Post and Photo by Dave Cross – Follow Dave on Twitter

You’ll hear a lot of folks (including me) recommending that you work in Photoshop using “non-destructive” methods. But what exactly does that mean and why should you consider working this way? I think the most important – and often overlooked – reason is…it’s easier!

When someone says work non-destructively, that generally means to use methods that are more flexible; that do not “harm” any pixels. An example would be using a Curves adjustment layer instead of accessing Curves from the Image>Adjust menu, or using a Layer Mask rather than erasing pixels. The main reason given for using these methods is that they are more flexible should you (or your client) change your mind. This alone is a good reason for using non-destructive methods: the option to easily make ongoing changes to an image rather than starting over again. As soon as you “throw away” pixel information, it’s going to be very hard to change your mind and you’ll often have to start over and redo work you’ve already done.

Some people don’t worry about using non-destructive techniques because they feel like they are not going to change anything. My question is, how do you know? You may not think you’ll need to tweak the results but what if your client comes back and asks you to “just change one little thing”? Well, that one little thing to them could mean a ton of work for you. So my feeling is, there’s no harm in working non-destructively, just in case. At worst, your file size will get a little bigger and you’ll end up with a layered PSD file and a flattened jpeg version. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with that…just in case.

But there’s another advantage that I think many people miss: working non-destructively can help you work more quickly and more accurately – it’s easier. Here’s an example. Imagine you’re trying to make a selection to adjust the lighting of part of an image but because of the original image it’s really hard to see the edges of what you’re trying to select. So, add an Levels or Curves adjustment layer, make an over-adjustment so you can see what you’re trying to select, and once you’ve made the selection, throw away the adjustment layer. Quick and easy, and more accurate.

There are a ton of ways that you can take advantage of non-destructive techniques to help you do things like make adjustments, paint with light, make a selection or mask, create an album layout, etc. I’m suggesting that you consider working non-destructively not just to be able to make ongoing changes but because it really can make your (Photoshop) life easier!


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  1. […] directly with pixels in Photoshop could degrade your image quality? Find out how to avoid that with non-destructive Photoshop techniques om Photofocus.What sets a photographer apart from an ordinary person on the street? Read more about […]

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