#CreativeFriday – Photoshop and Lightroom Workflows, Smart Objects and Compositing Images

The Creative Cloud Photography bundle offers the Photographer even more flexibility when it comes to editing their photographs and opportunities to make their images look even more amazing. Integration between the two products is a key benefit and is re-enforced with this bundle. The integration is not new and has been in place some time now, however, with the release of the Photography bundle and the ongoing updates to the Creative Cloud, this integration has become much stronger and offers even more possibilities to make images look even more beautiful.

The typical workflow between the two solutions is to let Lightroom render it’s adjustments and take the results into Photoshop. This is a great and well defined workflow, however, it does not offer an option to re-edit the Lightroom adjustments from within Photoshop. The integration between Lightroom and Photoshop in the Photography bundle has become much more flexible, by making use of Photoshop Smart Objects. The ability to open a Smart Object from Lightroom into Photoshop is not unique to the Photography bundle, but, there has been a number of significant improvements to the workflow and the ability to use more Photoshop Filters in a non destructive way on Smart Objects as well as the traditional adjustment layers.

With traditional Photoshop workflows, any Lightroom / Photoshop adjustment(s) had to be rasterised early in the workflow and reduced the options for any non destructive work. There are classic ways of editing images in Photoshop and work arounds to try create a non destructive process, however, this can result in workflows with a large number of layers and committing to adjustments early in the workflow with no way to re-edit previous enhancements.

The Creative Cloud Photography bundle, offers new workflows for the photographer to embrace a true non destructive workflow, without having to commit to adjustments early in the process. Images now can be saved with all of their Lightroom or Camera RAW adjustments in tact, with supported ways to re-edit the original RAW adjustments from Camera RAW or from Lightroom. This new workflow is a saviour for anybody that is wanting to tweak, enhance and re-tweak their pictures to get the best result at any time in the process.This new workflow can also be used when compositing images when using Lightroom or Camera RAW as a source.

To demonstrate this, here are two pictures that I took in Bhutan. I like the crowd image, and as well as helping to tell a story about the event, it might make a great replacement background on another image. The second image is of a chap in a mask used at the ritual, but the background could be improved.

One of the most common tasks in Photoshop is to cut something out of a photograph and then replace the background with another image. In the following example we will use Photoshop to extract the person in the mask from the it’s original scene, then replace it’s background with the crowd scene. The example will demonstrate how Smart Objects can be used in the compositing process, as well a new tool in the 2014 release of Photoshop CC, called the Focus Area. The Focus Area tool is used to make a selection based on the depth of field, rather than edge contrast, this enables a fast and accurate way to select in-focus parts of a scene.

The example will also show the workflow and integration of image editing between Lightroom and Photoshop and another way to open and process photographs. It will also show how to keep the Lightroom adjustments active and improve the non destructive editing process between the two applications, allowing you to tweak, review and re-tweak any enhancements at any time.

Any of these images can have Initial adjustments made in the Development module of Lightroom, there is no need need to worry if the initial results are not exactly what we are looking for, as we can modify them later once our editing process moves into Photoshop, and we have more information about how the composite will look once we see it.



Below is the first image that will be used as a background, this image of the crowd is located in the Lightroom catalog.



To open this image with a non-destructive editing workflow in mind, it will need to be opened as a Smart Object into Photoshop from Lightroom. The open as a Smart Object is available under the menu item ‘Photo / Edit in / Smart Object in Photoshop’ or by right clicking on the image in the filmstrip or in the middle view.



The image that has the person in the mask (with a not very interesting background), is also found in Lightroom. To show the integration, initial adjustments are made inside Lightroom before the image is taken into Photoshop for compositing.



Lightroom adjustments are made at this stage (setting the white and black points in the image) and highlight and shadow recovery mostly. These adjustments will be modified later, once the composite has started to take shape. The white point and black point adjustments are controlled from the Basic panel in Lightroom. In Lightroom, there is a very precise way to choose which elements of the image are clipped. Whilst either the white point or black point, shadow/highlight recovery settings are modified, the ALT key can be pressed. The ALT key will reveal the mask and show the areas that are being clipped to white/black.



the file is opened the same way as the background image, as a Smart Object into Photoshop.



