by Jerry Weiner
Non-destructive editing refers to the act of working on an image file in such a way that you can later modify it or go back to the original without loss of quality.
For the opposite of this, picture the following workflow: Open a JPG in Photoshop, adjust the levels, save over the original, and close the file. Oops, if you decide you don’t like what you did, too bad.
Now here’s a step up from that workflow: Open a JPG in Photoshop, adjust the levels, then save the image as a new JPG file. There, now you have an adjusted version as well as the original in case you change your mind.
But what if you applied a number of adjustments to the image and then decided you didn’t like one of them? Well, it’s all or nothing at this point. You’re stuck opening the original image (at least you have that!) and starting over.
Having learned another hard lesson, you try the following workflow instead: Open a JPG in Photoshop, save it as a PSD (Photoshop) file, and then adjust the image in non-destructive ways. Adjustment layers, for example, allow you to make adjustments that can later be removed or modified without starting over or losing quality. For retouching, you copy layers and work on a copy, leaving the original layer handy in case you mess up.
There are a lot of non-destructive Photoshop editing tricks we don’t have time for here, but the point is that we end up with a file which can be easily tweaked and adjusted if we ever change our mind. Useful, right?
The concept is so useful, in fact, that Adobe created its Lightroom software with this in mind. There are no non-destructive editing tricks needed for Lightroom because the whole thing is built to keep you from modifying the original images.
You could say Lightroom is looking out for your best interests.