Photoshop Smart Objects for Photographers – Part 1, Soft Proofing and LAB Color Mode

One of the great things that has happened since Photoshop CS2’s release, is the introduction of Smart Objects. Today we’ll talk about how photographers who shoot RAW can use smart objects in Photoshop to their advantage.

One the features that we have been all waiting for is soft proofing in Lightroom. Lightroom has so many quick and efficient workflow tools, but does not support one of the most fundamental tools of modern digital editing, soft proofing! (are you listening Adobe?)

We’ll see how we can virtually soft proof a RAW file undergoing adjustments for conversion.

Smart objects allows you to embed a RAW file into your layered Photoshop (.PSD) document. The embedded data contains the RAW file in its entirety, its not a reference to the original file, but an actual copy of the original RAW data in the PSD file. You can make adjustments to the RAW using Adobe Camera RAW, which means any adjustments you would normally make in Lightroom, you can do here also.

Here is the closest thing, one can get to soft proofing in Lightroom, if you wanted to see what your final output will look like with certain printer and paper combinations, or to see if there is any colour gamut clipping in your images.

This isn’t the best usage of smart objects (to soft proof with), but I’m just using it as a good introduction, and as you’ll see in the next few parts I will posting shortly, RAW smart objects can be very handy for the photographer with many other operations.

To use smart objects (there are several ways to do this, this is one of them), go to File, Open as Smart Object…

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Select your RAW file you want to insert.

You’ll then have your Camera RAW dialog, and you’ll find your usual RAW conversion settings.

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Remember to choose the appropriate colour space and bit depth. I work mainly in Adobe RGB, and 16-bit. The 16-bit is important to this example due to what we’ll be doing later on in the tutorial.

When you press OK and open the image in the editor, you’ll see in your Layers Palette, the layer icon is a little different.

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There is special symbol in the lower right of the layer thumbnail, which indicates the layer is a Smart Object.

Now I turn on my colour proofing and gamut warning, and select the colour profile I want to proof to.

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In this instance, I am proofing to a Lambda + FujiFlex Profile.

Now it all looks okay, but lets say if I want to make a little adjustment to the RAW file conversion settings, say I want to increase the vibrancy and saturation. Instead of having to “re convert” the original RAW file, like I would in Lightroom, I can now just double click on the smart object layer, and my Camera RAW dialog will come back up!

I now make my changes, increase (a lot) the vibrancy and saturation and hit OK.

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After a little pause, the image on screen will update, and we can not see clipped colours! When you make adjustments in Camera RAW, note it is not in real time, you must hit OK each time to see it update in the main window (updating in real time would be nice, but we can’t have it all).

This is just touching the very basics of the power of using smart objects, as we will see in my next tutorial, we will start doing a few more tasks which are a lot more practical.

Remember to save your file, as a Photoshop PSD file, and all your smart objects will stay intact.

Some things to think about,you can also add adjustment layers on top of smart objects, but you can not do pixel-specific editing like you would with normal raster images.

Now, I will turn back my vibrance and saturation to something more realistic.

I then change my colour mode to LAB, so we can do some colour adjustment the way I like to do it.

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You will probably get this dialog:

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Go to Don’t Rasterise. If you rasterise, you will lose your smart object.

You will now be in LAB mode, but you have not made any destructive edits to your image as the original RAW file is still there!

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Make your LAB adjustments, here I have adjusted the a and b curves to make the colours “pop”, but without changing luminosity. Its probably a bit over the top, but I’m just doing it to show you as an example (not there is no clipped colours here).

Now if you wanted to make further changes to your RAW conversion, you can, just double click in the smart object again and can make as many changes as you like (e.g white balance, shadow recovery etc), without affecting the LAB curves layer you adjusted. This is great, since without using smart objects, you would have had to go back to your original RAW file and re-convert it, and then do the LAB adjustments all over again.

I hope you have learned something, and keep an eye out on this blog, as I will have more parts on smart objects coming up soon, with much more practical uses.

‘Til next time.

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