Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

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What software do you use to process your digital images? As of the writing of this article, Adobe Lightroom sports over 1.4 million Likes on their official Facebook page. And Photoshop? That Facebook page is pushing 7.7 million Likes. If those numbers are any indication of the overall use of the editing software, then it’s safe to say that you are likely using one of the two programs right now (you’re reading this after all). Lightroom and Photoshop arguably set the standard for all other post-processing software platforms.

If you’re like me you use both of them, in tandem, to edit and process your photos. There are literally limitless possibilities when it comes to using Lightroom and Photoshop together. Out of those possibilities comes the idea of “Smart Objects”.

Do you know about Smart Objects? Have you ever used them before in your workflow? If not, I’m going to show you exactly how useful (or not) working with Smart Objects between Lightroom and Photoshop can be. Don’t worry, it’s all easy to understand. Let’s have a look at what Smart Objects can do for you and your photography when it comes to working with both Lightroom and Photoshop.

What are Smart Objects?

Think of Smart Objects as being a larger suitcase. All your edits in Lightroom are non-destructive. This is because you aren’t actually editing your original file in Lightroom. Rather, you are working with a virtual copy of your image. When you go from Lightroom to Photoshop, like this…

Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

You package everything into the suitcase and send it off to Photoshop Land. What do you put in your suitcase? You might put your Lightroom edits, the original file information, or a mix of the two. The key is that you don’t want to do anything to your photos that you can’t take back. While you can edit your images between Lightroom and Photoshop non-destructively, there are ways to remain more flexible than others. One of these is by using smart objects.

While you can edit your images between Lightroom and Photoshop non-destructively, there are ways to remain more flexible than others. One of these is by using smart objects.

Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

Smart Objects pack more into the suitcase when you move your editing between Lightroom and Photoshop. When your image opens as a Smart Object in Photoshop, you’ll notice a special little icon on the layer thumbnail.

Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

This lets you know that you are now working with a Smart Object layer. From here, work with your image in Photoshop as you do normally.

The benefits of using Smart Objects

The great thing about using Smart Objects when jumping from Lightroom to Photoshop is that you are taking an original version of your image with you so that editing becomes much more versatile once in Photoshop. Not only can you change the edits you made in Lightroom but you can also work more effectively when transforming or resizing your photo.

This all sounds a little complicated, but I can assure you it’s not. Let me show you some of the perks of using Smart Objects when working between Lightroom and Photoshop.

Real-time edits of Lightroom adjustments

Using Smart Objects, you can make dynamic changes to your Lightroom edits using Adobe Camera Raw just as you would in Lightroom itself. This lets you augment your Lightroom edits on the fly and when you save your image back to Lightroom there will be less need to make those final tweaks. Double click the Smart Object thumbnail and your photo will open in ACR.

Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

Apply any edits you want while in ACR and they will go back with you if/when you bring your photo back into Lightroom.

Smarter resizing and transforming

There’s a problem that plagues editors when it comes to downsizing and upsizing images in Photoshop. It’s pixelization. Because, spoiler alert, digital images are made up of pixels (except vector images). When you scale an image down in Photoshop, the program removes pixels to make the image smaller. This is all well and good until you decide you want to make the image larger again. Since you’re missing pixels, the photo can lose a lot of quality and look pixelated. Let me show you what I mean.

Here we have that same photo that we imported to Photoshop. I’ve duplicated the image with the one on the left being our regular “Pixel Image” and the one on the right is the same photo only converted to a Smart Object (select layer>layer menu>convert to Smart Object.).

Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

I scale both photos down to 10% of their original size.

Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

Then, being the hypothetical indecisive photographer that I am, I decide to then bring the photo back to its original 100% size. Which gives us this.

Using Lightroom Alongside Photoshop: Working with Smart Objects

Not much difference, right? Wrong. Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the regular image after scaling it back to its larger size.

And now look at our Smart Object…

The smart object image has kept its clarity and sharpness because Photoshop didn’t touch the pixels when it was downsized and used the additional information in the Smart Object to edit non-destructively. This is the power of working with Smart Objects when using Lightroom and Photoshop together.

The Downside

No, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when working with Smart Objects. The biggest problem is that since you are including the RAW file information when you jump from Lightroom, the final file sizes can become rather large after you edit your image in Photoshop. Depending on the size of your original image file this can make for a lot of hard drive real estate being consumed resulting in poor performance during your processing.

Final thoughts on Smart Objects

Using Lightroom alongside Photoshop essentially gives you the best of both editing worlds. You have the simplistic adjustment capacity Lightroom while being able to perform more intricate edits using Photoshop. Smart Objects simply sweeten the pot. Using Smart Objects allows you to edit your images more efficiently and completely non-destructively.

Resizing images from Smart Objects means no loss of quality when you upscale or downscale. Throw in the fact that you have the fluidity of accessing and changing your Lightroom edits while in Photoshop using ACR and you quickly begin to run out of reasons not to incorporate this into your editing workflow. The increased file size, in my opinion, will be well worth the added benefits Smart Objects will bring you.

Have some of your own processing tricks while using Lightroom and Photoshop together? Please share them in the comments below.

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Adam Welch is a full-time photomaker, author, adventurer, educator, and self-professed bacon addict. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his blog over at aphotographist.com or pick up his new book Cameras in the Wild.

  • Jake

    Hey guys,
    I’ve found these great Lightroom presets: https://crmrkt.com/kbDN2q

    Check it out.

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  • Jack62

    Likes on their official (Is there an unofficial page?) Facebook page is not a real measure of success. How many CC subscriptions is a more reliable measure as it means people have actually paid money to use it.

  • Jack62

    Nice article. Is there any way to reduce the size of smart objects so they don’t use so much hard drive space?

    Again. thanks!

  • MickMJM

    Very helpful and useful article. Thank you.

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