How To Work Non-Destructively
Before we start getting into the very specifics about starting from square one of like, opening files and things like that, which we will talk about shortly, I wanna touch a little more on this working non-destructively kind of idea, because this, of any concept in Photoshop, I think will serve you well. Because, as we talked about last segment, there's always multiple ways to do something in Photoshop. But some of those ways are pretty permanent. What I would call destructive. 'Cause you're actually, every photo we're working with is ultimately made up of those little square pixels, and if we're changing the pixels in a way that you can't un-change it, then that's destructive to me. So, you always have choices. And, almost every situation, in fact, I can't think of too many, if any, where someone has said, "I was trying to do X, and I couldn't figure out a way to do it without damaging my photograph." Then, to me that just suggests that they were missing a piece of information that wo...
uld be important to know. So, I wanna show you some examples of what I mean. And again, we're gonna get into more detail later of what I am actually doing, I just wanna kinda show you the thought process of when you are about to undertake some step in Photoshop, to consider as much as possible thinking of ways that will give you the chance of re-editing, changing your mind, et cetera. So, most people when they hear, even long-time Photoshop users will hear someone say, "I like to work non-destructively." For many years, that meant I need the ability to change my mind. Which suggested if I made a mistake, I wanna be able to undo that mistake. Which, to me, is one small part of working non-destructively. I also found that for me, it helps me work more efficiently because I don't have to worry about let me, y'know, for example, sometimes I wanna experiment, so I wanna do a series of operations. Photoshop by nature is a very linear program. Meaning, you do step one, step two, step three. And once you're finished, those steps are pretty permanent. If you do decide to change your mind, you can undo or step backwards three, two, one. But what if you want to take out step two and keep one and three? Well, you can't. That's just the way Photoshop works. You do things in an order and then can undo in that same order. That's destructive working. That's just the way it works. However, there are methods in Photoshop where if you set it up the right way using these non-destructive methods, that means you can go down a path of experimenting, do ten steps and then realize, back at step two I wish I hadn't done that, and still have the ability to in effect remove that step and have it kind of trickle down through and readjust everything for you. Which, to me, is a much more interesting choice. 'Cause if I'm trying to do something creative and experiment, I don't want my experiment to be hindered by me going, "Oh, I can't do that, because if I do that, I'm stuck." I never want to have that feeling of, "Oh well, I guess I'll have to live with that." 'Cause you shouldn't have to. It's the same thing as when people, I had a student just recently say, "I was working on something," and to use that simile, "I felt like I had painted myself into a corner. That I kinda was stuck and couldn't get out." I'm like, well, then that suggests to me that there was probably an alternate method that you could've achieved the same end result but still had all these advantages of doing things in a more non-destructive way. So, let me show you a couple examples of what I mean by that. And, I'll also say, and this is what makes it challenging, is that because Adobe doesn't remove functions anymore, some of the most obvious commands that people see are unfortunately, by nature, destructive. And some of the best options that are non-destructive, are not obvious. So, you have to kinda know this is where you need to go and look. And that's my job, is to show you where those things are. Because by nature, if you just went down the first menu you saw, you'd be like, "Oh, I'll use this." Because it's right there. Because it's not called here's the non-destructive menu, here's the destructive menu, they're just operations. So, for example, if I wanted to adjust this photograph, and here's the challenge that we face as new users. I look under this menu called Image, and I see, oh look, here's some adjustments. So let me go to this one called Levels 'cause I've heard that's a good one to use. And I'm showing you by the way, first the not-so-good way to do it. Just so you see the difference. So, if I go to Levels, and if you noticed, Levels actually had a keyboard shortcut which is suggesting that it's a good function to use, 'cause why would they put a keyboard shortcut if it wasn't useful? Well. (laughs) So, I'm gonna overexaggerate to make a point, 'cause I wouldn't normally do this quite so dramatically, but I want you to see what I'm doing here. So, I start experimenting in this dialog box and I move this slider and go, I really wanna brighten this photograph up really dramatically, like, yeah, that looks great. And then I click OK. And if you look really closely, you'll see all I have there is a photograph lowest that and the background layer, which is the information, has actually been