Smart Object Issues


Today’s Question: When you send an image from Lightroom to Photoshop for editing, do you choose the option to “Edit in Adobe Photoshop” or “Open as Smart Object in Photoshop”? What is the practical impact of each choice?

Tim’s Quick Answer: My preference is to use the “Edit In” command, and to not open the image as a Smart Object in Photoshop. While there are some very nice benefits to the use of Smart Objects, there are also some challenges related to a layer-based workflow.

More Detail: Smart Objects in Photoshop provide for some very interesting and potentially helpful features. In the context of applying a filter effect, for example, adding that filter as a Smart Filter (the variation on a Smart Object used for filters) enables you to refine the settings for the filter effect after that filter has been applied, with no degradation in overall image quality.

When sending a RAW capture from Lightroom to Photoshop (or opening a RAW capture as a Smart Object separately in Photoshop if you’re not a Lightroom user), you are essentially embedding the RAW capture into the file you’re creating in Photoshop. That allows you to simply double-click on the Smart Object layer to bring up the Adobe Camera Raw dialog so you can make changes to the original adjustments applied to the RAW capture.

That capability can certainly be very helpful in a variety of situations. However, it also creates some potential challenges related to a layer-based workflow.

As just one simple example, let’s assume a workflow that involves some image cleanup work with an image opened as a Smart Object. You make use of the powerful Content-Aware technology with the Spot Healing Brush tool to cleanup some dust spots and other blemishes in tricky areas of the photo. You apply this cleanup work on a separate image layer to maintain flexibility with a non-destructive workflow.

Later, you decide that the color isn’t quite right in the image, and you decide to refine the adjustments you applied to the original RAW capture. So you double-click on the Smart Object layer, and apply color changes via the Adobe Camera Raw dialog. The color in the image is improved, but now the color in the areas you cleaned up no longer matches the surrounding photo.

Ultimately, I think Smart Objects are an incredibly powerful feature in Photoshop. Unfortunately, for my purposes they aren’t quite “smart” enough, creating challenges for my preferred layer-based workflow. So until Smart Objects get a bit smarter, my preference is to not use Smart Objects in most cases. And therefore I simply use the “Edit In” command when sending a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop, rather than the option to open the image as a Smart Object.