Non-destructive Editing & Destructive Editing

Updated: Jun 19, 2018


Non-Destructive Editing Versus Destructive Editing

When it comes to starting out in the world of editing and image manipulation there are a lot of things to consider. It often feels quite overwhelming for a lot of people in these early stages. It's important to note that this is a completely normal way to feel when starting out and here at the Bedfordshire School of Photography we're always ready to remind our students that whatever feels overwhelming now, will over time become something you do without even thinking about it. Your retouching and editing skills are a muscle and like any muscle, if it goes unused for too long it loses it's strength and elasticity. It's really important that between lessons and shoots you find some time to experiment and exercise your “editing muscle”. It can then only become a much stronger and more valuable set of skills for you to have.


One of the most common things we try to get you to do when starting out in Photoshop or Lightroom is to consider your workflow. When you're brand new to editing it's a really good idea to get yourself used to a certain workflow that will benefit you further down the line and we can then squash any bad habits early on. One of those workflows we try to introduce you to early on is working on your images in a non-destructive way and not a destructive way. What exactly does that mean? Well that's what we're going to tackle in this article with descriptions of each workflow down below.

Destructive Editing

You can edit your images in a destructive way and still achieve good results that do improve your images. The reason we refer to an editing style as destructive is because any adjustments you make to your images when editing destructively are permanent changes that are being applied to the pixels of your images. These cannot be reversed once you've saved your final photo and make it much more difficult to re-tweak and fine tune adjustments once they've been made.


If something goes wrong editing this way, then you're going to give yourself a lot more work to do in order to fix the issue. Let's imagine that you've brightened an area of your image, once you decide to save your image the pixels of the image become permanently written into the file, making it completely irreversible.


By default a lot of programs edit destructively, Photoshop works in this way. You can work in Photoshop non-destructively but this takes some extra time and patience to pick up the skills needed where you'd take advantage of layers, layer adjustments and masks.


Non-destructive Editing

In it's most basic definition, non-destructive editing is any type of editing that allows you to make adjustments to your image without making any permanent changes. So just as you probably would have guessed, it's the complete opposite of destructive editing.


When working non-destructively rather than making any adjustments to the actual image and the pixels within it you're instead applying adjustment layers or using a program (such as Lightoom) that is rendering a preview of the changes your making.


Once your changes have been made and your happy with the edit, these programs allow you to save or export the file which will then create a copy and keep your original image in it's original unedited state.


The benefits of learning a non-destructive workflow largely outweigh a destructive workflow. Working this way you're able to go back to your editing file which could be a PSD file or library inside Lightroom and continue to make further adjustments as and when you need to.


These are all things we go over in our group classes and then in much more detail during our one to one Photoshop sessions.

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