altered. So, if I were to now close and save this, this would be my new photograph from now on. So, the next time I opened it, I can't just go, "Oops, I don't like that." It's too late. I've actually altered the individual pixels in this photograph so that's it's new version. And unless you happen to have another copy of this same photograph as a backup file, that can be a pretty permanent mistake. Now, hopefully, no-one would make quite as dramatic an over-adjustment, I did that to kind of make a point, unless you were staring into the beautiful Seattle sun for five minutes and then decided to adjust your photograph, maybe you'd end up with that. But here's the problem that people run into is they experiment, they make some adjustment like this using that command. So then they think, a few steps later, "You know what, I'm just gonna change it back." So they go back to the same thing called Levels. Unfortunately, this is not a start-again function, this is picking up where you left off. So, now it lets me try to adjust what I've already adjusted, and I simply can't. And for people who've never seen this before, this little area, this chart at the middle, is called a histogram, which is like a measurement of all the bright and dark pixels, and without getting into technicalities, if you ever see a histogram that looks like this with a bunch of lines spread out like that, imagine right here above it it says, "Good luck." Because if you ever see that, that's telling you you've got nothing to work with. So, because I did this initial adjustment in such a destructive manner, it means that's now my endpoint and it's not easy to change. In this case, honestly I can, because I haven't saved it yet, so I can undo it and change my mind. But that's the danger of this type of style of adjustment is you gotta be pretty darn sure that's exactly what you want. And the challenge is, if anyone has ever printed a photograph, you'll know trying to make what you see on the screen match with what you print is very difficult. So, if you've made this adjustment like using this method and you print it and realize it's too dark or too light, it's gonna be very hard to do further adjustments 'cause you've already done it in a very permanent way. But here's the thing we have to think about this, I'm gonna go use this command called undo since I can, is that that very destructive command is right here in a very obvious menu and it even has a keyboard shortcut which suggests it's prompting you to use that. So, this is part of the challenge of this method of working is that because of the history of Photoshop where they keep adding more functionality, now they've added a function that lets you make this same adjustment in a much less-destructive way but it's not obvious. And unless you think about it and think, "Well, do I really wanna do that," I mean, there might be a situation, maybe, where you might open a photograph and know, yeah, I need to adjust those levels, click OK and save it, I'm done. If you can do that, awesome. Because most people, that's not the case, 'cause then a client or the family member says, "Can you just XYZ to this?" And you're like, ooh, I've already kind of done that. It's too late now. Okay, so there's almost always a choice. Unfortunately what makes it challenging, I'm gonna be frank with you, is it's not obvious sometimes where that choice is. So, especially when you see things, again, that have a keyboard shortcut, which is implying, we've given it a keyboard shortcut 'cause it's such a commonly used function, 'cause frankly, it used to be. Before there was an alternative. Now, I would use a different method. And there's a couple of ways of getting to it. I use this little menu at the bottom of the Layers panel. And we're gonna talk in more detail about this later on. These are called adjustment layers. And just to show you the difference. And again, don't worry, we're gonna go through how we actually use these, but to just show you the difference. Now I have the exact same looking chart or histogram I had before, but there's one very significant difference. When I drag those sliders over and make that same really bad adjustment, if you look really closely in this Levels dialog box that I'm in now, there's one very important thing that's not there. And it's an OK button. With this function, I don't ever actually click OK, I just leave it. And because it's an adjustment layer, it means that I haven't actually applied it yet. When I close it, 'cause I don't click OK, if you look really closely in the Layers panel you'll see, there's my original photograph and there's this new thing on top of it that's making it look that way but it's not permanent. Even if I save this file and come back two weeks later and go, "Woah, that was a bad choice." Now I can make the adjustment because I didn't do it in a permanent way. I did it in a flexible way, and that's what this adjustment layer does. And again, don't worry, we'll go into more detail. But now, you'll see when I reopen, remember the first time when I went back to Levels it was all spread out and looked terrible with all those, that histogram with big lines? Look at this one, it's just right where I left it. So, it's almost like this type of adjustment is in permanent preview mode. I'm never actually applying