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Using Smart Objects In Photoshop


Have you ever taken an image using your smartphone or digital camera and it wasn’t exactly the best quality? Or perhaps it was a bit out of focus and you just knew it needed to be tweaked or edited before posting it?

If Photoshop is the first word that comes to your mind, then the answer is probably ‘Yes’.

Adobe Photoshop

Everyone should be familiar with Adobe Photoshop by now, as its arguably the leading software nowadays when it comes to editing and manipulating images, whether it be without smart phones or digital cameras. I’ve been a Photoshop fan ever since the early days, going back as far as CS3 (explain what that is here)

Just for brief history, Adobe photoshop started back in 1988 by Adobe Inc and over time had grown into the industry standard for both raster graphic editing and digital art. Even the software’s name has found a way to take on a life of its own in our everyday language. When we see an image or picture that might suspend our disbelief momentarily, we tend to say that the image has been “photo shopped”- although Adobe themselves do not encourage this.

Basically, I taught myself photoshop over time through trial and error of manipulating different types of photos and images with various effects and filters. Back then, if there was something I couldn’t figure out, I could always either venture out to my local bookstore and browse through a book off the shelf on Photoshop, pick up something out of a Photoshop magazine (the few that were available) or keep trying until I figured it out myself. But today, with YouTube and other resources available, finding a tutorial or lessons on photoshop is right at our fingertips.

Editing Images In Photoshop

When it comes to taking pictures for different things, like vacation pictures, selfies, profile pictures or others, there was a good chance that I was using the quick ‘point and shoot’ method – where I basically just took aim at my subject and snapped the photograph, relying on my smartphone or camera to take care of the rest, like exposure or focus.

And after that, I would take a quick preview at the image and realize that I needed to touch things up before posting it on social media or elsewhere. And I’m not necessarily talking about any major image manipulations that would be needed, but just a few minor adjustments, like cropping the image, adjusting the lighting, or perhaps removing some lens flare that I captured.

Applying Layers In Photoshop

Let’s take the following image that I took while in Grand Central Station this summer


And my revised image after editing in Adobe Photoshop CC 2017. It was one of those random shots where I was just surveying the crowd and instantly caught this guy who stopped and looked down at his cell phone in the middle of everything. I didn’t really know what to do with this image in begin with – at first glance it appears there’s not much happening here.

But after trying different filters and effects in photoshop, I decided to focus on the man holding the cellphone, by isolating him with motion blurs mixed with layer masks, some vignette, a little gradient and some monochrome to focus in on the man with the cellphone and drown out everything else around him.

My approach has always been simple: open the image in photoshop, duplicate the layers, and apply the needed adjustments with each layer until I achieved the proper effect that I intended.

I find it very convenient, because I’m able to keep my effects separate. Using layers has always allowed me to simplify the process by keeping all of my effects separate.

But there are times when the image needs to be rasterized and the layers must be flattened, which means there’s no way to see how the image was edited unless I save a copy of the photoshop file beforehand.

What are Smart Objects?

Honestly, I as long as I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop, I’ve never heard of smart objects. I’ve been using the Layer’s method for all of my editing in the past, which is basically, taking the image and creating a layer in the layers panel for each additional adjustment you want to make in an image. And by chance, should if I make a mistake, or discover that my results aren’t turning out the way I like them, I can always just hide or delete the layers that I don’t like and just revert back to my original image on the background image.

Smart Objects are basically layers that have an advantage or just using the layer method as above. They contain the image data from vector and raster images, and more important, they preserve the image quality and allow us to apply effects to the layers in a non-destructive way. We can also come back later if we want later if we wish to change the values of the smart filters! This is not the case when using layers method, as you have to apply the filter, save it, and then move on to the next effect. Even if you have your Actions turned on, or your history, you can only ‘reapply’ the same effect from an earlier step, but not change the values.

So in changing my approach to the image above, I can start by duplicating the background layer and converting it to a smart object, and proceed to apply the smart filters and effects, starting with motion blur. But in this particular case, when I apply a smart filter, it comes with both a layer mask and a separate layer that contains the actual smart filter. This means, I have more leverage here. I can apply a smart filter, hide or reveal a part of it with its own layer mask, and still return later in the editing process should I need to change any of these settings, that is not destructive.

So far, the one downside would be the extra processing time that smart objects can take when on your laptop when you’re making any adjustments to a smart filter and saving them. But I feel like the payoff is worth it, and I can’t really see myself applying overtaxing my psd file with an excessive amount of smart objects – but just a few to get the job done.

Going forward

I think layers are important in Photoshop because they help to keep track of all of my adjustments, even though once I apply these filters, I can’t go back and edit them. After learning about smart objects, I am definitely finding ways to convert my layers and use these smart filters going forward, which are providing me with more possibilities in editing my images going forward.

What are your thoughts when it comes to using smart filters in Photoshop? I’d like to know what everybody thinks.






  1. Malia Farley Sept 14 7 S. Broadway

    Very informative. Alot of great tips on how to make my photos great. Thank you!

  2. Nate Stone Sept 14 7 S. Broadway

    Hi Isaiah,

    Some great tips here, I often use my smart phone to take pictures for my infographics, I occasionally do very limited adjustments on phototshop; but that is because my skills and knowledge are somewhat limited. I’ll try following your advice and play about with smart objects and see if I can improve the end product, thanks for sharing!

    • Isaiah Burch Sept 14 7 S. Broadway

      No problem Nate! Glad you found this helpful.


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