10 Important Nondestructive Editing Techniques for Photo Manipulators

10 Important Nondestructive Editing Techniques for Photo Manipulators

10 Important Nondestructive Editing Techniques for Photo Manipulators

Recycle layer masks with clipping masks.

4. Keep photo effects simple

There are many ways to apply photo effects and most of them can be created with few adjustment layers. It’s easy to keep stacking layers upon layers to get the photo effect you want – try recreating the same photo effect using fewer layers. Photo effects should be created from a series of layers that you understand; not a random stack created by chance. Complex photo effects are messy and can degrade the image quality and reduce the dynamic range of your artwork.


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.

imageHow to Create See-Through Ghost Photos

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.

Tightrope Dancer tutorial

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 comments on “10 Important Nondestructive Editing Techniques for Photo Manipulators”

  1. I find Point 4 completely rubbish to be honest. No pun intended. But the two effects are quite different - while the first one is a really nice film effect, and the second one looks like a cheap downloaded free preset.

    1. The shadows are getting clipped in the first one with many layers as a result of using too many adjustment layers. 
      She is simply stating that there's no point creating a bunch of adjustment layers so that you "get lucky" on a film effect. Rather, understand what each layer does exactly so you don't end up with so many layers

    2. To me, they're similar enough to necessitate the fewer layers. 
      But that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to say that the article could use a better example for the bad effect. Could have just used any one of those random vintage-look Photoshop action because 9/10 of them are a bunch of accidental layers: Duplicate layer, change blend mode, merge down, add color layer, change blend mode, merge down, etc etc.

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