Monthly Archives December 2008

The Destructive Workflow (Erase, Merge and Flatten)

Hi again folks! I’m happy to be back here on Scott’s blog and I thought I’d change it up a little this time. See, I took a look through some of Scott’s old blog posts and looked at some of the really popular ones. It seems you guys love it when he does that Q&A thing to himself, so I’m going to borrow (OK, steal) it for my guest post too. Here goes:

So Matt, Scott made this post seem really controversial. What’s the deal?
I’ve been toying around with the idea of this post for a while now. It first hit me about two Photoshop Worlds ago in Orlando when I had quite a few people ask me about how to follow a non-destructive editing workflow. I spoke for a while with one gentleman and asked him how many times he had to go back and change his work after he was done. He said, “Well… never really”.

Then, my idea was solidified at the last Photoshop World in Las Vegas when I taught a Photoshop Restoration class. In the class I use the Eraser tool and I flattened and merged layers a lot. After class I always look through my evaluations (usually right after the class if I can) to see how everyone felt about it. I came across an eval that told me I should be ashamed of myself for showing people such a destructive editing process. That’s when this idea was born. I mean, after all I was just showing people the way I actually work. Isn’t that what they came for? I don’t think people don’t want to see me teach a bunch of techniques and tools that I never use.

First off, please stop asking questions in your answers. That’s our job!

Are you the only one who feels this way?
Nope. What’s really interesting is that, at the same conference, Scott taught a retouching class (mind you, Scott and I had never had this discussion yet either). Retouching is full of places where you can try to keep a non-destructive document, or you can merge, erase and flatten like heck. Scott asked how many people worked with some type of art director or client that would (or could) continually push back on them to change their work after they’ve already submitted something. The results were really interesting. Two people (out of 800) raised their hand. I taught a class in San Francisco to 500 people last week, and asked the same question; four hands went up. So to answer your question, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way at all.

So what really is a non-destructive workflow?
Non-destructive seems to be a big buzz world these days. Throw the other buzzword, “workflow” on the end and you’ve got the uber buzzword. So what’s the big deal? Well, I think the idea behind non-destructive is a good one. You give yourself a way out. A way to change if you ever need to. The RAW format does a really good job at that because no matter what we do, we can’t permanently harm it. As a photographer I like that. It’s my negative and as long as I back it up, I know I’ll always have access to the original photo if I want.

That doesn’t sound so bad. Camera Raw seems to take care of all the non-destructive stuff for us. So why are you such a hater?

See, after we get out of camera raw, and into Photoshop, we get into all the other things that we may want to do with our photos. Retouching, skin softening, enhancing eyes, whitening teeth, removing crack pipes, changing the color of a shirt, removing a telephone wire… the list goes on. Are there ways to do that stuff non-destructively and save every layer at every point throughout the editing process? Sure there are. But do you really need to? Now that’s the big question.

Before we move on. Didn’t we warn you about asking questions in your answers. We’re giving Scott full permission to pick on you in the next episode of Photoshop User TV!
(Cat sound!!!) I’m sorry! Last time, I promise.

No sweat. Don’t let it happen again though. Now…Does that mean you use the Eraser tool?
Yep, I erase constantly. When I want something gone from part of a layer I erase it permanently. I could use a layer mask and do it all non-destructively, but if I know I’m not going to want it back then it’s history. Gone. Deleted. Erased. You may be thinking that I must inevitably erase something that I didn’t want to at some point, and wish I could get it back, right? Yep. I do. Ya know what I do when that happens though? Undo. I get 20 of them by default with Photoshop, and can increase that number if I want to.

Surely you don’t merge and flatten your layers too?

There’s no badge of honor for creating a Photoshop document with 167 layers in it. In fact, I like to work fast and for me, the less layers the faster I (and Photoshop) move. Sometimes when I work on a portrait, I duplicate a layer and blur it to soften the skin a little. Then I’ll ERASE the blur away from the areas that I want to stay crisp (eyes, mouth, hair, etcâ¦). If I’m happy with the results then I press Cmd+E to merge that duplicate layer down with the original. Might I want to go back and un-blur the skin? I suppose – but I never have. No one has ever asked me to do that so why save that layer. It makes the Layer’s palette harder to navigate and it makes my PSD file size larger, which, in the end, takes longer for my computer to process.

