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Snapshots in Photoshop, Tutorial


Photo Editing  Made Simple Tutorial With Videos

Digital Photo for Photoshop Snapshots Tutorial

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough and her reflection photographed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Many years ago, while working as the Chief, Multimedia Branch, Air Force News Agency, I was tasked to bring Color Management to AIRMAN magazine. In addition to providing input to the flagship magazine for the United States Air Force in this management position, I oversaw the radio, television and print content for the multimillion dollar website,, which allowed me the opportunity to work with professional consultants in various multimedia fields.

One of those professional consultants, Jim Rich, from Rich and Associates and author of an Adobe Photoshop 6 book, The Color Companion, provided our staff some great insights including how to make quick, “reversible” corrections on a photo while editing in Adobe Photoshop.  While this was back during version 6 of Adobe Photoshop, I still use this timesaving technique today, normally it’s the first step in my post-production workflow followed with editing software tools like Nik Software and Adobe Lightroom.

Though before I began to use the Nik Software filters like the Bleach Bypass, Glamour Glow, Foliage, and the Dynamic Skin Software along with Nik Viveza or Silver Efex Pro, the Snapshots technique was the major part of my image editing workflow, and though I still use it today, I use it more for “rough, quick edits” or as a supplemental step when the other software just doesn’t provide me the desired results I want to achieve. Appropriately named “Snapshots” after the often overlooked selectable option in Adobe Photoshop, it’s basically a five-step (excluding making your working file and renaming it) method that saves me countless minutes when “cleaning” up my images for publication and I wanted to share this with you.

Keep in mind, you can use this Snapshots techniques for many things, including adjusting levels, sharpness, color, saturation and various other corrections—on any area of the image without wasting time with layers, layer masks, lasso tools, rubber stamping or the magic wand.  In a nutshell, Snapshots is a reversible (during workflow) correction technique that works using temporary layers only available during the post-production workflow—while the layers are not permanently saved once the image file is closed, their effects remain permanent on the image, thus reducing the final file size, unlike the larger file sizes of images with stored layers.

Adobe Photoshop Snapshots Tutorial

Make a “working copy” of your original file first.

So to get started, we’ll open our original file we plan on post-producing and do a “save as” and save the file as a TIFF or PSD file with a working copy name.  For example, if my original file opened is IMG_0424.tif (or .jpg), I would then do a “save as” and save it to a new directory folder as name_0424.tif.  “Name” could be your subject’s name or any name you wish to give the file.  I like to keep the original file number in case I have to research the original file. For this tutorial, we’re saving the file as holley_0424.tif as it’s my working file.  You should never work on your (original) master image file as it should be saved in your archives.

The first-step in using Snapshots for image editing, once the file is open, is to make a duplicate copy of the background in your layer’s pallet.  This duplicate copy layer is a layer that will remain with the file as long as we don’t merge or flatten the layers and unlike the Snapshot layers, it can remain with the original file and opened for reuse later.

Adobe Photoshop Duplicate Layer in Snapshots Tutorial

Make a Duplicate Layer

The second step is to create a “fallback” temporary Snapshots layer simply by clicking on the “camera” at the bottom of the History pallet. The camera symbol

Snapshot Camera


is next to the trashcan symbol.  This temporary layer allows you to go back to the original temporary layer should we “overdo” future Snapshot changes and when doing more in-depth post-production. It’s smart to click the camera symbol and have several fallback temporary layers.  All temporary layers created during the Snapshots technique are useable provided the image mode, bit-depth, resolution and image sizes are not changed along the way.  If any of these elements are changed, then create a new fallback layer immediately after making such changes if your post-production is not completed.

Adobe Photoshop Snapshots Tutorial Duplicate Layer

Duplicate Layer

The third step is simply to make whatever correction you’d like to the “entire” image, not just a selection or selected part of the image. For example, using my white balance techniques, I photograph women with a more warm-toned photographic style than the average photographer.  However, I don’t want my subject’s teeth or the whites of her eyes yellow with warm red tones, so using Snapshots, I’ll make all the necessary adjustments, like adding blue to cancel out yellow, adjust the levels or curves to a brighten these areas, basically adjustments to make the teeth white, not yellow.