it. And for me, I would leave it this way all the time. Even if I'm 100% sure that's exactly the correct adjustment, rather than do it the other way and make it permanent, I would do it this way because, who knows if six months from now you look at the same photo and go, "Yeah, now that I look at it, I think I might wanna tweak it a bit, or I might wanna try this." And you can. Because you haven't done anything in any way that's permanent, okay? We'll talk a little bit later on about the strategy for saving your files, but I'll just foreshadow now that I always, and I'm not saying that to exaggerate, I always save a version that has all this non-destructive information for me, that's my working file, that's my master file, but I can't give that to my friend who wants to put it on Facebook, so I make a copy for them that's a JPEG. But then, if they later on say, "Oh, can you just change this one thing?" I go back to my copy where I can edit everything and then save a new version for them. So, we'll go through that in kind of a step-by-step basis, but that's kind of the idea is this Photoshop file is gonna be our everything. It's gonna be our master file, our working copy, whatever you wanna call it, where I preserve as much as I can, just in case. And you may find, and it's quite legitimate to say this, that nine out of ten photos you never go back and edit the content again. But, you can if you ever need to. I always tell this story as well, because it was, to me, the first and most telling situation where I wish I hadn't done something that I did in Photoshop. I'm involved in a singing organization, it's actually a barbershop harmony group. And we have this national magazine, and about 15 years ago, they asked me to do a cover for it, which was kinda cool. And they sent me all these photographs that I scanned in back in day where scanners were actually a thing that we used to digitize photos. And I created this collage where I blended all these photos. It was very time consuming. And back in those days, file size was a concern. Because the more information you had, your file got bigger and that was back in the day where hard drives were so small that we were always going, "Oh, that's a big file." So, I sent them the copy that I had made for them. And I said, "Is it okay?" And it's like, "Oh, it's great, fantastic." So, I said, "Now, do I need to keep my information? Will this ever change?" They're like, "No, no, no. Once we do a magazine cover, we never use it again. You'll never have to worry about it." And I was like, "Okay." So, against my better judgment, I was like, "So, I suppose I could throw away... I'll just make a copy, I'll just keep that JPEG." Which means no information, just sort of like a flat photograph. And about six months later, they called me and said, "Hey, it's never happened before, but that issue of the magazine was so popular, we need to reprint some more, and since we are, can you just make these couple of changes?" And I was like, "No?" "No, we just need you to make these." Well, I had to rebuild the whole thing, so I was looking at the cover going, "Okay, I think I put that one..." I mean, it was a nightmare because I had to try and replicate something I had no information anymore. I just had a flat document. I couldn't edit the flat one 'cause they wanted to take this guy and put him over here and y'know, things that, in their mind, was just flip those guys and make this a little bigger. It took me so long to try and remember what I did, first of all, 'cause it was six months ago, so I'm like, "I think I made this darker..." It was horrible. So, from that moment forward I thought if I have to go and buy an enormous hard drive just to save big files on, I will. Because it took me probably three times longer to recreate it than it did to create it the first time. Whereas today, I would've saved this layered enormous file. But then anything they ask me to do, I'd be like, "Yeah, sure." Open it, change, re-save. That's such an important strategy. But that only works if you've been non-destructive. A few years ago, I was traveling somewhere on a plane, and I was... Makes me laugh to think about it because the poor guy sitting next to me, I think he thought I was having a heart attack, because I kinda was. I was reading this Photoshop magazine and there was a tutorial in it, and it said Beginner's Tutorial, and it showed this nice little technique, so I'm reading, going, "Oh, it's kinda cool." The very last step, it said, now flatten everything and save it as a JPEG. And I was like, (gasps) how can you tell a beginner that? 