Once inside Photoshop, the two Smart Object enabled layers, will be opened as two canvases. The two canvases will need to be merged into one to allow the composite to take effect. This can be done by un-docking one canvas, selecting its contents using CMD (Mac)+A or CTRL (Pc)+A, then using the move tool (selectable using the V key) and dragging it across to the other canvas. The SHIFT key may also be used to center the image on to the receiving canvas. If the SHIFT key is not used, the new image will need to be moved into position by dragging the layer into the correct position (by using the move tool). The crowd scene will need to be placed under the person with the mask, if it’s to be used as a background. To do this, grab the layer and move it to bottom of the layer stack.



Even though the canvases have been merged, the contents of them can still be opened, in this case, the original RAW file and the Lightroom Edits can be adjusted using Camera RAW inside Photoshop CC. Any adjustments here will then be re-applied to the RAW file and the results will be shown in the Smart Object layer in Photoshop.



The person in the mask is mostly in focus (expect just behind the head), to extract this object quickly and accurately from it’s background, the new Focus Area tool can be used. Selecting objects from a scene can be a tricky and time consuming business, this new feature is able to save huge amounts of time, and make an initial selections based on the depth of field of the image. If parts of the selected area are not in focus and not picked up by the ‘Focus Area’ tool, then modifications to the initial selection can be made by using tools within the Focus Area tool. The tool is available from the menu item ‘Select / Focus Area’.



Once the tool is selected it will start to work straight away. Focus Area will start to look for parts of the scene that are in focus and reveal appropriate parts of the mask (The mask is shown in red below, the mask options are configured in the view option of the tool).



If other areas of the image need selecting, and are not within the initial depth of field range, they can be added or removed from the initial selection by using the +/- brush tools and marking the area to include manually. In this example the + brush tool is used to include parts of the person costume and shoulders (parts of the person are slightly out of focus due to the aperture used when the picture was taken). Both of these tools are on the Focus area dialog box and are shown below (as seen on the image below). Including a new depth of field range is as simple as drawing a line on the red section of the mask.



The output of the Focus Area can be modified and different options are available, in the example below, the Layer Mask is used. This will return the mask selection as a layer mask, which will be added to the Smart Object layer, and essentially hide the background in this case. If the mask needs to be refined (i.e. fine element selections, such as hair can be made more accurate by using the refine edge tool), Refine Edge can be opened from the Focus Area tool, by clicking the Refine Edge button. (Don’t forget when using masks, non of the original layer is destroyed, it’s only hidden by the mask).



Once the mask has been applied, it will hide certain parts of the Smart Object and will allow the crowd scene to be seen.



At any time, the mask can be re-worked by selecting it on the appropriate layer, then choosing ‘Mask Edge’ on the properties panel. The Refine Mask dialog will be shown and the existing mask will be loaded into it for more refinement. As mentioned above, selection of fine elements like grass, hair etc can sometimes be improved with the refine edge option.



Once the selection has been made and the mask is working correctly, there can sometimes be a hard edge that, if not worked on can make the composite look fake. To get around this and make the blend look more natural, the edge of the mask can have a Gaussian blur applied to it. This can be achieved by selecting the mask by clicking on it with the mouse, then choosing Gaussian Blur Filter option. Gaussian blur filter can be found from the menu ‘Filter / Blur / Gaussian blur’. A large pixel radius won’t be required, as it’s just used to smooth the edge (but please try other values, and experiment with any of the settings in this guide).



Once the Gaussian blur has been applied, there might still be a white glow around the edges of the cut out/selection. In this case the mask/Gaussian blur effect will need shrinking. This can be achieved by using the levels command directly on the mask. To do this, select the mask by clicking on it from the Smart Object layer, then press the ALT key and click on the mask. The mask should be shown in black and white. The black areas are hiding parts of the Smart Object; the white is revealing areas of it. To apply the levels command to the mask, it will need to be selected from the menu item Image / Adjustments / Levels and not by using an adjustment layer. The levels command needs to be used in a destructive way directly on the mask.