During this process, I know the entire image is temporarily affected, but I ignore this fact because after I click on the Snapshots camera icon again, a new temporary layer is stored in the upper part of the history pallet with those adjustments, then I delete the actions (state) from the lower part of the history pallet.  Thus the affect is only stored in the temporary Snapshots layer (upper part of the history pallet) that will eventually become the source for the history brush when I later “paint in” the effect.

Basically, once this temporary layer is created I label it by double clicking on the appropriate Snapshot state, usually titled “Snapshot X” with “X” usually a number representing the number of default titled Snapshots.  At this point, my history pallet has three layers, the original, the fallback layer and now the levels adjustment that I renamed “dark levels” as in this tutorial I’m going to darken the water in front of Holley’s face as my first adjustment.

Adobe Photoshop Snapshot Layers Tutorial

Snapshot Layers

I then click on the last correction made in my history pallet, in this case, “Levels,” then once it’s highlighted, I click on the small trashcan and when the dialogue box appears asking me if I’m sure I want to delete the state “Levels,” I click on “yes.” This returns my photo back to the original form before I started to darken the image and you’ll notice that “Levels” is now gone from the history pallet.

Adobe Photoshop Snapshots Tutorial Adjusting Levels

Selecting Dark Levels

Now comes the fourth step, painting in my corrections using the history brush. I then select the appropriate sized history brush, one large enough to paint around areas I want to adjust yet small enough so I don’t paint into areas I don’t want affected by the history state. I then go to the history pallet and click in the small, left-hand side box next to the state “dark levels.” It’s important to click on the small rectangular box so a paintbrush will now appear there—if you accidentally click on the large rectangular box where the snapshot name is located, then click on the last entry in your history pallet underneath the temporary layers, then go back and re-click on the appropriate smaller, left-hand side box next to the state’s name.

Adobe Photoshop Snapshots Tutorial Opacity

Set Opacity at 33%

I then ensure that my opacity is set at 33%, as it’s better to work in small increments when making image adjustments.  That’s the beauty of Snapshots, it will never go more than the selected opacity—this is very important in that if we had used the traditional burn or dodge tool instead of the history brush tool combined with Snapshots, any overlapping brush strokes would cause the overlapping areas to have double or more of the effect, in this case it’s more of a burning effect as we’re darkening the water area in front of Holley’s face.  Snapshots ignores overlapping areas, thus making it much easier.

Adobe Photoshop History Brush, Snapshots Tutorial

History Brush

From this point on, make any other corrections you might have in the same manner, i.e., if you need to adjust the whites in the eyes or teeth, then do the overall corrections, click the Snapshots’ camera icon in the history pallet, rename the Snapshot for easy reference, then select the proper history state, delete it (them), then select the history brush, click in that Snapshot state’s small rectangular small box on the left, then paint in the effect.

Along the way, if you make many adjustments, take a Snapshot to have a more current fallback Snapshot layer.  These fallback layers are very helpful so if your history brush goes into areas you didn’t want affected, you merely paint out the effect using this fallback layer as your method to undo the affected area.  This technique works great when the edges are very complicated by simply adjusting your history brush size as the history brush leaves no hard edges normally created by using the lasso tool or magic wand tool.

The last step is to save the file as a PSD or TIF file, and if you close the file and then open it again, you’ll notice the Snapshot layers are not stored and are now gone, but the Snapshot effects you painted in remain.  Now you have your post-produced working file copy that can be resized, color profile changed, saved for web (jpg), etc., to match your intended output.  Like many photographers who insist on their own, hands-on, post-production, any tip that saves time in the workflow is beneficial and hopefully you’ll find this Snapshots technique as useful as I have for post-production. I was lucky to have learned it while managing the Multimedia Branch at the Air Force News Agency and I bring it to you here on Lens Diaries™, so try it out, I think  you”ll like it.

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  1. Rolando,

    Very cool technique. It will come in handy.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you like it! Thanks, rg.


  1. Post Production Video Tutorial One | Lens Diaries™ - [...] of photography, I do have my methods of post production from frame to frame including “Snapshots” and various others.…

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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

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