'Cause I could imagine people going, "Oh, okay." And then they'd go to open it later on and go, "Where'd everything go?" It's a JPEG, everything's gone. And that article was actually advising people to do that. And I was just like... That to me is the worst advice possible because then they say, "Oh, well when I open it, How come I can't just go back and edit it?" Because you threw everything away. That's about as destructive as it can be. That to me is almost the worst case, is you've built this very nice editable file and then the last part you go, throw it all away. I mean, that just to me makes no sense whatsoever. So, everything we do here, we have a choice. In this case, instead of using that thing that's obvious under that menu that says Adjustments, I had to go find this thing that's still called Levels, it's the same command, it's just applied in a different way. And when we talk about making adjustments later, we'll go through kinda this step-by-step process, but just so you see the difference. You can see I think quite clearly that in this case, when I go back to look at the levels, I still have all the original information. So, even, this could be six months from now, I could go back and go, "Okay, that was an interesting choice. Maybe I should readjust it more like this." And again, still not clicking OK. Still not saying I'm finalizing that. It's for now. And I talk about this all the time when I say when you've made your final version, I always do air quotes. Final. Because who's to say it ever actually really is final. 'Cause in your mind it's final, until you or your wife or boss or client or someone says, "Just change this." And you realize it never was actually final. So, the reality is for most of us, it's very rare that we go through a process and go, "Okay, good, I'm done. I'll never have to touch this again." I mean, if that's happened to you, I'm jealous. 'Cause that doesn't happen to me very often. Anyone who works with other people will agree that people always come back and say, "Oh, and one more thing. Oh, just do this." And even if it's your own, I mean, you might look at something and go, "Oh, I wish I had done this differently." Well, now you can go back in and edit it. So, as we progress along, we'll look at the various methods we can use. But this overall strategy to be non-destructive is really important. So, let me delete this for a second so I can show you another example. Again, we'll talk about all these things in more detail. And one of the things that people often wanna do is crop, which means there's information in this photograph that I don't want, so I wanna remove it. So, I go to my Crop tool. And I can decide maybe I want, like, this information. Well, remember the first thing we talked about was checklist? Here's an important checklist thing for you, and this is a decision you'll have to make. Do I want to permanently crop this so that outlying information, those pixels, are actually gone. Or do I wanna crop it for now with the option of changing my mind later? And to me, I almost always default to the latter. Unless it's something where you just look at it and say, "There's something really weird, ugly, bizarre, strange over here I wanna crop out permanently." That, sure. But, on a case-by-case basis, I would never just assume, "Oh, I can safely crop this." Because what if the bride goes, "Oh, I wanted to see the bouquet that was by my feet." Well, it's gone now because I cropped it out. So, up here in the options bar, and part of our checklist, there's actually an option whether you wanna delete the cropped pixels or not. It's turned on, I believe, I have to check, I think it's turned on by default. Which means, by default, the Crop tool is destructive. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it's just you have to be aware of that. Is that okay? And I can't answer that question because it will depend on the circumstance. But if there's even a remote possibility in your mind that you might decide later on that you wished you hadn't done that, then I'm gonna uncheck Delete Cropped Pixels and then I'll have an opportunity later on. Now, someone asked a question earlier when I zoomed in they said, "Did that affect printing size?" This does. So, if I did actually crop it, when I printed it, it would only print the cropped information. But as we'll see later on when we talk about cropping in more detail, if you do it this way you can always say, "Well, for now I'm gonna crop it. Makes sense for this circumstance. But just in case, I'm gonna do it in such a way that I can still come back and change my mind." Okay? So, a lot of these things, there's not, I often make it seem like there's a black and white, that you should never do this, should always do that. That's just to kinda get you thinking about it. So, I'm not really suggesting you would never ever destructively crop, but at least to consider before you do it, okay? So, all of these circumstances are a very similar thing. Whatever the tool or function is, on the surface level. I don't want to say that, y'know, it's not to suggest that it's terrible to do things in a destructive way. 'Cause you might, just the sake of time, or something, I don't know, you might do it that way. But just be aware of the potential consequences as later on you go back and go, "Oh, I want to change this." It's like, eh, can't really do that because of the approach that I took to get there. Sometimes, especially when you're first starting out, I would say that remembering or making the effort to work non-destructively might actually take you a little longer. It will definitely make for a bigger file size because typically the way we do it is we're preserving all this information. Personally, I don't care about file size anymore. I used to. But now storage is so inexpensive that I keep everything just in case. Because you can. But you'll have to just consider that. So, really my point of talking this much about working non-destructively is to be aware of the difference and see