Taking a closer look at the composite will show that there are now areas that are in focus areas and out of focus, all over the image. To the eye this won’t look very real, as it expects a gradual depth of field effect started by the body of the person with the mask. To make all elements of the image look realistic, the crowd will need to follow on from the out out focus areas from the persons body, especially the far shoulder.

Smart Objects and the use of filters have been significantly improved in Photoshop for Creative Cloud. Almost all of the filters under the Filters menu can now be used on a Smart Object and be used in a non-destructive workflow. This essentially means that once the Filter has been applied, it can be re-edited at any time (as long as the layer stays as a Smart Object and is not rasterized (or flattened)).

The Filter options can be found under the menu item ‘Filter’ and the Filter that will be used to apply blur (as if the camera/lens created it), can be found under ‘Filter / Blur Gallery / Field Blur’).



Once the Field Blur option has been selected, a dialog with an on screen widget will be shown. The amount of blur that will be applied to the Smart Object can be controlled by either using the on screen widget, or by using the sliders or value box on the right hand side of the screen. The blur effect will be applied to the Smart Object, which allows the blur to be added non-destructively, It’s not critical that the blur is exact at this time as it can be adjusted and refined at any time in the future.



Once the blur has been applied, the results will be added to the Smart Object layer and will be shown underneath it. This allows this effect or any Filter effect that is applied in this way to be re-edited; also, the eye icons will turn the effect on or off.



The rectangular white object on the effect (as shown above), is the mask, this mask will be used to hide/show parts of the effect, as required. Multiple effects can be applied to any one Smart Object and they will be added to the Filters list. The mask will be applied to all Filters that applied to a Smart Object. I suggest, that if multiple filters are required and each one requires a different mask or no mask even, then the appropriate layers are selected and wrapped up as a Smart Object. To wrap layers as a Smart Object, select the layers to be included (see below). To do this, open the layers fly out menu and choose ‘Convert to Smart Object’.



The two layers have been wrapped into a new Smart Object, it’s contents can be edited at any time by double clicking on the Smart Object layer.

Composite images can sometimes have different lighting, colours etc, which can result in an image that is not colour consistent. A quick way to achieve an aggregated colour effect, is to add a Blur Average effect (available from the menu item Filter / Blur / Average). This filter will essentially average out of the the colours in the composite image and create a single colour. The result will be added to this Smart Object and can be edited at an point in time.



Once the effect has been applied, the strength of the filter and blending mode can be adjusted. There is an icon on the Filter (this is shown to the right hand side of the Average Filter text (represented at two arrows separated by two lines). When this icon is double clicked, then the properties dialog will be displayed. To use the colour information only for the blend, choose colour blending mode.



The colour is too strong for the result and is overriding the natural colours, the opacity of the effect can be modified using the opacity controller. In the example 12% has been used, but is open to the effect that is required and suits the final image.



it may be required to adjust final values of the image (as would have been achieved in Lightroom or Camera RAW when working on a single image). This can be achieved on the composite by using the Camera RAW Filter on the Smart Object. The Camera RAW Filter is available on the menu item ‘Filter / Camera RAW Filter’. The Camera RAW Filter is added to the Average filter in this case, because the mask is not used on any of the filters. If it was, then I would wrap these adjustments into another Smart Object.



All of the usual controls that are expected in Camera RAW or in Lightroom are available for adjustment in this Filter. This includes controls such as the radial filter, spot healing brush, white point, black point, lens corrections etc. All of these adjustments can be added to this final composite using this non-destructive approach and cane be re-edited at any point in time.



In the following example a few tools in Camera RAW have been used to enhance the image, including the use of the Upright tool to straighten out any verticals and horizontal lines that occur in the photograph, as well as the radial filter to darken the crown and give the person in the mask more impact.



Once the Camera RAW adjustment has been applied, it will be added to the Smart Object, as shown below.



The original Lightroom adjustments are still available by double clicking into the Smart Object, then double clicking on the original Smart Object that is storing the Original RAW file and the Lightroom adjustments.



The Original Lightroom adjustments and the original RAW file are show below.



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