Photoshop Tutorial using Smart Objects – Dirk Boshoff
Layers are the core of most photographers workflows. Smart objects allow you to access even greater creative potential out of your images.
Smart objects have been around a while in Photoshop (PS), and if working non-destructively is important in your workflow, then Smart Objects are for you. Smart Objects exist as a layer in your Layer panel and on the surface they seem to be like any other layer. The fundamental difference is that they are essentially sourcing content rather than placing the original in the canvas. Essentially when you are viewing a Smart Object you are seeing a version of an image rather than the original. This means that any editing done on a smart object can normally be reverted.
Individual layers can be converted into Smart Objects by right clicking on the layer in the layers panel and selecting “Convert to Smart Object”. Groups of layers can be converted into Smart Objects in a similar way by selecting multiple layers by holding down ctrl (pc) or cmd (mac). Images in Camera RAW can be sent into PS as Smart Objects by holding down Shift. To view the source file of a Smart Object you can double click on the smart object in the Layers panel. PS will then open the source file in a new tab allowing you to make changes and update by saving the source document.
What you will learn in this tutorial
How to send RAW files back and forth between Camera RAW and Photoshop, how to create smart objects and maintain the integrity of the image with true non-destructive editing.
Step 1 – Cooking RAW
We will start by sending a file from Camera RAW to Ps. In Camera RAW we will be using the Clarity option in Camera RAW to manipulate skin smoothness. Clarity affects local contrast on an image, so increasing this increases definition on eyes and hair on a portrait. Hold down Shift to open in PS.
Step 2 – Duplicate
As we are using a RAW file as the source file, we can create multiple versions of the same image out of Camera RAW on the same canvas. Duplicate your Smart Object by dragging the layer onto the “Create new layer” icon at the bottom of the Layer panel or right clicking and selecting “Duplicate”.
Step 3 – Rasterize
Next we will convert the one Smart Object back to a normal layer. The reason for this is that if we send the Smart object back to Camera RAW and make changes it will alter both Smart objects; as they are sourcing the same file. To do this right click on the top layer and selct “Rasterize Layer”.
Step 4 – Raw Revert
Now we want to open up the remaining Smart Object in Camera RAW to make some changes. This can be anything, but in this example we will now reduce the Clarity to soften skin texture and even the tone. To do this click on the Smart Object thumbnail in the Layer panel while holding down Shift.
Step 5 – Re-cook in RAW
You will see that you are now back in Camera RAW. Now make the desired changes to your image. In this case it will be Clarity, but if you were busy with a landscape image you could intensify cloud detail or lighten parts of the picture. Once your changes are done click on “OK” in the bottom right.
Step 6 – Mask
Next, mask away the unwanted content on the top layer to reveal the desired content in the layer below. To do this, select the top layer and apply a vector mask from the bottom of the layers panel. Select a brush (B), set the opacity/flow, set the size ([ & ]), and re-set the fore/background colours.
Step 7 – Paint it Black
Make sure you have selected the mask and not the image in the layers panel. With the brush set to black, paint on the mask to reveal areas of the high clarity layer below, such as the eyes, mouth and hair. If you make a mistake, paint on the mask with white. To toggle between these use the X key.
Step 8 – Colour & contrast
If you have been doing PS for a while you will probably know the next bit. This is a quick way of ampimg-up overall contrast while slightly destaurating colour. To do this craete a new Black & white adjustment layer. Next change this layers’ blend mode to Overlay or Soft Light depending on contrast.
Step 9 – Layer Cake
Click on the B&W adjustment layers icon to reveal the adjustment options. Next increase or decrease the Luma output values of different colours to lighten different parts of the image. Most skin tone base colour is orange, so using red and yellow in combination will lighten or darken the skin.
Step 10 – Get Smart
The next part is not essential, but it can be very handy to give a “blooming” effect on the skin. Select all the layers in the Layer panel. Next right click and convert this stack into one Smart Object. Remember that what you are seeing now on your screen is sourcing the file you were working with.
Step 11 – Blurred Lines
Now apply an aggressive Gaussian Blur filter to the Smart Object (15-20 pixels). The entire image is probably blurred. Don’t worry! you are working with Smart Filters now, you can change the value (degree of blurring) at any time. Notice the filter already has a mask applied and is below the layer.
Step 12 – Blend it like Beckham
Next double-click on the Smart filter slider icon and in the dialogue box change the blend mode from “Normal” to “Soft Light”. The contrast and colour will bump up with almost a subtle diffuse glow on the skin. If you want you can mask on the Smart Filter. If you are all done, flatten and Save.
Did You Know?
When filters are applied to a Smart object they become Smart Filters. Smart Filters are linked below the active layer, but automatically have a mask applied allowing you to localise the filter effect. Added to this , filter opacity and blend mode can be changed by double clicking on the slider icon.
Other Options – Getting even Smarter
The reason why I love reverting to the RAW using smart Objects is the fact the RAW data is often 14 bit (16384 levels), where an imported RAW in PS have a Gamma correction applied and will be crushed down to 8 bit (256 levels). The more data, the more you can do with colour and contrast.
“When you are viewing a Smart Object you are seeing a version of an image rather than the original”
Images in Camera RAW can be sent into Ps as Smart Objects by holding down Shift.