that in almost every circumstance there are choices. Talked briefly before about that example of finding tools that allow you to do things on a separate layer. We'll go through that as we progress along. On the surface, there's nothing wrong with saying, "I'm just gonna take my Blur tool and blur that photograph directly." But again, be aware of what that implies is that if later on someone says, "Can you make that un-blurry?" There's no Un-blur tool. I mean, there's a Sharpen tool, but it's not like they're opposite of each other. If you blur something and then use the Sharpen tool it's not gonna bring it back where it was. It's gonna look slightly less blurry. So, we have to be aware of the circumstances that we can put ourselves inside of depending on the approach we take. So, I harp on a lot about working non-destructively. And I had a discussion with another Photoshop instructor recently who said, "Yeah, I don't really talk so much about working non-destructively personally because I never change my mind." I'm like, "Really?" First of all, A, "Really?" But, B, it's not just about changing our mind to me. It's about accuracy. It's about efficiency, and for me a big part of it is creatively I can feel completely assured that I can go down a path and try ten things knowing that none of those are permanent. Whereas in the other way of working, you do ten things and go, "Well." Close the whole file and start over again. I don't wanna have to do that. That's way too much work. So, trying to come up with ways that are easier. So, let me give you a couple of other examples of foreshadowing of things we'll talk about. Photoshop has these wonderful things called filters which we can apply their effects. So, if you want your photo to look a certain way, there are special effects, shall we say. And there's a lot of them. When you look under the Filter menu, there's a ton of these. All these different categories with different options, right? So, one way to apply a filter is just take your life in your hands saying I'm just gonna apply it the way it is. So, I haven't done anything. And I'm gonna go in and just do, say, a blur filter, which is again, not in any way to suggest you would do this. I'm trying to demonstrate something that makes it obvious. So, I've done this blur, and I click OK going, "Yeah, that looks great." And again, it's kinda hard to see, but if I were to look really closely on my machine at the little thumbnail that represents it over to the right, those pixels are now blurred. So, if I saved this file and moved on, I now have a blurry photograph. And if later on I said, "I probably shouldn't have blurred it that much." Whoops. And again, now some people's solution, which I get this, is to always open a photograph and make a copy of it. So, always having a copy of everything, so you have a backup file. Which is okay. My brain isn't strong enough to remember that the one called bride two copy final dot final dot two is the one I wanna work on versus the one that says three dash. I mean some people can do that, I can't. I like to keep... This is my file. I'm gonna do things in a way that I have just this one file. I might occasionally make a backup for other reasons, like sizing issues. 'Cause that's harder to do non-destructively. But, from a creative standpoint, from an adjusting standpoint, I don't wanna end up... I used to. I used to look in a folder and see bride one, bride two, bride three, bride four, and I'm like, "That's really helpful." Like, six months later trying to remember which one is which? So, I'd have to open all five of them to try and look at subtle difference in each one and go, "What is the, I don't even know." So, to me that's just too much work. So, instead, I would do things other ways. And again, this is just to give you an overall idea. We're gonna go through all the steps for this later on. There's an option with filters to do something called making it a Smart Filter. And all that means is now if I go to do something like blur, I still do that over blur, but look over in the Layers panel. Now there's actually a thing that says Gaussian Blur. So, it's a separate element, which means it's now editable. So, as long as I save this in a manner that allows me to go back and edit, which we will talk about as well, then that means six months from now I can look and go, "Well, that was a bad choice. I need to fix that." So, I can go back to the blur and blur it even more. No, blur it less or whatever, because I can. Because now it's part of the process. So any time you can do something in Photoshop where it's not just you just do Blur and it's gone, I wanna do Blur and have it show up somewhere as a list of elements that means I can edit those. Same with adjusting. If I just apply Levels or Brightness/Contrast directly, it's done, I can't change my mind. If I eventually... So, let me put it this way. I sometimes work with people and they say, "Can I send you a file I've been working on?" And I'm like, "Sure, can you send me the Photoshop layered version?" And they're like, "The what?" I'm like, "Okay." That probably answers, so they send me a JPEG that has no layers and they give me a list of things they've edited. I'm like, "That's not helpful." Because knowing what you did doesn't mean I can edit it. Nothing makes me