Any other crazy destructive things you do to your photos?
Well there is one. I’ll warn you though. This one elicits death threats from some people out there and I’m sure I’ll get some hate-mail from it, but 90% of the time I open my files in 8-bit mode and I don’t care one bit what my histogram looks like because of it. You may be thinking, “Hey, that’s not erasing or merging or anything destructive like that!”. Ah, but it is. You’re tossing away a lot of image data (I hate the word “data” when it comes to photography by the way) when you use 8-bit. Is it data that you need? Probably not. I’ve got prints on the wall that no one can tell me if they were shot in Raw or JPEG, Canon or Nikon or edited in 8 or 16-bit mode. Unless I’ve got a major exposure or color correction to do in Photoshop (which I usually don’t since I’ve already done that in Lightroom or Camera Raw) I open as an 8-bit file. And if I do decide that I’ve got a photo that needs some extra lovin’, you know what? I’m smart enough to know this and, in those cases, I open the file in Photoshop as a 16-bit image. So what does 8-bit buy me? File size mainly. It’s half the size of the 16-bit file and with these huge megapixel cameras these days, I’ll take everything I can get to help me work faster rather then non-destructively.

Let me get this straight Matt, didn’t you write the Layers book?
Yep I did. In fact, you can buy it here if you’d like :-)

The real irony here is that I teach this non-destructive editing stuff. I teach it A LOT! My Layers book turned out to be my best selling book ever by a pretty large margin, so it must have struck a chord somewhere.

I gotta tell ya’ Matt. It sounds somewhat counter productive that your Layers book and blog post here are at odds with each other.

Yeah, I agree. Here’s the thing: I still believe wholeheartedly in the premise behind that book. Why? Because it makes me a ton of money (I’m totally kidding!). Seriously, I believe in it because I think Layers are still the key to everything in Photoshop. Even when I work destructively in Photoshop, a layer is always involved. See, layers and masks don’t go away in my destructive workflow. My need to preserve them at all costs does.

So what you’re saying is I should learn Photoshop like I learn many things in life. I need to learn the rules and know why they’re there. Then I need to learn when to break them. If I’m just starting out in Photoshop then I’m probably better off trying to save as much as I can because I’m still learning my way around. As I become more comfortable though, I shouldn’t feel like I have to work the same way I was taught in the first place?
Yes, exactly.

Alright, to sum this all up, you’re telling me to go forth and destroy pixels?!
No! I am not telling you to go forth and destroy, so please please please don’t go telling everyone “Matt Kloskowski said to erase, merge and flatten”. I’m not saying that at all. All I’m saying is to think about it. This is what I do because it works for me. Think about the type of work you’re in and who your clients are. Do they often request changes? If you don’t have clients (or your client is yourself) then consider how many times you actually go back and edit the images that you worked so hard to non-destructively change. This will vary for everyone and only you know the answer. But if that answer is “Never” or “Not very often” then at least consider whether it’s worth the hassle and extra file size to try to do everything non-destructively.

Is that it?
Almost. Two things.
1) Please do me a big favor and leave a comment here. You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t agree – I’m looking for a realistic gauge to see how you folks feel about the topic. Is it a “Yeah, you’re right!” or a “Dude, you’re crazy. I live for non-destructivity!” reaction? I’m honestly interested to see what the general consensus is here.
2) I’ve included a short 5-minute video below to show you an example of my destructive workflow. Watch it and see if it makes sense. Finally, thanks again for reading. Even if you don’t agree I hope it’s at least got you thinking. Now let the hate-mail/comments begin!



Adobe released a free downloadable update to Lightroom 2 (bringing it to version 2.2), that adds support for some recently released cameras (including the Canon 5D Mark II, , a number of Panasonic cameras, and the Canon G10), along with some bug fixes (for a list of the bug fixes, visit Lightroom Product Manager Tom Hogarty’s blog by clicking here).

