Hands-on Photo Tip: Non-destructive Editing in Photoshop

Non-destructive Editing in Photoshop - YouTube ThumbnailIn this Hands-on Photo Tip, I will show you the basics of non-destructive editing. If you want to be flexible in your photo editing workflow, and if you want to avoid spending more time on an image than you actually need to, this is the way to go. You will learn how to do your edits such that

  • you retain full control all the time
  • you can create different versions of an edit and decide later which one to use and
  • you can blend edits with each other using layer opacity

When you edit a photo, you often have to remove things like litter and dust using Photoshop tools like the clone stamp or the spot healing brush. Many people, apply these tools directly to the image pixels changing the original data that the camera recorded. That’s why it’s called destructive editing because you’re actually destroying the data that you loaded into your image editing software in the first place. When you edit a photo destructively, you are making it hard or even impossible to undo or revise these changes later on in your workflow. And this limits your flexibility and can make you spend more time on a photo than you actually need to.

This is where non-destructive editing comes in. Non-destructive editing (or retouching) includes a wide range of tools and techniques that let you edit your photos such that you can undo each edit individually.

In this tip, I will concentrate on a simple trick for removing distracting elements from your pictures. The trick is to apply whichever tool you are using for this task to an empty separate layer in Photoshop.

This has a number of advantages

  1. You can turn these editing layers on or off at any time, giving you the ability to undo the respective edits independently from any other changes.
  2. You can create several versions of your edits and decide which one is best later on.
  3. You can revise your edits partially without having to start from scratch.
  4. You don’t need to duplicate your full images layer which keeps your files small.

Check out the video above to see how it’s done.

10 HDR Top Tips for FREE!
Join our newsletter to get this eBook and step up your HDR skills today!
You will receive: The free eBook + our regular email newsletter with tips, tutorials, news and product information… all for free!
100% Spam-Free - Easy Unsubscribe
13 replies
  1. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Thanks for this Klaus. I’d heard the term ‘non-destructive editing’ many times before but never really understood the process.

    To me it simply meant that so long as I could get my original image back in Lightroom then it didn’t matter what I did. But I can see the benefits of this and will try to adopt it for my workflow from now on.

  2. Robert
    Robert says:

    Finde deine Tipps und Tutorials super- und auch dieses Video ist wiedermal mehr als gelungen! Tolle Arbeit! Schade nur, dass du deine Seite auf Englisch betreibst! Vielleicht gibt es ja in Zukunft auch mal ein deutsches Projekt von dir!
    Viele Grüße,


    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hallo Robert,

      danke für das Lob. Mir tut es selber etwas leid, nicht alles auf Deutsch machen zu können. Aber in English erriecht man so viel mehr Leute und die Sachen zweisprachig zu veröffentlichen ist einfach viel zu auffändig. Ich hoffe, du kannst trotzdem folgen.


  3. Pat Kavanagh
    Pat Kavanagh says:

    That was perfect! I never knew about editing like this, this will come in handy since I am on a non-destructive editing path now.

    The professional look, sound, layout of the video is excellent – better than I have ever seen in a tutorial. Love the summary at the end too. Klaus…..I am really enjoying your work.

  4. Benjamin O. Vargas
    Benjamin O. Vargas says:

    Hey Klaus! I’m so much impressed by your HDR Vetorama. Bust do I have to have Photomatix Pro 5 in order to use your program?

    • farbspiel
      farbspiel says:

      Hi Benjamin,

      no, an older version of Photomatix will also do. I fact, Photomatix is not strictly required at all. You can use any HDR software. Actually, HDR Expose 3 seems to have a mode that is specially tailored to tone mapping panoramas (and vertoramas). Maybe you wanna try it out.

  5. Shumi
    Shumi says:

    I am impressed by the easy technique you have adopt here. I think everyone can edit their own photo now without wasting lots of time.

  6. darren
    darren says:

    Great video Klaus,
    Only one thing though…In using this method, to retouch model’s faces…there are several tools in Photoshop CC 2014 that I CANNOT use:
    1. Patch Tool
    2. Dodge/Burn/Saturate
    3. Sharpen
    all the other tools I use seem to work fine, what could I be doing wrong?…is it a settings or do these tools not work?


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *