Right behind creating something awesome in Photoshop is the ability to undo those aspects of things that aren’t so awesome. While good and proper Photoshop workflow minimizes the risk of having to go back and correct mistakes, mistakes do happen. That’s why it’s critical to understand the options available to you while working on photographs and graphics in Photoshop.
For many of you, this post may seem like a beginner topic. And while it is somewhat straightforward, there actually is a lot to know about the undoing king of all kings, the History panel. Believe it or not, the History panel has got a history all of its own. I’ll be covering the details of specific panels in later posts, bur for now, please be aware that panels in Photoshop that seem like they’re somewhat average, once were, and still are, a very big deal.
In this post, I’m going to talk about two areas. The first one will cover how to simply undo the very last action you’ve taken. The second area will dive into the beginnings of using the History panel. How to view it, how to manage it and more.
How To Undo the Last Thing You Did
In this post, I’m going to use an example photo of a dragonfly to illustrate the undo methods I’ll cover. This dragonfly picture was taken some time in 2014 and, while clear, it lacks saturation and depth. It’s the perfect subject to practice on.
Take a look at what we’re dealing with.
NOTE: If you’d like a larger view of any example image in this post, simply right click on it and choose “Open Image In New Tab.”
Now, the first thing a beginning user of Photoshop does in situations like this is to jump right to the “Image > Adjustments” menu and start fiddling around with the saturation, color, exposure, vibrance and all the other editable values available to them. While I’m not going to go over the proper methods for editing photos in this post, I will change a value and simply undo it using the “Edit” menu for demonstration purposes.
Let’s say I want to add some saturation to this photo. To do this, I’ll head up to the “Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation” tool.
Once the tool appears, I go ahead and move the saturation slider to the right to add some color.
I fiddle with the slider for a while and then decide that I don’t want to adjust the saturation after all. When I go to click on “Cancel,” I click “OK” by accident. Whoops! I definitely don’t want to keep this photo in its over-saturated state. I want to undo my last action.
In order to undo my most recent action in Photoshop, I need to head up to the “Edit > Undo” menu and click on the first selection. In this case, it says “Undo Hue/Saturation.” Since this was the only change I made to this photo, undoing the last thing I did will bring me back to the photograph’s original state.
The History Panel
A funny thing happened while taking the screenshots for this post. While I was jumping back and forth between files, Photoshop assumed I wanted to keep my latest changes to the dragonfly photo. And by assuming that, it took away my ability to use the “Edit” menu to undo my last action. In other words, I can’t undo anything using this method.
Now what do I do?
I’m sure you guessed it by now. We’re going to head over to the History panel to see if our last change is captured there. First though, we need to check to make sure the History panel is open in our workspace. To do this, I can head up to the “Window” menu and make sure the “History” selection is checked.
I can do that, or I can go browse through the panels that are located in my Photoshop workspace. In this case, I see the History panel hiding as an icon in my vertical icon panel.
Once I click the icon, the panel opens up and we can begin looking around inside it.
Before we go any further, I want to fill you in on a small tip. When I first clicked the History panel icon, the panel opened in a very short state. Since I wanted more room, I clicked and dragged the very bottom bar of the panel. I rolled my mouse over the bar and waited to see that it had turned from a pointer into a double arrow and then I clicked and dragged it downward.
Okay, now that we’ve got the panel where we want it, we can take a look inside. If you check out the previous screenshot, you can see that there is, indeed, our hue/saturation action that we previously performed. That’s a good thing.
To undo something we previously did by using the History panel, we can do a few things. The first, and easiest action to take is to click our most recent change and drag it down to the small trash can.
With that completed, our image goes back to its original state.
Another method of undoing one change is to simply click the history item right above your most recent one. In this case, if we do this, our photo goes back to its original state and the most recent piece of history remains in the History panel, but is darkened. If we perform another adjustment to the photo, that history state will be removed from the panel and will be overwritten by our next change.
Undoing Multiple Changes
Let’s say that I make three changes to this photograph. I adjust the “Brightness/Contrast,” the “Levels” and the “Exposure.” If I do this, my History panel and photo will look like this:
You can see my individual changes fairly clearly.
If you have Photoshop open, go ahead and make similar changed to an example photo like I did. If you do and start clicking those changes in the History panel, you should see something interesting take place. For each change state you click on, all changes after that one darken and your file should revert back to that period of time. It’s pretty neat.
So, just like in the previous section of this post, if I wanted to undo a particular change I made to my photo and every change after that, all I need to do is click that change state. If I drag that state to the small trash can located at the bottom of the History panel, those changes will be deleted.
And just like above as well, if I simply click on a change and go ahead and make another change, every change that was after that one I clicked on will disappear, only to be replaced with what I just did. Check it out.
I’d like to take a moment to fill you in on something. When working in Adobe Photoshop, each change you make is recorded as a “State” in the History panel. While this can be a blessing, it can also become quite confusing if you are making all sorts of adjustments to your images and graphics. If you think you’ll need to go back and make changes to your file later on, you’ll want to make those changes using something called “Layers.” I’ll be writing many, many posts that include the use of Layers in Photoshop, but until then, keep your eye on how much you manipulate your images. Some changes you make you won’t be able to undo.
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