Photoshop Smart Objects Explained: Precisely why They’re Helpful for Photography

Adobe Photoshop doesn’t turn layers into smart objects automatically, so it can be easy to forget how useful they are. However they have some amazing benefits that you need to know about – most of all, the opportunity to re-edit filters that you’ve applied to a layer.

That’s not the only reason to convert the layer to a smart item, but it’s one of the biggest. 2 others reasons that are important in photography are that smart objects make it easier to do picture averaging and perform nondestructive transform/warps of layers. They are also helpful inside graphic design for different purposes.

Table of Details

Exactly what Smart Object?

A smart object is the ultimate non-destructive layer inside Photoshop. Any edits that you apply to a smart object can be undone or revisited; they’re never baked permanently into the layer.

Let me demonstrate how a smart item differs from an ordinary level. If you use Photoshop’s transform device to shrink an ordinary layer, it will turn into a low resolution version of itself. Seeking to enlarge it back to the initial size will give you a blurry image:

Resizing an ordinary layer in Photoshop
Resizing an ordinary layer in Photoshop

If you the same process to a layer that has been converted to a smart object, you can shrink and resize the layer to your heart’s content, and it remains just like sharp:

Resizing a Smart Object in Photoshop
Resizing a smart object in Photoshop

The particular nondestructive character of intelligent objects goes beyond just resizing layers, as I can show in a moment. Initial, though, let’s look at the various ways to make a smart object.

How to Produce Smart Objects in Photoshop

Switching a layer to a wise object is very easy within Photoshop. You simply right click on the layer in question and select “Convert to Smart Object. ”

You can also produce a smart object out of multiple layers. Shift + click (or Ctrl/Cmd + click) to select the layers you desire, right click, and select “Convert to Smart Object. ” The layers will blend into a single smart object coating. Photoshop then lets you choose how the component layers inside the smart object blend with each other; just go to Photoshop’s top menu > Layer > Smart Objects > Bunch Mode, and you’ll visit a number of options.

You can also convert a layer to a smart object straight from Adobe Camera Raw, which I highly recommend. After you’ve opened up a raw file inside Adobe Camera Raw plus finished your edits, simply hold down the Shift essential, and you’ll see that the “Open” button at the bottom of Camera Raw changes to “Open Object. ” Click it, and the photo you have been editing will open up directly as a smart item for further editing in Photoshop.

Open Smart Object from Adobe Camera Raw
The “Open” button in Camera Natural changes to “Open Object” (highlighted in red with this image) when you hold throughout the Shift key

Benefits of Smart and practical Objects for Photographers

There are tons of reasons to use smart stuff in Photoshop, and I am going to limit this article towards the three that I consider the most useful for photography. (You can see a longer list of what they do, which includes some niche uses, on Adobe’s site . ) Here are the ones that are the most important for photographers to know:

1 . Nondestructive Filters

Photoshop’s filtration system tools are a huge help for photography, especially since the Camera Raw dialog has been added as a filter option in the newer variations of Photoshop. I routinely use the Camera Raw filter to make global adjustments inside Photoshop, and I’ll furthermore use filters like sharpening, noise reduction, and Gaussian blur on occasion.  

But what happens if you apply the filter and only realize afterwards that you went a bit too much? You might have to delete the layer and start over, which may be a serious problem if you’ve done a number of other edits to that coating in the meantime.

Rather, if you convert a coating to a smart object before applying any filters, they will become “smart filters” rather. A list of all your smart filters appears under the smart item in Photoshop, and you can two times click any of their titles to re-open the filter dialog.

Smart Filters in Photoshop
Double click some of the filter names (highlighted within red) to re-open their own editing options

This can be a huge help for photographers. Did you realize too late that your earlier unsharp mask was too solid? Double click the words “Unsharp Mask” below your clever object, and you can tone down your prior edits. Missed a spot in a Camera Organic local adjustment? No need to remove the layer and start over; it’s all stored in the smart object and can be re-edited at any time by double clicking the title “Camera Raw Filter. ” (This is the reason why I recommend “opening as object” rather than just opening your image any time you finish dealing with a raw file inside Adobe Camera Raw. )

You can even mix the smart filters using layer blend modes by double clicking the icon on the right-hand edge of any smart filter:

Smart Filter Blend Mode Icon
Double click this icon to change the particular filter’s blend mode

Doing so will pop up a dialog that will looks like this, allowing you to change the opacity and blend mode just like any other layer:

Blending Options for Photoshop Smart Filters

Overall, being able to re-do any filter edits is the greatest reason to convert a layer to a smart item in Photoshop, at least designed for photography. Once you start using this, you’ll never look back.

second . Nondestructive Transform

Another helpful cause to use smart objects is to warp or transform the layer without permanently cooking the transformation into the level. I demonstrated this earlier in the article, and ideally you can see how it would be helpful to have such an option for resizing different layers.

