The Master File

Other essays in this series

Zabriskie Point Master File

The concept of the Master File is relatively recent and I thought that a short description of it wouldn't hurt. The fact that I received numerous requests to describe this concept told me that there was indeed a need for such a description.

The Master File
Quite simply, a Master File is a file created in Photoshop that contains all the adjustment layers you created to optimize this file. The file can be created in programs other than Photoshop, provided these programs allow you to save your adjustment layers.

In the example above I used about 10 adjustment layers to optimize Zabriskie Point. Each of these adjustment layers "sits" on top of the original image, each of them improving the image in a specific way. Contrast, saturation, sharpness, color balance, cropping, each of these steps, and many more, are done on a separate layer. Each layer can be turned on or off by clicking the eye icon next to each layer.

When I am satisfied that I have completed all the adjustments that I want to do on a specific image, I save this image, with all the layers I created, with the suffix "Master File". This file is the final, full-size version of this image. From it I will create files of different sizes, as needed, for printing and publishing.

Upper Antelope Canyon
Original and Optimized versions

The idea behind saving your adjustment layers is two fold: first, you can go back to each layer and make changes if necessary. The layers are "live" and can be modified at any time.

Second, by clicking each layer on or off you can see the path you followed from the original photograph to the final, optimized image. This allows you to "go back in time" so to speak, and see how far you have gone and how many improvements you have made.

Both of these two unique aspects of layers have a huge teaching value because they allow you to see what I have done to the original image. In a way it is as if you were looking over my shoulder and watching me work. Not only that, but each layer can be copied and pasted into a different image, allowing you to reuse my layers if you want. With this approach a specific effect can be applied to one or several other images. Once you have a layer you can save it and use it over and over again. If necessary, you can make small changes to this layer to fine-tune it for a different image.

For these reasons having access to the original Master File of a photograph you admire is invaluable. It will allow you to study how this image was optimized, and in turn it will allow you to learn how to optimize your own images. In short, it will save you a lot of time trying to do this on your own.

You can study my master files and see exactly how they are created by studying my Adjustment Layers Mastery Workshop on DVD. This unique tutorial is available at this link:

Alain Briot

Essay and photographs Copyright © Alain Briot 2006
All rights reserved worldwide