Making images non-destructible for future changes

When you are in a professional production environment you learn how to move fast so you can deal with clients who change their minds every other minute. One of the skills that saved my butt over and over was learning how to make my Photoshop documents non-destructible. What I mean is, at any point in time I can go back to the original and re-edit if needed. Here’s how to be sure you will virtually always be able to trace your steps back and make changes.


Evoke the magic of the healing brush and clone brush.

Each new version of Photoshop has made it easier and easier to work in a non-destructible environment. With the release of Photoshop CS it became possible to use the healing brush on a new layer instead of on the original photo. Why is that important? If you need to change anything that you’ve ‘healed,’ all you have to do is erase the portion on the healing layer that you changed and simply start over. Your original document is still completely intact. How do you do this?

  • Make a new layer.
  • Select healing brush [j] or clone brush [s]
  • Select your brush, keep it on Normal mode. The source should be sampled. Select Aligned. Here is the secret part: select Use All Layers. When you choose Use All Layers it is essentially copying from a snapshot of the screen. What you see on the screen is what gets copied.
  • Make sure you have your new layer selected. Choose the area of the source area to be copied from [option] then start cloning and healing.
  • Non-destructible light and color shifts

    One habit you should get into as soon as possible is to start using Adjustment Layers. This is one of the most powerful functions built into Photoshop. On a typical photo project I may have half a dozen Adjustment Layers stacked over each other for one reason or another. Adjustment Layers give you the ability to ‘float’ light over your photo and manipulate it with pinpoint precision. This is great for photos that have someone with too much light on their face on a background that is just right. You can simply add an adjustment layer of levels or curves over the photo, adjust the face to match the background lighting, then mask off everything but the face (I will add an article on masking soon), and voila! You have a perfect photo. If you want to change the light on the face, just double click the adjustment layer and you have full control of the light again. If you decide not to use it, you can simply turn off the layer or delete it and you are back to your original. Try this with hue/saturation to change the color of parts of your photos easily. Here are the steps:

  • Go to Layer > Adjustment Layer > Select desired effect
  • Name the layer if you want (it’s always good to name layers so you can keep track of them easily) and select blending mode. Most use Normal, but some great special effects can be done using other blending modes in Adjustment Layers. Press OK.
  • Adjust it so the area to be changed looks the way you want it to look.
  • Click OK.
  • If you are looking for a global effect, you’re done. Just double click on the adjustment layer in your layers box if you wish to change it again. If you want to only affect certain parts of your photo with this then continue on.
  • Your adjustment layer should be selected. Select the mask on the adjustment layer (the box on the right on that layer) This is where we will mask off everything except the desired area.
  • If you only have a small area you don’t want to change with the adjustment layer, simply select the brush you want to use it to mask off the area. Select pure black for the brush color and paint on the mask area you want to restore to the original. If you choose a shade of gray it will only mask off at the opacity that the shade the gray is to black (ex. 50% gray will equal 50% opacity). If you want to mask over what you did then just select white for your brush color and it will un-mask the area.
  • If you want a small area to be affected by the adjustment layer, fill in the entire mask with white and select a black brush to unmask the area you want to change with the adjustment layer.
  • You can copy the adjustment layer to double the effect for a more dramatic look. Try changing the blending mode to see what other effects you can come up with.

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