However , this only actually applies if you’re doing some sort of composite photography, whether surrealistic or something more grounded like product photography. Not every photographers need to composite images together, but if you do, it’s best to convert your layers to smart objects prior to resizing them.

For example , if you were modifying this composite image (taken by Nasim), you should start by converting each of the three moon layers to a smart object so as not to lose quality when decreasing and improving their size:

Lunar Eclipse Phases
Copyright Nasim Mansurov
NIKON Z7 + 300mm f/4 @ 420mm, ISO 200, 10 seconds, f/8. 0

three or more. Image Averaging to Reduce Noises

The thought of image hitting   has actually been growing on me personally lately, especially for applications such as drone photography. By taking several identical photos and then averaging them together in Photoshop, the total level of noise will certainly drop substantially:

Image Averaging Single vs Eight Photos Averaged Noise

But how do you actually average a lot of layers together in Photoshop? You could play around with the Opacity slider, but the easier way in many cases is to use a good object.

Initial, select all the layers that you would like to average by Change + clicking. Right click to convert them to a single smart object. Then, visit Photoshop’s top menu pub > Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Setting > Mean. (Some photographers prefer Median instead of Mean, but I find that Imply works better. )

The layers will be averaged together perfectly, whether you have two layers or a number of dozen. (Though the putting process is far from fast if you have more than a handful of layers, so you might want to take a stretch break while you wait. )

There are more reasons to do image averaging than reducing noise, including numerous graphic design applications. You may also experiment with different stack modes than Mean to get several interesting results. Regardless, sensible objects are the way to do it.

Drawbacks of Smart Objects

The biggest issue with smart objects is that they use up more space than normal layers. You may notice Photoshop slow down if you have too many wise objects (or a lot of sensible filters). It will also make your own file sizes much larger if you’re saving a file with levels, such as a PSD or PSB.

However , if you export as a JPEG or perhaps flatten the smart object layers, the file size issue disappears. In other words, these drawbacks just apply when there are energetic smart object layers within your document.

Outside of that, you should keep in mind that some edits are not probable on smart object levels, such as using the brush device, paint bucket tool, wile, burn, blur/sharpen/smudge tools, plus similar. These aren’t feasible because, again, a smart object is the ultimate nondestructive layer. Photoshop doesn’t have a way to revisit these sorts of “paint on the picture” edits, so it just helps prevent you from doing them on a smart object in the first place.

If you’ve decided to do one of these edits in any case, you just need to rasterize the layer first. Rasterizing the layer turns it from a smart object to a regular layer, allowing you to make these edits. Just right click on the layer and select “Rasterize Layer. ” You can also rasterize a layer by attempting to do your edit (say, trying to color on the layer) and deciding on “OK” to rasterize to the wise object when Photoshop yells at you.

Rasterize Smart Object Photoshop
This dialog pops up in case you try to apply certain (permanent) edits to a smart object


It’s not always necessary to convert a layer to a smart object, which is why Photoshop doesn’t do it by default. If you don’t need to apply filters, average levels, or perform warp/transform modifications, it’s probably best to keep your layers as they are. By minimizing the number of smart objects, you can shrink the size of your own PSD files and accelerate Photoshop.

However , smart objects are critical when you’re working with filter systems, which of course are some of the most popular tools in Photoshop. Filters come into play just about any time you want to sharpen a picture, apply an Orton effect , or simply make broad adjustments in Adobe’s Camera Raw discussion. In those cases, it is usually not ideal to make the filter into the layer; instead, just convert the layer to a smart object ahead of time so that you can revisit the particular filter later and adapt it to your liking.

I hope this article helped you understand why smart objects are so useful for photography. They’re furthermore useful for graphic design work; I use them constantly when making the various charts and illustrations you see on Photography Life. In fact , no matter what field associated with digital art you’re dealing with, nondestructive editing is critical – and smart objects invariably is an important part of nondestructive editing when you’re working in Photoshop.

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