Keep Track of Editing History in Photoshop CS

Activate the history logging feature in Photoshop CS

Photoshop window

 Sue Chastain

It’s a scenario you might be all too familiar with as a Photoshop user: spending hours creating something wonderful, only to completely forget how you did it, or being asked how you did something, but not being able to remember all the steps. After going back and forth with filters and functions, you might not even be able to recall how you created something just a few minutes into a new project.

Photoshop CS’s history window (Window > History) is nice, but it only shows you the basics: if you used an effect, it will tell you which effect, but it won’t tell you the specific settings. Wouldn't it be great if you could have a complete, detailed history of every editing step performed on an image?

This is where the Photoshop CS history log comes in. The history log, aside from being helpful for personal use, can be used to record time-tracking information for client work, to create a legal record and for training purposes. The history log is only available in Photoshop CS, CC or professional versions of the program, and it is disabled by default.

How to Turn On the History Log

To turn on the history log, go to Edit > Preferences > General (In Mac OS, Photoshop > Preferences > General). In the lower section of the dialog box, click the checkbox to enable History Log. You can choose whether you want the information embedded into the file as metadata, stored in a text file (see below for directions), or both.

Under Edit Log Items there are three choices:

  • Sessions Only: Only records when Photoshop is opened and closed and when each file is opened and closed. Useful for time tracking. However, it doesn’t record inactivity, so unless you were working on the image continuously from open to close, the recorded time will only be an estimate.
  • Concise: Similar to the history window. Records basic functions, plus the text that appears in the history palette, but no detailed settings or information.
  • Detailed: Records the items listed above, plus the text that appears in the actions palette. This essentially tracks the complete history of editing for the file, from brush sizes and settings to where the file is saved.

Recording a History Log in a Text File

If you’re editing an image for a third party, you might not necessarily want a recorded history of the image. You can still keep a history log, however, by recording it to a different location than the original image file by sending the information to a .txt file:

  1. Create an empty text file (Notepad, TextEdit, etc.) before you open Photoshop. This is where the history log will be recorded.
  2. Go to Edit > Preferences > General, or Photoshop > Preferences > General if you’re on a Mac.
  3. Click the Choose… button and select the text file where you want the history log to be saved. If you select Both, the image file and the new text file will record the history.

Accessing the History Log

History data can be viewed in the metadata panel of the File Browser, or from the File Info dialog box. Be careful storing the history log in the metadata because it can increase the file’s size and reveal editing details that you'd prefer to remain undisclosed.

If you ever forget how you achieved a particular effect, just open the history log and follow the trail. The history log will remain active on all images until it is manually disabled.