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Editing landscapes with Smart Objects in Lightroom and Photoshop

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to get out of Photoshop, adjust the photo using Lightroom ("LR") or Adobe Camera Raw ("ACR") and for that you had to re-perform all the steps done already in Photoshop? 

The solution is there and it is called Smart Objects. Here is the scenario to consider:

Once done adjusting a photo in LR, you’ll probably want to continue working on it in Photoshop, specially when it comes to layers and blending, Photoshop is the tool to use. How you edit it in Photoshop will have an impact on the options available to you. To open a photo for further processing in Photoshop you can hit Ctrl + E. However, another option in Lightroom Edit menu is to open the photo in Photoshop as a Smart Object and that has some advantages. Opening your photos in Photoshop as Smart Objects gives you additional flexibility to work with your photos – it’s a handy technique to add to your Lightroom/Photoshop workflow.

Here’s how to do it and scenarios for using this feature.

In Lightroom, when you' re done processing the photo and you are ready to continue adjusting it using Photoshop, go to the Edit Menu and choose Open as Smart Object in Photoshop.

Smart Object LR crop.jpg
Smart Object Icon.jpg

Photoshop will open loaded with your photo on the canvas. The background layer will have an icon in the bottom right corner telling you that this is a Smart Object.

If you want to make further adjustments to the image you don’t have to start over. Instead, double click the image thumbnail in the Layers palette and the image will open in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). The global and local adjustment processing options in ACR are the same as in Lightroom.

When you are done making changes, click OK. The changes to the photo will appear in the Smart Object back in Photoshop.

The key advantage of Smart Objects is being able to make changes to the photo even after it has been opened in Photoshop and even after you have made changes to it – such as adding an Adjustment Layer, for example.

So let's apply this technique to a landscape picture with the obvious issue of having the sky and the foreground in optimal exposure (when not using a ND Filter). To do this, right click on the smart object layer and choose New Smart Object via Copy. This creates a copy of the smart object layer.

Double click on the thumbnail of this second Smart Object to open it in ACR and now reduce the exposure so that we can recover more details from the sky. When you’re done click Ok to return to Photoshop.

The changes have been applied to only the second copy of the image and not the first so there is a different version of the image in each layer.

To blend the two layers together add a Layer Mask to the topmost layer – to do this, select the layer and click the Add Layer Mask icon at the foot of the Layers palette. Target the mask by clicking its thumbnail in the Layers palette and paint on the image with black to bring back detail in the layer below.

If any of the layers still needs fine tuning, return it to ACR to fix it.

Because the two versions of the image are on separate layers you can blend those two layers together using a blend mode or adjust the Opacity of the top layer.

When you are done, click Save to save the file, close it and return to Lightroom. Your edited version of the image will be saved in the same location as the original image and will appear in Lightroom too.

If you want to edit this photo again at a later date and have the Smart Objects still in place, when you right click the image and choose Edit In Adobe Photoshop, choose Edit Original.

Taking your images to Photoshop as Smart Objects gives you additional tools for working with your images in Photoshop – it’s a handy technique to add to your Lightroom/Photoshop toolkit.