Log Blog

Police InTerrogation Room: The cold metal chair beneath me creaks as I lean back and squint. The voice of Jimmy Cagney blares rapid-fire from behind a searing white light. “Where were you on the night of December 12th 2006 at 9:03 PM?”

I smirk. Slowly lighting a candy cigarette, I cooly reply, “That’s easy. I was sitting in front of my laptop, saving a file called CheeseFace3.jpg.”

“We got ourselves a comedian here. What was the resolution of that file?”

“72 ppi.”


“sRGB ICE61966-2.1”

“Very funny. Where’d you save it to?”

“Macintosh HD:Users:Mike:Desktop:pixels_de_frommage”

A frustrated Cagney crumples his paper coffee cup. “Alright, you’re free to go. But watch yourself. We’ve got the ASPCA hot on your trail for using the Liquify Filter on your cats.”

He’s got me dead to rights there, but I won’t crack. I know where the smoking gun is and he doesn’t. I’m a free man.

How did I know about the CheeseFace file? Warrantless government wiretapping?
Ha ha ha. Heck no, that would be illegal.

Am I some DTP Rain Man? 15 minutes to Blatner… always have cheese balls and juice boxes before the podcast...

The Infinite Sadness of Google? Not yet. No, it’s something much more humble.
My Photoshop Edit Log.

Not THAT log, yew eedeeot!

Go to your Photoshop General preferences and you’ll see an item (unselected by default) called History Log. Happy happy joy joy.

Think of it as a limitless, text version of the History panel. Everything you do in Photoshop, down to the decimal point, can be dutifully enshrined in monospaced glory.

You have three options for where to record this info, and three levels of info to choose from. With Text File, you create or select a .txt document to be the repository of your deeds. With Metadata, you append this info to the file itself, so wherever it goes, so goes its history. You can see metadata by choosing File > File Info, or in Bridge, go to the Metadata Panel, and tip open Edit History. Oops, nothing to see here.

Or you can put on belt and suspenders and choose Both. In terms of what gets logged, Sessions just gives you the times you open and close files. Concise gives you openings and closings, plus a sequential list of the tools you employed. And Detailed is the version used by the other Police. Every breath you take, every move you make, every pixel you break, it’ll be watching you.

Why would you want such a log? I’ve used mine to keep track of how much time I spent on freelance work, and to remember settings I used, so I could replicate successful techniques. With the history log, I can do things like look at a printed book and compare the image on the page to the Smart Sharpen settings I applied months earlier. I’ve also used the log to see where I saved long lost files. I suppose I could use a notebook, but I write enough already, so I let Photoshop do the work.

I also just get a kick out of seeing my Photoshop habits. Looking at one log I kept from May 3, 2006 to February 4, 2007, I can see I worked on exactly 1003 files. I used 3 times as many curves as levels (473 to 185). More than a quarter of those files (277), I took into LAB. I was fairly decisive, choosing Undo 457 times. But I probably spent too much time touching up layer masks and adjusting opacity. The day I applied 202 consecutive brush strokes still bugs me. There must have been an easier way. I think you can learn a lot about how you use Photoshop from keeping a log. It might even help you improve your habits.

Despite its uses, part of me wonders if I should even be publicizing this feature. There is a capacity for evil here. Is the world ready for such radical transparency? Do we really want our employers to know how many times we’ve had to Undo? Or that we spent 63 minutes tweaking a layer mask? Mostly I think it’s OK because an employer who doesn’t have anything better to do with their time than to sift through the minute details of your edit log, might not be in business much longer.

If you do go with a detailed log, I think it’s a good idea to start a fresh one from time to time. They tend to get rather longish. If you’re lucky enough to work on one project at a time, you could start a new log with each project. For simultaneous projects, you could have a separate log file for each; you’d just have to remember to switch the preference to point to the right one. Or you could just turn logging off for projects you don’t want logged, and flip it back on again when posterity demands documentation, or when you’re just trying something out and want to be able to replicate it later.

There’s no special protection on the text log file, so you’re free to rewrite history, if you choose. If you’ve been warping your poor pets into hellcats, be sure to doctor the log before PETA comes knocking on your door.

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