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How to Undo Any Change at Any Time in Photoshop Lightroom

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Producing good digital images can require a lot of steps, but the occasional "oops" doesn't have to put you back at the starting point. Scott Kelby explains how to undo those little errors.
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Photoshop Lightroom keeps track of every edit you make to your photo in the Develop module, and it displays your edits as a running list in the History panel (in the order in which they were applied). If you want to go back and undo any step, and return your photo to how it looked at any stage during your editing session, you can do that with just one click. Unfortunately, you can’t just pull out one single step and leave the rest, but you can jump back in time to undo any mistake, and then pick up from that point with new changes.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. To see the history of your edits in the Develop module, click the History panel header in the left-side Panels area to expand it. This action displays a list of all the changes you’ve made to your currently selected photo in this editing session, with the most recent changes at the top (see Figure 1). If you see a scroll bar along the left side, there’s more history in the list, and you can click the scroll bar and drag downward to reveal the additional history states.
  2. Move your cursor over one of the history states. As you hover, the small Navigator panel preview (which appears above the History panel) shows what your photo looked like at that point in history. (Figure 2 shows that, a few steps back, I had briefly converted this photo to grayscale. You can see the grayscale version in the Navigator panel’s preview window.) Use this feature to find the last version of the image that was correct.
  3. To jump back to what your photo looked like at that particular stage, click that state in the History panel. Your photo instantly reverts to the selected state.

By the way, to undo steps, you don’t have to use the History panel; you can also press Command-Z (PC: Ctrl-Z) on your keyboard. Each time you press that key combination, it undoes the previous edit. To move forward (adding back your edits one by one), press Command-Shift-Z (PC: Ctrl-Y). When you use these keyboard shortcuts, the specifics of the history undo are displayed in very large letters near the bottom of your photo, as shown in Figure 3. This technique is handy because you can instantly see which edits and settings you’re undoing without having to keep the History panel open all the time.

During your editing process, if you come to a point where you really like what you see, you can save that particular moment in time as a snapshot, by clicking the plus (+) button at the upper right of the Snapshots panel (see Figure 4). That moment in time is saved to the Snapshots panel, and it appears with its name field highlighted so that you can give it a name that makes sense to you. (I named mine "Grayscale Conversion With Tone Curve" so I’d know that if I clicked that snapshot, that’s what I’d get—a black-and-white photo with the extra contrast I added using the Tone Curve panel. You can see my snapshot highlighted in the Snapshots panel in Figure 4.)

After you’ve created a snapshot, go ahead and continue editing the photo. At any point, you can go back and click that snapshot to see Photoshop Lightroom instantly return your photo to how it looked at that moment in time.

Two quick tips:

  • If you jump to a snapshot, the History panel lists that jump, too. So, if you jump to a snapshot and then change your mind, just go back and click the state before your snapshot.
  • You don’t have to click a previous History state to save that state as a snapshot. Instead, you can just Control-click (PC: right-click) any state and choose Create Snapshot from the context menu that appears (see Figure 5). Lightroom adds that state as a snapshot without your having to change to that moment in time. Pretty handy.

Here’s another important thing to know. Let’s say that you decide to jump back to a snapshot you’ve taken, and then you wind up improving on the look you had there. For example, I jumped back to that Grayscale Conversion With Tone Curve snapshot I took earlier, increasing the brightness a bit, and I like it better. To update your snapshot with your new improved settings, just Control-click (PC: right-click) the snapshot in the Snapshots panel, and choose Update With Current Settings from the context menu that appears (see Figure 6).

Ready to start leveraging more power? Suppose you jump back to a snapshot you’ve created, and you really like the way that photo looks. You might want to apply the same settings to other photos. For example, I kind of like the black-and-white conversion I’ve got going in my Grayscale Conversion With Tone Curve snapshot. You can save all those settings as a preset:

  1. Click the snapshot.
  2. Go to the Presets panel and click the plus (+) sign to add these settings as a preset.
  3. When the New Develop Preset dialog appears, give your preset a name and click Create (see Figure 7).
  4. Later, when you open a different photo, you can apply that same conversion (black-and-white, in my example) to the new photo by going to the Presets panel and clicking your new preset. Note that you’re only seeing a preview of the conversion in the Navigator panel up top in Figure 8, because I didn’t actually click the preset—I’m just hovering my cursor over it so I can see a preview before I commit. How cool is that?
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