The importance of reviewing your editing adjustments

Shorten your post-processing learning curve …

Introduction: The "Mind’s Eye"

When it comes to post-processing, there’s an almost limitless supply of resources to help you learn. There’s millions of great websites, thousands of good books, and new magazines hitting the stands every day, packed with great ideas, tutorials and techniques. Even when you’ve been using Photoshop for years, you’ll never stop learning new things.

But there’s one thing that can’t be taught or learned – experience. As I usually refer to it, the mind’s eye.

You will reach a point where you can look at a photo, and "see" (in your mind’s eye) exactly what you want it to look like. Needless to say, a well-trained mind’s eye is a fantastic ally.

The learning process

When you first start learning Photoshop, it feels like you’ve hopped in your car to drive to the pub, but you don’t have a map – you just drive around town until eventually you find the pub.

In fact, sometimes you don’t even find the pub you were looking for … eventually you just stop at any dingy old pub, because you’re thirsty as a camel, and sick of driving around.

But if you can hop in the car, and you know exactly where the pub is, you can drive straight there. It’s much quicker, and less frustrating. Well, post-processing is the same. If you know exactly where you’re going, it’s quicker and easier to get there.

Your mind’s eye will develop gradually with practice. It takes a long time, but I know of one very good way to speed it up – diligent adjustment review.

Toggle your layer

Every time you add an adjustment layer, and modify it, immediately turn the layer on and off a few times using its visibility icon (the little eye). This allows you to compare the adjustment you’ve just made with the pre-adjusted state.

This is an invaluable tool for assessing your adjustment, of course, and making further tweaks as necessary. But it’s more than that – it’s a way to train your eye to recognise the effects of adjustments … and in time, to be able to predict the effects of adjustments before you even make them.

The Alt trick

I advise you to take this further. If you hold down the Alt key (Option for Mac) and click on the visibility icon of the Background layer, it toggles all the other layers on and off.

This allows you to review your whole edit, by comparing the original image to the completely adjusted one.

Invest the time

Both of the above methods train your eye to recognise the effect of all of your adjustments, and trains your brain to guide you through adjustments in the future.

So, this is my advice: Take a few extra seconds per image to compare your before-and-after. Those few seconds invested now will save you hours and hours and HOURS in the future.


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.