happier than someone sending me a photograph and I open it and the layers panel is filled with Gaussian Blur, Adjustment Layer, all these things which I can then A, see how they did it, and B, edit it and make suggestions. So again, I don't wanna, I actually do wanna harp on this a little bit, 'cause to me it's a thing that I don't think enough beginning users of Photoshop really comprehend this, because Adobe has, I hate to say it, but kinda set us up for a bit of failure here because the most obvious things like these are destructive. And it doesn't say that. Doesn't say Destructive Adjustments. I wish it did, but it doesn't. So, people are like, "Oh, okay, cool." So they go and use this because the name makes sense or someone told them, "Oh, use X function." But they didn't say, "in a way that's more editable." So, that's the challenge with being non-destructive is you have to make a concerted effort to be non-destructive. It doesn't happen naturally, for the most part. For the most part, you open a photograph, you start working directly on the background layer without realizing it and then you save it later on and go, "Why can't I change my mind?" Well, that's why. 'Cause you altered the pixels. Any time we can do an alternate method which makes the pixels look different but know that we haven't done anything permanently, that's what working... So, working non-destructively is a very fancy way of saying give yourself more options and control. So, we'll see examples as we progress along and talk about different ways of adjusting photographs and different options of what to use that in every case you'll see I'm always doing it, as much as I can, and I would say it's possible almost all the time to do things in a way that gives you more choices. Now, just to be clear, if someone sends me an old photograph that they've scanned in or something and it's a little too dark. In that case, I doubt I'm ever gonna want to revert back to the dark version, so I might just apply it directly. Because that's okay in that circumstance. I don't wanna suggest that there will never ever be a circumstance where you don't do it, but as long as you're aware of the implications of doing things directly to the pixels is a very permanent choice. And you might find yourself in a situation where you do it enough times and you're confident that you can just do it this way, you don't have to worry about this whole non-destructive thing, that's okay too. But as long, I just want everyone to be aware because I'll talk about this more in the next segment, but I always always always recommend that we save our working file as a PSD file, which is Photoshop format with layers. Then, you make a copy which is for delivery, meaning to give to someone, which is for example, JPEG. The JPEG is flat, meaning it has no layers. And I must've said that in my teaching lifetime a zillion times and yet, a couple years ago I was teaching a workshop and I said, "Now, we're gonna always save as a PSD file, non-destructive, save a copy in JPEG." And there was one student that must've snoozed through that portion of the lecture, because they emailed me a week later and said, "So, I saved as a JPEG. That's the only version I have. When I opened it, there's no layers or anything." And my response was, "That is correct." I'm not sure what they were expecting me to say. "Oh, just go to this..." Yeah, that's the point. You might want to end up with a JPEG that you give to someone or you send out to a lab for printing, but that's for them. You have the version that gives you everything. But that takes a deliberate effort on your part to do that. It doesn't happen by nature, okay? So, we'll go through an example of a kind of an approach to say I'm gonna take all the stuff for me to make my life easier but then I need to deliver it to something. Whether it's deliver it to a lab, or to Facebook, or whatever, that's different. That version will be final, in quotations, for that purpose, but I know I still have all this information. Now, we'll talk about when we talk more about layers some other examples of how to be non-destructive, but that's really, these are the key things you need to think about. And there's probably one or two functions that are almost impossible to be non-destructive, such as changing the overall image size. To say it was 17 inches, now I want to be 10 inches. Once you've done that, you can't really put it back again, so that's a case where you, as we'll talk about, you might end up with two different versions of the same file. Now, there are still some people that will say as soon as I open a file, the first thing I do is I make a backup copy. That's okay too. I mean, there's nothing, I would say if you're gonna do anything I'd rather err on the side of having a backup plan than not do anything. But, with the non-destructive methods, to a degree, it's like your backup is in the file itself. So, instead of having all these version names where you're trying to remember which one is which, to me, I typically have my working file that I know has everything, and that's the only one I have. And then I make a copy which is for that delivery mechanism. Now, we'll talk in a moment about where working with RAW files comes in from a camera, 'cause that adds another level of interesting non-destructiveness.