Also, (and this is big), this update includes the final versions of the Camera Profiles which will now be available in the Calibration panel (those of you who attended my Lightroom 2 Live Tour know about the Beta versions of these).

To get the free update, go under Lightroom’ 2’s Help menu and choose “Check for Updates.”


Photoshop Hall of Famer, and SVA Department Chair Katrin Eismann sent me some interesting news: The School of VISUAL ARTS is taking the The Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography program online for the fall of 2009 (image above by June Young Lim).

The students will complete the fall and spring classes (Advanced Imaging, Color Management, Photo Illustration, Studio Management, etc) online and then come to New York City to complete their thesis projects, which includes taking the Large Format Print class, developing a web presence, designing a brand, and producing the collateral for a NY Exhibit.

The MPS in Digital Photography is a concentrated course of studies in both commercial and fine art digital photography that addresses the entire imaging workflow – from image capture and enhancement to online distribution and final display. Under the guidance of leading photographers, retouchers, designers and studio managers, students master the latest tools and techniques to create technically perfect and aesthetically compelling images. In addition to developing a body of work, students become versed in the critical aspects of branding, marketing, studio operations and current business practices.

The one-year, 33-credit degree is designed to advance students' understanding and application of cutting-edge digital imaging technologies through in-depth coursework, specialized workshops and seminars, and presentations by contemporary artists. Culminating in a thesis project, the required curriculum includes classes in color management, editorial photography, photo illustration, large-format printing and studio management.

For information about the program, visit


Gang; we are so close to finishing this Orphanage, but as you read on Friday—the funding has run out, and the construction has stopped. With your help, today, we can restart construction immediately, finish the orphanage, and start feeding and caring for these children who need our help so badly. So, here’s the plan:

For one day; today, Tuesday, December 16, 2008, if you pre-order my new book, “The Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers” using this special direct link; I will donate 100% of the entire cover price of the book to Springs of Hope, Kenya, the non-profit grass-roots group put together by Joseph and Molly Bail to build this orphanage. (This opportunity ends tonight at 12:00 midnight, Eastern Standard Time, U.S.).

I’m not donating just “the profits” from the book, or “a portion of the proceeds” from today’s sales; you pay the cover price for the special limited-edition spiral-bound version of the book, which is $64.99, and all $64.99 goes directly toward finishing the orphanage, and feeding these children. So, basically, you and I are in this together, both of us giving to make something special happen in the life of child.

Along with my humble and most heartfelt thanks, I will personally sign your copy of the book, as my way of saying thanks for supporting Joseph, Molly, and the amazing and selfless work they’re doing with homeless and street children in Kenya.

Now, could you buy the book cheaper somewhere else? Absolutely, but when you buy it here today, you’re not just buying a book, you’re feeding and caring for a child that desperately needs your help. No matter what else you do today, you’ll know that you did something that really matters. You gave a hungry child food, shelter, and hope.

NOTE: Here’s the link you’ll need to buy the book direct from Kelby Training, so the proceeds go to Joseph and Molly.

If you’d like to learn more about Joseph and Molly’s work, visit

IMPORTANT: This opportunity to help out is available only today, Tuesday, December 16, 2008. Scott’s book is scheduled for delivery later this month. Not available with any other discounts. As always, Shipping & Handing is extra. Thanks for spreading hope.

…back for his 2nd guest appearance as guest blogger here; he’s co-host of Photoshop User TV, author of “Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature,” he’s the producer of the “Lightroom Killer Tips” blog and weekly Podcast, he’s a columnist for Photoshop User magazine, and he’s also my good friend—Mr. Matt Kloskowski.

Matt came to me with the idea of this topic a while back, and if you’ve been waiting for a post that will shake up the old guard, and challenge traditional Photoshop thinking, then make sure you’re back here tomorrow. Matt has a really thought-provoking guest blog post that will have many of you cheering, and others reaching for their gun. It’s going to be a wild day, so don’t miss it!