Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Use Smart Objects In Adobe Photoshop CS5

I was talking to a couple friends the other evening and the conversation got around to workflow in a combination of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5 (or CS4).  Today's image is an example of why you would like to use Smart Objects for going back and forth between LR3 and CS5.  It's not exactly a stellar image, but its only there to demonstrate a point.  One of the fellows confessed that he doesn't use Smart Objects at all and just barely uses Layers.  Now, I know a few commercial photographers who make a pretty good living working with a very rudimentary understanding of how PS works.  I ran into a friend who is a part time bookkeeper for one of the photographers.  I had seen the photographer give a demonstration of his typical workflow and mentioned that his knowledge of PS was pretty limited.  She shot back that he obviously knew more than I did because he makes his living using PS to finish his photography.  There wasn't a whole lot of sense to arguing, since she had no frame of reference about my ability.  She was just convinced that the photographer must have known more.  Sort of a lame defense, but I let it go.  As I was talking with the friends and getting into how they attack a project I was dumbfounded by their methods.  The one who barely used Layers either tried doing everything on the background Layer or might have added one Layer and piled things up there.  No Adjustment Layers, no Smart Objects, no separation of work to be able to go back and change things.  The guy's a good shooter, but has basically zero knowledge of Photoshop.  The second fellow said he used Layers, Adjustment Layers and Smart Filters.  To group things into segments he uses the old "entire left hand side of the keyboard" method.  Whenever he's to the point he determines is a good place to consolidate things he holds down the Shift/Alt/Ctrl/E combination to put a flatten copy of the image on the top of the Layer Stack.  One of the things I've noticed as I've talked to a fairly large spectrum of Photoshop users is that you can almost (pretty close) pinpoint when they started using Photoshop and when they stopped learning Photoshop.  One successful photographer was giving a talk and made a flat out statement that anyone using PS had to master the Pen Tool (P).  That was true several years and several generations ago, but isn't really necessary today.  I saw a video by Dave Cross about keyboard shortcuts.  In it he said he hadn't used the Pen Tool in such a long time that he switched the keyboard shortcut "P" from bringing up the Pen Tool to bring up the Color Picker.  His justification was that he uses the Color Picker just about every day and hasn't used the Pen Tool in more than a year.  I've gone through each of the stages the people I've written about as I learned more and more about Photoshop.  To get an idea of why I'm manic about Smart Objects these days, hit the "read more".

Smart Objects are the Holy Grail of flexibility in any combination of Lightroom and Photoshop. I use LR3 as a DAM (Digital Asset Management) program. I love it. I, almost, won't print from anywhere other than the Print Module in LR3. I can have an instant Slideshow at an event or wedding from the Slideshow Module. There a lot going on in Lightroom. But the biggest asset I see is the ability to bounce back and forth between LR3 and CS5.
Today's image has two "adjustments" made to it. In Lightroom I cranked the Exposure up as far as it would go with the Adjustment Brush and cut the stones into four quadrants. I then brought it into Photoshop (Photo/Edit in/Open as a Smart Object in Photoshop) to make additional modifications. I added a new Layer and painted two Brush (B) strokes, forming an X. I selected both Layers and made the combination a Smart Object. I copied that Smart Object twice and used one iteration to Sharpen the image and the second one to put a vignette one it.

None of that is "the big deal". The key is that I can double click the Smart Object, open the underlying file, remove the "X". Then open that Smart object, bringing it back to LR3 and removing the brightened cross and then go back up through the sequence returning to the finished image.

I hadn't changed the vignette. I hadn't changed the sharpening. But, when I went File/Save then File/Close it brought me up one step. When I did it again it brought me back to the finished image. The key was that the cross and the "X" were gone. I went all the way back to the adjustments I did on the original image and updated things all the way through.

This, of course, is just a silly example to demonstrate the concept. The trick is that it can be done through two sets, or ten sets, or twenty sets, whatever is needed. Using Smart Objects all the way through your workflow means you can go back and make ANY adjustment needed at any time. You just have to remember to "walk it backwards and then walk it forward again. Great Stuff.