Non-destructive photo editing is a powerful technique that lets you preserve your image's original data while still modifying it. You can even and go back and change every edit you make. Learn how to edit non-destructively in this 60 second tutorial.
Destructive Versus Non-Destructive Post-Production Workflows
In raster image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop you can edit an image two ways: destructively and non-destructively. With destructive editing you overwrite the original pixel values, and can’t go back and change things later. With non-destructive editing you use Adjustment Layers, Smart Objects and other tools and techniques to modify the image without overwriting the original data.
Take the image in the screencast above. One way to increase the saturation is to select Hue/Saturation from the Adjustments menu. Push the saturation and click OK. If we push the saturation it too far, there’s no way to go back and tweak the edit. I have to accept it, or undo it entirely. This is destructive editing. The changes are "baked in" to our image.
To make the same change non-destructively, you use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer instead. Once again, increase the saturation. This time, even if we go too far, we can double click on the adjustment layer and dial the effect back to a better amount. We can even add a Layer Mask to control exactly what areas of the image are affected.
When possible, you should always use non-destructive techniques over destructive techniques. They give you a lot more flexibility and protect the original image’s data.
This is part of a new series of quick video tutorials on Tuts+. We’re aiming to introduce a range of subjects, all in 60 seconds—just enough to whet your appetite. Let us know in the comments what you thought of this video and what else you’d like to see explained in 60 seconds!