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Remembering How You Did it in Photoshop

Sometimes you work on an image in Photoshop and the results are like magic. The results truly reflect the way you saw the scene in your mind's eye. The problem is, you don't always remember just how you did it so you can try the same thing later on another shot. Here are a couple tips for remembering how you did things in Photoshop.

The preferences for the Photoshop History Log
The preferences for the Photoshop History Log

One easy solution is to have Photoshop remember everything you do so you don't have to. Adobe thankfully equipped the program with a History Log that may just save the day for you. To turn it on, go to Edit >> Preferences >> General. You'll find the configuration options for it down near the bottom just before the big "Reset All Warning Dialogs" button. By default, it's not enabled, so the first thing you'll need to do to make use of it is turn it on with the checkbox near the heading for the section. Once you do, you'll get a choice of where you want to save the log as well as how detailed you want that log to be. I'm going to go over this second choice first before returning to the question of where to save the history log.

Even though we're talking about the History Log feature, the control for the level of detail is oddly named "Edit Log Items." The least verbose choice is referred to as "Sessions Only." This will record only the time you start or exit Photoshop itself as well as the time you open and close each file you work on. This would prove sufficient perhaps for billing time to clients but does not provide any information about the specific edits you made while working on your images. "Concise" includes this same Sessions information but adds details roughly equivalent to that which appears in the History panel you are probably already familiar with. To this, "Detailed" adds information for the settings used in each step plus additional information closely matching each step of all Actions you may run on an image. So while Concise would remember that you used the Lasso tool or that you ran an Action, Detailed would remember the coordinates that define your Lasso selection as well as what that Action consisted of. So while Concise may contain enough to jog your memory if you have to refer to it later, Detailed is generally the better choice. Each log entry consists of a single text line or a short block of text so it really takes very little space when compared to the size of most image files these days.

As to where to save the History Log, you get three choices. If you set "Save Log Items To" to "Metadata" Photoshop will embed the details of what you do to each image within the image file itself as metadata. This is convenient since it goes wherever the image file goes. But if you prefer, The "Text File" choice records the data to a text file. You can change the file name to whatever you want at any time but if you don't it will continue to get new entries written to it for each image you work on. The third option is "Both" which keeps your History Log data as both embedded image metadata and in an external text file. This could potentially be thought of as the best of both worlds.

You can generally consider the History Log as a "set it and forget it" tool in that once you configure it as described above you can ignore it and let it do its thing. At least until you need to refer back to what it recorded that is. If you save the log as metadata, you can see it via File >> File Info. If you save it to a text file, you can later open that file in whatever your favorite text editor is. Any basic editor will do.

Often the History Log will give you everything you need to be able to remember how you achieved that get effect but sometimes you might want a bit more. This is where Photoshop's Notes feature comes in. With it, you can create sticky notes and affix them anywhere you want in an image. You can use these annotate any aspect of a file you want.

Notes in the Tool palette
Notes in the Tool palette

Notes are created using the Notes tool in the standard Photoshop toolbox. You might not ever have known there as a Notes tool since it's hidden underneath the Eyedropper tool, but if you click and hold down the Eyedropper icon you will get the fly-out menu of tools that share that same space in the toolbox. The Notes tool is one of these.

When you activate the Notes tool, the Options bar will show you its options. Here you can specify the Author and chose a Color for new notes. To actually create a note, just click on your image where you want to note to be affixed. A window will open into which you can type whatever you want. For the fun of it, I just pasted the entire text of this article into a note. Be aware that the only thing that will show on the image is an icon for the note. To edit an existing note and see the text it contains, double click on the icon for that note on the image.

Entering a note
Entering a note

To control whether Note icons are displayed or hidden either use View >> Show >> Notes or go for View >> Extras to toggle the display of selection edges, target paths, grids, guides, and slices in addition to notes. What could be simpler? To delete a note rather than just hide it, either right mouse click on it and choose "Delete Note," or double click to open it in the Notes window and use the standard trash can icon at the bottom. You can also delete all notes via the same right mouse click menu or use "Clear All" from the Notes Option bar.

I still remember back when I used to shoot with a film camera I carried a small notebook with me to record all the settings I used — very cumbersome. When I switched to a digital camera I was thankful that the camera remembered all the settings for me. Thankfully, Photoshop too can keep track of what you did so can refer back to the details later if need be. Together, the History Log and Notes should provide you with the necessary tools to keep track of what you do in Photoshop without resorting to the old fashioned pencil and notebook approach.

Date posted: November 6, 2011


Copyright © 2011 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
A Photoshop History Lesson
Taking Notes in Photoshop

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