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3 Photoshop Tips To Stop You Ruining Your Photos. Do You Commit These Editing Sins? Photoshop

3 Photoshop Tips To Stop You Ruining Your Photos. Do You Commit These Editing Sins?

By Max Bridge on August 4th 2016

Photoshop is a fantastic tool which can be used to transform your photography. It is also an incredibly complex program with many subtleties that may take you years to understand, though fortunately, there is an abundance of Photoshop editing tutorials available for free. Unfortunately, there are comparatively few resources which explain some of the fundamentals of Photoshop. It may be less glamorous but it is vitally important. If you do not understand the concepts I’ll be discussing today, I guarantee there will come a time when, to one degree or another, you ruin a photo.

Non-Destructive = Photoshop Editing Law

If you’ve been learning Photoshop for some time, then undoubtedly you’ll have heard the term ‘non-destructive editing’. At first, it may sound a little confusing, but I assure you it’s a very simple concept.

The easiest way to understand it is to first grasp destructive editing. Imagine you’re working in Photoshop, and you make a change directly on your photograph, let’s say you darken it using curves. Rather than making a separate curves adjustment layer, you directly edited that first layer (titled “Background” by default). You have just altered the original pixel data of your image. In other words, you have destroyed the original pixel data. Hence the term destructive editing. If you were to save the file, close Photoshop and re-open the document, those pixels would be forever altered.


Conversely, as you may imagine, non-destructive editing focusing on the preservation of the original pixel data. You may make the same adjustment with your curves layer, as in our example, but by doing it as a separate adjustment layer, you can always revert back if need be. Here’re a few quick tips to help you work non-destructively from now on.

  1. Always add effects and adjustments to separate layers
  2. Use smart filters instead of applying filters directly to layers. Go to Filter > Convert for Smart Filter
  3. Should you need to make adjustments directly onto a layer, duplicate it first
  4. Keep an efficient workflow to help you avoid issues

So long as you keep to those, and always think about maintaining your original pixel data, you should be okay. It should be noted, however, that Smart Filters are wonderful for quick edits with a relatively small number of layers, but as soon as you start adding lots of layers Smart Filters will significantly slow things down. At that point, you need to start thinking outside the box.


banding as a result of pushing and pulling file in photoshop

An Easy Way To Introduce Nasty Digital Artefacts

There’s a whole host of digital artifacts which poor Photoshop editing can introduce. If you don’t already know, digital artifacts is an umbrella term used to describe unwanted parts of our images, things like; excessive noise, color noise, banding, posterization, and so on. A very easy way to introduce some of these in Photoshop is by excessively pushing and pulling the tonal value of your photograph. In the example above, you can see the results of excessive adjustments to tonal values.

‘But hang on Max, I shot my photos in RAW so this doesn’t apply to me,’ you may say. Well, yes it does. Once you’ve passed through your RAW processor and entered Photoshop, you are no longer working on a RAW file. Photoshop is not a RAW editor, as many mistakenly believe. As such major tonal changes should be made before entering Photoshop. Alternatively, you could open your image as a Smart Object which will then allow you to continue making RAW adjustments by double clicking on the layer. To do so from Lightroom, right click on your image and got to Edit In > Open as Smart Object in Photoshop. From Adobe Camera Raw, hold Shift and you’ll see Open Image change to Open Object.


Personally, I don’t tend to open my images as smart objects. Instead, I prefer to get the lighting right in camera and make any major adjustments in either Lightroom, Capture One, or ACR. However, it is useful to know should you wish to do so.

gradient showing example of banding with photoshop tips on how to avoid this

Your Bit Depth Makes A Difference!

Once inside Photoshop you can see what Bit Depth your document is by going to Image > Mode. However, you cannot convert an 8-bit image to 16-bit and still reap the benefits. That’s important to know.

Without delving too deeply into bit depth, as I have covered the topic before within this article, I will briefly explain what it is. Essentially, we have a choice to work with images which have more color data (16-bit) or less (8-bit). The difference between the two usually cannot be seen until you start making changes to your image. Once you do, you may find, if the changes are severe enough, that digital artifacts are introduced.


The classic example is a gradient, like the one you see above. The nasty lines in that gradient are caused by the lack of information contained within an 8-bit file. I created the gradient, made severe adjustments using levels, and then made the opposite adjustment to bring the gradient back. The result is that it went from smooth to blocky and unattractive. Had the gradient began its life as a 16-bit image, you would not see the banding which has now been introduced, it would have remained smooth.

