Photo Manipulation

10 Important Nondestructive Editing Techniques for Photo Manipulators


Complex photo effects are often similar to simple photo effects.

5. Use Smart Filters

One benefit of Smart Objects is Smart Filters. When you convert your layers to Smart Objects, you can use Smart Filters which is basically the non-destructive way to use filters. Smart filters let you change the settings anytime and give you the ability to apply blending modes to the filters. Don’t duplicate a layer just so you can nondestructively apply a filter to it. Convert that layer into a Smart Object then apply filters as Smart filters.

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6. Dodge and Burn on a single layer

Dodging and burning is an essential part of photo manipulations and this technique can leave your PSD with many unnecessary layers. You also can’t dodge/burn directly on a Smart Object but there is a way around this:

  1. Create a new layer. Go to Edit > Fill. Select 50% gray from the drop down menu then click OK.
  2. Change the blending mode to Overlay (experiment with other blending modes like Soft Light, Hard Light, etc.).
  3. Dodge and burn on this gray layer.


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7. Crop non-destructively

The easiest nondestructive editing technique is to crop nondestructively. When you select the Crop tool, disable the “Delete Cropped Pixels” option in the options bar. Essentially, this will tell Photoshop to keep all the data so that you can uncrop your image at a later time.


8. Organize your layers with names, groups, and labels

Photo manipulations can turn into a mess of layers. Always keep your layers organized because this will save you time and force you to use more efficient editing techniques. Plan a way to organize your layers. For example, you can group your layers by foreground, middleground, and background. You can also group layers by the objects in your photo manipulation. There are many ways to group layers; choose the one that makes the most sense to you.


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9. Keep layers to a minimum

Back then, you had serious bragging rights if you had a 100-layers PSD – because it means you put a lot of time and attention to your artwork. Now it just means that you’re not efficient. With all the non-destructive editing techniques Photoshop CS6 has to offer, you no longer have to resort to a bunch of raster layers. Find ways to keep the layers to a minimum using Smart Objects, Smart Filters, clipping masks, etc.

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10. End your bad habits. Practice non-destructive editing techniques

All these tips are useless if you have a habit of working quick and messy. Bad habits are easy to form but harder to live with. Good habits are harder to form but easy to live with. Changing your habits is one of the most difficult things for designers – because why learn new nondestructive editing techniques when old ones work just fine?

Nondestructive editing can feel like more work and it certainly felt that way when I first started. But after a few practices, I found that they actually made my workflow easier and faster. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be using non-destructive techniques without even thinking of it and that’s when you become better at Photoshop. End your bad habits and start using nondestructive editing techniques today.

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