’ve already got a preferred workflow for downloading and cataloging image files, Bridge is a great choice to quickly and easily browse digital image files without the need to import or modify them.

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