More Flexible Lightroom to Photoshop Editing

More Flexible Lightroom to Photoshop Editing


If you work in Lightroom, at some stage you’ll probably want to take an image to Photoshop for some additional processing. How you send it to Photoshop will have an impact on the options available to you. One option in Lightroom is to take an image to Photoshop as a Smart Object and that has some advantages. Here’s how to do it and why you might consider using this feature.

Open as a Smart Object

In Lightroom, when you’ve finished processing the image and you’re ready to head to Photoshop, right click the image and choose Edit in > Open as Smart Object in Photoshop (this is available if you’re using Photoshop CS5, CS4 or CS3 – Smart Objects weren’t available in earlier versions of Photoshop).


Photoshop will open with your image open on the screen. If you look at the Layers palette you’ll see the layer has an icon in the bottom right corner of its thumbnail. This tells you the image 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 processing options in ACR are the same as you have in Lightroom so you can change how the image is processed.


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

Double processing

The obvious advantage of opening an image in Photoshop as a Smart Object is being able to make changes to the image even after it has been brought into Photoshop and even after you have made changes to it – such as adding an Adjustment Layer, for example.


In addition you can use this feature to process an image in more than one way and to blend the two versions together. 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 process it a second time to bring out detail in another part of the image. In this case I adjusted to get a better 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 image 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 CS5 (or CS4 or CS3), 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.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Uli January 8, 2012 09:30 am

    I tried to do the LR->RAW->PS->PSD->LR->PSD->PS trip using the smart obeject feature. But after re-opening the PSD file the smart object has lost the original RAW settings (all values are 0). Did I understand this feature wrong?

  • Benn Brown June 24, 2011 12:03 pm

    Great tips! The graduated filter in LR will suit some situations but not all, so by knowing and understanding the smart object method in PS gives you much more creative control and the ability to go back at any stage to make adjustments.

    As for PS and LR being designed for different applications, I cant agree. I am a professional photographer and I use both. LR for workflow, bulk adjustments and general adjustments. PS for more detailed pixel level adjustments and effects.

    Understanding how they are used and how they can be used together is a matter of personal choice but choosing one over the other is reducing your ability to create some amazing images.

  • CricketJD June 24, 2011 02:26 am

    Fred, try this: Make sure you are on the Library page. Locate the folder containing the shots you are working with and right click. Locate "Synchronize Folder" and click. On the pop-up, choose "Import New Photos." Then look to see if the image shows up. Sometimes it doesn't show up beside the original... sometimes, it is put at the end of the image string.

  • Fred Haider June 10, 2011 04:26 am

    I love working with both Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 but all of a sudden after using edit in Photoshop with Lightroom adjustments the feature were after I save the PS image it used to place a image of the PS corrected image back in LR next to the original image. Now I don't know where it goes. Can't figure it out. Looked at preferences etc. Solve this for me and I will be such a happy camper. Exthatic really.

  • Peter June 9, 2011 06:51 pm

    Jeremy, The graduated filter in Lightroom gives you the same effect as using a graduated filter on your lens while taking the original photo, so it can't be that bad.
    The adjustment brush is no more clumbsy than using masks and the paint brush in Photoshop, but with the adjustment brush you get better control as you have live updates as you paint, also you can overlay several seperate adjustment brushes giving a build up of layers. So if you use them both together you can get much more selective adjustments.
    Regarding your last statement "Photoshop and Lightroom were designed to be used together". If you have Photoshop, you don't need lightroom as photoshop has everything that Lightroom has. Lightroom was designed for photographers. Photoshop was designed for designers.

  • Jeremy June 9, 2011 02:06 pm

    Peter, the Graduated filter and adjustment brush in Lightroom are quite clumsy and do not have near the flexibility and control that PS gives you. The graduated filter, for example, makes adjustments along a straight line. PS allows you to select precisely the area of an image that you want to adjust. For the times when you need more than just a straight line graduated filter or the heavy handedness of the adjustment brush, Photoshop is the tool that does that.

    Photoshop and Lightroom were designed to be used together. Not one or the other. Those that eschew Ligthroom in favor or Photoshop are missing out on a great tool for photographers. Likewise, those that say that there is no longer a need for Photoshop are missing out on a fantastic tool for editing photos that Lightroom simply cannot handle.


  • Scapevision June 7, 2011 01:32 pm

    david, smart object allows you to go back to the adjusted layer any time and change/fine tune the adjustment. It is particularly useful with filters. If you just open file as normal object then once you apply filter you can't change the filter parameters. Smart object lets you go back to the filter settings anytime and change them on the fly

  • david June 6, 2011 02:07 pm

    why is this better then just clicking "edit in PS CS5" ?... whats the advantage over that other option?

  • Ian June 6, 2011 02:27 am

    But those last 4 options are grayed out in my Lightroom and I don't know why? LR 3.4 and CS3

  • Peter June 5, 2011 10:04 pm

    You don't actually need to leave Lightroom for the example given. It can all be done with the Graduated Filter and/or the Adjustment Brush, There by saving considerable time.