Smart Objects and Smart Filters | Photoshop Basic 2 Tutorial
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Running Time: 9 minutes
Whether you’re retouching portraits or composites, the Smart Object is, and always will be, the right way to go. In this short session, I will tell you all about the magic of Smart Objects and Smart Filters. For any retoucher, it’s important to develop a non-destructive workflow. Smart Objects and Smart Filters will give you the ability to go back and forth between your actions without permanently damaging your photo.
Smart Objects vs. Pixels
I often get a lot of student submissions that use pixel-based information in portraits. This becomes very problematic because when I ask them to go back and make changes, they would have to resort to building on top of their existing layers, or collapsing their layers to create entirely new ones. Because pixel-based information does not allow you to revise adjustments you have already made, it can pretty much eat up all of your time and waste all of your effort whenever you need to change something.
The most effective way to work is to use Smart Objects in your basic portrait workflow, and here’s a quick how-to.
Opening an Object in Camera Raw
When you open up an image in Photoshop, it’s going to pop up inside of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Here, you can make basic color corrections and tonal changes. It’s very easy to learn all about this powerful tool, and you can check out my other more detailed tutorials on Camera Raw on my website.
For now, let’s just dive into it. Clicking the “Open Image” button opens up your image into Photoshop as a single, pixel-based layer. Since we’re trying to work non-destructively, it’s best if we don’t keep this “Background” image as a static layer where we can no longer go back and make changes if we wanted to.
Instead, going back to Camera Raw, hold down the SHIFT key and click the “Open Image” button, which now changes into the “Open Object” button.
Clicking on this new button opens up your raw file into Photoshop, where you’ll see an icon that tells you your image is now a Smart Object. You can also see your original image name here instead of just “Background”. What happens here is that your photo is actually inside that layer; that’s why when you double-click on the thumbnail, it’s going to open up the original raw image again in Camera Raw. What does this mean for you? It essentially allows you to open your image in Photoshop, make changes, go back into Camera Raw, make some more changes, and head back into Photoshop again.
Smart Objects are really nothing more than a container. We have the file or raw information inside of your layer. By simply double-clicking on the thumbnail in your layer, you can go back to how the file was saved as a Smart Object in Camera Raw.
One of the many advantages of this non-destructive workflow is that you can apply filters onto your original image layer itself without damaging it permanently.
Under normal circumstances with pixel-based layers, you would have to make a duplicate copy of your “Background” layer: one as your original layer and one as your filter layer. But with Smart Objects, there’s no need to do such a tedious thing. You can apply filters and make adjustments on your original Smart Object layer itself, and still be able to go back and forth during revision whenever you need to.
For instance, let’s go to Filter – Noise – Add Noise. If you crank up the noise on the image and apply your adjustments, you will see a separate line in your Layers palette that says “Smart Filter”, and beneath that, “Add Noise”. This is where an incredible workability comes in.
If you decide that you want to make changes to that noise adjustment, you can double-click on the “Add Noise” filter and the dialog box for adjusting the noise pops up again, allowing you to make your revisions to the effect. It just gives you the ability to go back and forth between the effects you’ve applied if you later decide that you’ve changed your mind. Instead of damaging your image permanently with every effect you apply, this tool gives you the power of repeatedly reversing your actions until you finally find what works.
Ordering Multiple Smart Filters
You can keep applying and adding more and more filters, and each one will appear as a separate icon that you can always
double-click and come back to whenever you feel like it. If we add an Unsharp Mask filter on top of the Add Noise filter, Photoshop sees it as such: you have your base image, then the noise, then the sharpening. Essentially, Photoshop is sharpening the noise you applied. If you want it the other way around, you can just click on the Unsharp Mask and drag it below the Add Noise. Now, with this new order, Photoshop sharpens your original image, then adds in the noise. Like anything in Photoshop, this is why layer order matters.
A problem like this on a pixel-based layer would most definitely mean that you would need to throw away your layer and start over with a new one because of the permanent damage you’ve done. But with Smart Filters, you can simply rearrange layers, or even double-click on your original image to go back to its original adjustments in Camera Raw. You can even click on the arrow icon beside your original image layer to collapse the Smart Filters and keep adding new adjustments. How incredible is that?
A Smart Object is basically just a container for photo information, adjustments, and files. As an off-shoot of the Smart Object, you can add Smart Filters on top of it while it retains its original information.
Additionally, Smart Filters have a mask that you can attach to them. Notice the white thumbnail on your layers palette named “Smart Filters”. Just like layer masks, we can use this to indicate where our desired filters should or should not be applied on the image.
As an example, if we take our paintbrush using the black color, we can paint over the eyes of the model in our picture. What this does is that it removes the effect of the Add Noise and the Unsharp Mask from the areas we just painted over. Just keep in mind that black conceals and white reveals.
If, after everything you’ve done, you decide that you want to scrap all your adjustments and just go back to your original base image, just click on the Smart Filter layer and drag it down to the trash can icon to delete it.
Without even doing anything too complicated yet, we can already see just how amazing and powerful Smart Objects and Smart Filters are when creating a non-destructive workflow. They work extremely well even with high-end retouching such as high and low frequency separation.
If you want to know more about transforming your images into masterpieces with my techniques, head on over to www.TheArtofRetouching.com where you’ll see many comprehensive and easy-to-digest tutorials, including a behind-the-scenes look at how I work on images in real-time. I can walk you through an actual work in progress from a student submission and you’ll get to see just how I come up with a final retouched image.
For those who’re just hungry for more retouching skills, you can catch my Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Photoshop courses on my website for best practices on how to become a better photo retoucher.
And that’s it for now! You can learn more in my Basic I Photoshop Course to help you master the Art of Retouching.