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2.1 Destructive vs. Non-Destructive

Non-destructive editing is the core concept behind most advanced Photoshop workflows. The idea is to work in such a way as to make your project the most flexible for future edits. So you should always be able to undo or redo any steps you take. In this lesson we will take a look at exactly what that means.

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2.1 Destructive vs. Non-Destructive

Hello everybody, Kirk Nelson here. Welcome back to Advanced Photoshop Techniques. We're starting out on Chapter Number 2, which is the Advanced Tools and Techniques Overview. This is Lesson 2.1 where we talk about destructive versus non-destructive. When we talk about destructive versus non destructive in Photoshop, we're not specifically referring to any particular tool or feature, we're talking about a way of working. It's more of a conceptual type of a thing and it talks about whether or not the edits you make actually change the image at the pixel level. And despite its actual name, destructive doesn't necessarily mean that you are ruining or damaging the image, it means you're changing pixels in away that cannot be easily undone. That does not count the undo features or the history features within Photoshop. It means that if you change the pixels of a particular layer, then say save the file out and close it and open it back up, you cannot undo those changes that you made, or you cannot get back those original pixels. That's a destructive way of working. Non-destructive means you're using different features and tools within Photoshop so that doesn't happen. Now, in this course we're gonna be using a lot of turtles and turtle imagery. So I thought it would be great to demonstrate this idea with this basic tortoise here. And let's use that to demonstrate both these ways of working. First, we need to unlock this background layer. Now a destructive way of working would be grabbing the eraser tool and just beginning to erase everything that's not the shell. Like so. So we just have this one shell of this tortoise sitting here on this layer, which is fine, especially if we only needed the shell. But how do you know later on in the project you don't need more of the tortoise. Maybe you do actually need his head or his neck or his legs or any of these surrounding pixels. Or what if in your eagerness with the eraser you accidentally clipped off part of the shell? Well, it's gone. You can't really get it back, can you? You can go back to the original image, which is what we'll do now, and I'll show you the nondestructive way of working. Once we've resurrected this image and actually brought those pixels back by simply reverting, we're going to use the Selection tool. To create a selection around that shell. I'm just using the quick selection tool, and I'm just gonna create a very quick selection. And then with the selection made, I will use it as a layer mask. Now, air masks are the original form of nondestructive editing. There's several features within Photoshop, but the mask is really the one that illustrates it the very clearest. Notice we have what appears to be the exact same result as we did with the eraser tool. But because it's a mask, these pixels are not gone. They're simply hidden. In fact, we can we can turn that mask on and off and see that they're just being hidden behind the mask, they're not gone at all. In fact, it's easy enough to get them back by painting directly on that mask with a brush. And that's essentially what non-destructive editing means. And there's a dozen ways of approaching non-destructive work flows within Photoshop. A good rule of thumb is that pretty much any type of feature that involves the painting engine within Photoshop, is usually a destructive method which means you will make changes to those pixels. So ways around that would be to possibly make a copy of the layer first, so you have the original layer always at the bottom there. And that way you can paint on the copy of the layer without having to worry about how you're gonna get those original pixels back. And depending on the tool that you're using, it might even be better to just create a blank layer above it. And you'd be surprised how often this actually works, even with the clone stamp tool. People don't necessarily think of the clone stamp tool as a non-destructive type of editing, but as long as you have it on a blank layer, and the sample is set to current and below, you can use this in a non-destructive manner. So you can use the clone stamp tool to make changes that look like they're on those pixels, but they're not. They're just on that individual layer. Other destructive features within Photoshop would be any of the image adjustments or, the filters within Photoshop. Now we do have ways of dealing with that too, and we're gonna get into those in a couple of the later lessons. But keep in mind, if you find yourself needing to use a feature that's a destructive feature. Try to think ahead, try to think about whether or not you might need this original state. And if so just make a copy of the layer, and then run whatever feature you're going to do on that other layer. Now with all this said there are certain times that I find, I actually use a destructive method and that's really just for my own convenience. For example I've masked out this tortoise here and so he's completely on his own mask, as we talked about those pixels are not gone, they're just there. So lets say I dragged him over into a new setting and I wanted to transform him and scale him down a little bit. Which, by the way, is yet another destructive type of method. So we will deal with how to make that non destructive in a later lesson too. But depending on how big the original image was, once I hit the edit free transform, these transform handles are gonna be completely around all the pixels of that image, even the ones that we can't see. So if you extracted this turtle from a much larger image, these transformation handles are way out, outside the and really becomes kind of awkward to deal with. So a lot of times what I'll do is take this original layer and first kinda crop in really close to the main subject I know that I'm going to extract. Which is this tortoise in this case. Now, it's very, very unlikely that I'm going to need any of this grass and rocky area, outside of this. Because the main reason I've pulled this image was so that I could use the tortoise. And now, I'll create a new layer just from this selected image. So that's layer, new layer, via copy. Which, might I add is still nondestructive because we haven't made any changes to that original layer. And then once I've got this layer. I'll create that selection again and use that for my mask. Now, look at the difference when I hit that free transformation tools, edit, free transform. Look how nice and close these transformation handles are. That's much more convenient. And I find in my own workflow, that I will absolutely use destructive methods on. So that's just a quick overview of what we mean when we talk about destructive versus non destructive editing in Photoshop. In general it's much smarter and better to use non destructive methods then it is destructive methods. There are exceptions to those rules, but for the most part if you can choose between a non-destructive method or a destructive method, go with the non-destructive one. Next up, Lesson 2.2, where we dig into smart objects.