Smart Object technology inside Photoshop is a great way to preserve the original file from any adjustments and also introduce a smarter way of working.
Before we get in the details, let me explain what a Smart Object is.
Think of a Smart Object as a transparent envelope, it will usually contain the original image or art work or even a video in Photoshop CS6. It’s intention is to be a container of items/objects, and to protect the embedded items from any changes. Once something has been converted to a Smart Object (either from Lightroom/Camera RAW or from even within Photoshop), it will enable adjustments/layer enhancements to be made, but only to the Smart Object and not to the items within it. At any point in time the Smart Object will allow re-editing of it’s contents. For example, if you apply a Smart Object filter to an image from inside Photoshop (using Filter/Apply Smart Object Filter), then apply a free transform to it, the original items inside the Smart Object won’t be affected (they will keep the original shape and form), the transformed object however will take on the newly transformed shape. This makes the Smart Object technology inside Photoshop extremely practical and useful in many editing scenarios. As a bonus the Smart Object technology is available outside of Photoshop and inside Adobe Camera RAW as well as Lightroom, thus extending the natural work flow.
Sometimes there is a requirement to have a non-destructive work flow between Lightroom, Camera RAW and Photoshop. In traditional editing, once an image is brought from Lightroom to ACR to Photoshop the opportunity to re-edit the RAW adjustments has gone.Even more so after you have made an extensive layer edit inside Photoshop and suddenly realise that you need to change the RAW conversion. You would have to re-edit the RAW conversion, remember the adjustments that you had previously made, then subsequently correct them, and then manually re-insert the image into Photoshop. By using the Smart Object technology to open the file initially will remove this complexity.
In this example we will wrap the image from Lightroom as a Smart Object inside Photoshop and preserving the RAW work flow, however, there isn’t a link back to Lightroom from Photoshop, so we will use Camera RAW to re-edit the RAW file with the original RAW adjustments applied.
If Lightroom is your source for your editing, then rather than using CMD+E or CTRL+E on a PC, we will open it into Photoshop using the “Edit in Photoshop as a Smart Object”. This menu is available from the Photo/Edit in menu or by Right Clicking on the image (under the Edit In option).
This will open the image into Photoshop CS6 and will automatically embed the image into the Smart Object technology (This feature is also available in Camera RAW (ACR) and Bridge and is explained at the end of this post.
Once inside Photoshop, The image has a small icon embedded within it.
If this icon/image is now double clicked (using the Mouse, Trackpad or a Wacom tablet), Photoshop will transfer the image along with it’s original RAW adjustments (from Lightroom) into Adobe Camera RAW.
This operation can be done as many times as required, allowing unlimited tweaking of the RAW conversion. Once the OK button is pressed the image will be transferred back to Photoshop. If any adjustment layers have been made in the Photoshop edit, they will be re-applied once the image has been successfully updated.
N.B Some operations are not allowed on a Smart Object, these menu options/filters are greyed out. If there is an operation that you need to apply that is not allowed on a Smart Object, then it may be a natural time to break the connection to the RAW object by rasterizing the layer. Rasterizing the layer can be done by applying a right click on the Smart Object layer in Photoshop and choosing rasterize layer, or on the menu tool bar by selecting Layer / Smart Object / Rasterize.
To add another level of Smart Object magic, the Smart object layer can be duplicated inside Photoshop to create another independent RAW object (derived from the original RAW file), which can work in conjunction with the first layer. This can be useful within and Photoshop edit by enabling the second layer to act on the original object using a blending mode (maybe to create additional contrast, a grungy effect or many other alternative looks to the final image).
To see this working and to experiment with the feature, right click on the original Smart Object and choose “New Smart Object via Copy” option and create the new Smart Object (it must be a new Smart Object and not a duplicate layer).
The Smart Object layer will be duplicated above the original Smart Object. Once this layer has been created, double click it and the embedded RAW file will be opened back into Camera RAW. Any settings that were applied to original RAW file, will be applied to this version as well, however, you are able to independently make changes to this version, without affecting the original RAW file conversion (hence a double RAW conversion).
As an exercise, convert this image to grayscale and apply more contrast using the highlights/shadows/white point and black point/Clarity and Contrast, maybe a bit of sharpening as well. This is really in experimental mode and you will need to play with the options in Camera RAW to find the effect that you like. Then click OK.
Once you are back inside Photoshop, change the blending modes to have this layer blend with the layer below it.
For this example we will use the Luminosity blending mode (we have converted the image to grayscale in the previous step, therefore want to affect the luminosity of the underlying layer). Please feel free to experiment here and see what works for you.
This technique can be used for many creative looks. It can increase contrast, reveal more details or even apply a grungy look to your images.
The final image that is used for this demonstration can be found here.
As we are in the Adobe Creative Cloud, you are able to turn on and off any of the layers of the final PSD document and see the effect it has on the final image.
Alternative Option 1 – Starting out with Camera RAW inside Photoshop
If you are using Camera RAW from Photoshop you will most likely use Mini Bridge
Selecting this option will open the file into Adobe Camera RAW.
If you are using Adobe Bridge to open the RAW file, right click on the image and select “Open in Camera RAW” or choose File/Open in Camera RAW
Either way you will end up inside Camera RAW.
At the base of the image there is a hyperlink, in the image above this is labeled “Pro Photo RGB etc”, if you click on this, it will open up a dialog, from here you can select to open in Photoshop as Smart Objects, check this box. You are also able to open a single image as a Smart Object by holding the Shift key then click the “Open Image” button.
Alternative Option 2 – Converting to a Smart Object inside Photoshop.
If you started out in Photoshop and want to make use of the Smart Object filter, then you can convert any layer or group of layers into a Smart Object by using Filter/ Convert for Smart Filters. This method of converting won’t go back into Camera RAW, however will enable you to protect the original file or adjustments to take part in another process.
Also remember that you can convert video to a Smart Object as well a 3D object.