Does this mean you should always work in 16-bit? Yes and no. As there is so much more info contained in a 16-bit file, it can slow Photoshop down. As such, I tend to work in 16-bit until I am forced to convert over to 8-bit. Often this does not happen, but on the rare occasion it does I ensure all significant adjustments have been made before making the conversion.

Final Photoshop Tip And Summary

Given everything you have read today, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I am encouraging you to only make minor adjustments in Photoshop. That if you manipulate your images too much, you will ruin them. I am not. What I am simply saying is that Photoshop is a powerful editing tool which must be used in the correct way, if not you run the risk of ruining your images. If you’ve also been working destructively, then the damage could be irreparable.

As an example, I will take a RAW photo like you see above left, and transform it, along with others, into the final photo you can see on the right. My last Photoshop tip, therefore, is not to limit yourself; Photoshop is a tool which can be utilized to create almost anything. All I advise is using the correct approach.

Do you need to brush up on posing, camera techniques, lighting or editing in Lightroom? If you do, be sure to take a look at everything on offer in the SLR Lounge Store. There’s tons of first class education covering a broad range of topics. My advice would be to look at Photography 101, Lighting 101 and Lighting 201. If more than one of those interest you then maybe a Premium membership would be even better.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Mia PhotoRet

    Nice tutorial, but I prefer professional photo editors, people who can retouch your images according to your style what is impossible for these online “editors”. I use many photo editing services, for example, which does it quickly and for reliable price. In result I have a lot of free time instead of making post-production by myself.

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  2. Crystal Sprague

    Is it possible to damage a cr2 file in photoshop or is that always kept as a digital negative?

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  3. Max C

    You can edit raw photos in photoshop. Photoshop has a raw editor called “camera raw” so your information about photoshop not being a raw editor is wrong.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Max, C. I appreciate your diligence, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Camera Raw and Photoshop are not exactly one and the same. In fact, Photoshop is listed by Adobe as an application that supports Camera Raw, as does After Effects, Bridge, and PS Elements, though it comes part and parcel with Photoshop. You can even see how under CC adobe lists them separately (see image)

      I hope this offers up some clarification. If there is anything further we can help you clarify, please let us know. Cheers

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    • Max C

      So what exactly happens when you open a raw photo in photoshop using Camera Raw? Are you not editing a raw photo or does photoshop convert it to a jpeg so now you are editing a jpeg? I am confused, please clarify.

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    • Matt Jensen

      It isn’t that you’re working with a jpeg, but it is a flattened image that no longer has _all_ of that RAW dynamic range built in, you’re working with Adobe’s file engine and interpretation of sharpness, colors and dynamic range. I am over simplifying that, but that’s why it is important to work as high of quality as possible for as long as possible.

      It is all about file interpretation. If you’ve ever used Capture One and also Lightroom, you’ll see that some adjustments give you different results.

      That’s why this article is important.
      Color Space: Are you limiting your colors right off the bat by working in sRGB?
      16-Bit: That gradient is a good example of not enough information to create a smooth gradient.

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    • Daniel Lee

      Is it better to open files in PS as a DNG.

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    • Matt Jensen

      @Daniel Lee it really doesn’t matter what you open the file as, it matters what file format you save it.

      DNG is supposed to be Adobe’s format for compatibility for the future, and holds all kinds of information in it. DNG is not a bad choice, but remember, when you convert a RAW file to DNG, it is still being processed by how Adobe interprets the file’s data.

      If you’re processing and editing the photo, you might as well stick with PSD. Or PSB or TIFF as the format if your file format is getting to be over 2GB.

      RAW is interesting, because cameras have features built in to them, such as its own dynamic range features, these features are not immediately supported by other software because they are too new/proprietary, so it is purely dependent on whether or not you have the software installed on your computer.

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    • Max Bridge

      Thanks for for answering all these questions Matt!

      I used to use DNG until I started using Capture One for particular things. As it doesn’t support the use of DNG I ended up moving back to PSD.

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    • Dave Haynie

      Camera Raw is basically a plug-in that imports a raw photo into Photoshop’s own internal format, directly. So no, it’s not converted to a JPEG… you can imagine the data represented in Photoshop is more like a PSD or PSB. Thing is, if you’re doing a normal raw import, you may be taking a 12-bit or 14-bit per color image and bringing it into Photoshop as an 8-bit image.

      But it’s more than that. When you unpack a raw file, you’re applying any color color or linearity corrections the camera manufacturer may have designed in. You’re of course de-mosaicing the Bayer color matric, you choose white and black points, gamma correction, white balance, etc. And all within the specific color space you’re working in. So you can even lose information when converting, say, a 14-bit raw to a 16-bit internal representation, if you’re not careful.

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