Back in 2000, I started sending out my Photoshop Tip of the Week via e-mail. Each of those text-only ‘tips’ was really a collection of 4-8 tips that all related to each other. Lately, those tips have been few and far between because I’ve only sent them when I came up with multiple tips that all related to each other.

Now, I’d like to introduce my free Photoshop Insight Injections! What’s that you ask?
Insight Injections are individual illustrated tips and techniques that will help you get the most out of Photoshop. The first installment can be read below and features a free script with instructions on how digital photographers can embed their Raw format images into a Photoshop file to achieve the utmost versatility.

Photoshop Insight Injection #1: Opening Raw Files As Smart Objects
The Raw file format that is produced by many medium to high-end digital cameras has helped to give photographers more control over thier images. The only problem is that once you’ve opened a Raw file and started to use Photoshop’s tools to enhance it, Photoshop treats the image just like any other and doesn’t give you any special features… that is unless you take advantage of a new feature in Photoshop CS2 that called a Smart Object. Smart Objects allow for much greater versatility once the image has been opened in Photoshop. Before we get into how to create a Smart Object, let’s look at some of the benefits of using them.

A Smart Object Looks Like a Normal Layer, But Has Special Qualities
After opening a Raw file as a Smart Object, the image will appear as a special layer in the Layers palette. A small icon will appear on the thumbnail to indicate that it’s a Smart Object and double-clicking on the thumbnail image will present you with the Camera Raw dialog box, allowing you to change the raw settings used to open the image. This is how I work with the vast majority of raw files I adjust. I open them as Smart Objects and then make further adjustments using Adjustment Layers in Photoshop and save the resulting layered file in Photoshop file format.


Scale, Rotate, Transform, Add Styles While Retaining the Ability to Edit the Raw File
You can open a Raw file as Smart Object and incorporate it into a design by scaling, rotating and warping the layer, add any Layer Styles (like Drop Shadow or Bevel & Emboss) and still be able to double-click on the layer’s thumbnail image to change the Camera Raw settings used to open the image. Not only that, but you can choose Layer>Smart Objects>Replace Contents, point Photoshop to an alternative raw file and it will replace the image while retaining all the transformations and layer styles that were applied to the original Smart Object layer!


Multiple Interpretations Of The Same Raw File
Let’s say you have an image where the sky looks best with one set of camera raw settings, but the rest of the image looks better with yet another set of camera raw settings. Well, just open the image as a Smart Object using one of the settings, then choose Layer>Smart Objects>New Smart Object Via Copy and you’ll end up with a second layer that is independent of the first. That means that you can double-click on it’s thumbnail image and choose different camera raw setting to use for that layer without affecting the original Smart Object layer. Then, if you know how to use Layer Masks, you can combine those two interpretations of the same Raw file into one seamless image.



Exporting a Copy of the Raw File From a Layered Photoshop File
Let’s say that you’ve opened a Raw file as a Smart Object, added a bunch of adjustment layers to enhance the image and then need to obtain the original raw file again. Well, a raw file is essentially locked and cannot be changed by Photoshop and since you’ve essentially embedded a copy of the original Raw file within your layered Photsohop file, you can choose Layer>Smart Objects>Export Contents and you’ll end up with a copy of the original raw file deposited on your hard drive. That also means that it’s not critical that you keep the original raw files around (although I always have an archive of the original raw files that I make right after each shoot).


Retouching Is A Little Different
Since the Smart Object layer is essentially a Raw file built into your layered Photoshop file, there are certain things that you cannot do to the layer. You can’t do anything that would directly change the appearance of the layer. That means that you can’t paint on the layer, retouch it, apply a filter, or do anything else that would be destructive to it. To get around this and be able to perform retouching, I usually type Command-J (Mac), or Ctrl-J (Win) to duplicate the layer and then choose Layer>Smart Objects>Convert to Layer. That will turn the copy that was just made into a normal layer that can be changed in any way you see fit.

Placing a Raw File as a Smart Object
The process of opening a Raw file as a Smart Object used to be a multi-step process:

1) Create a new document in Photoshop
2) Go back to Bridge, select the Raw file you want to place
3) Choose File > Place In Photoshop
4) Choose either Image > Reveal All or Image > Trim
5) Throw away the Background layer

Automating The Process Using a Free Script
To make the process easier, I partnered with my friend Jeff Tranberry who works at Adobe and has a web site devoted to scripting. We came up with a script that makes the process a single step. After installing our free script, all you need to do is select an image in Bridge and choose Open as Smart Object from the Tools menu. That’s it! There are two versions of the script included, one that creates an 8-bit file and the other produces a 16-bit file. The vast majority of people I talk to work with 8-bit images, but a few high-end individuals choose to work with 16-bit files and we’ve got you both covered.

Open As Smart Object Script (.sit file for Mac)
Open As Smart Object Script (.zip file for Windows)

To install the script, download the file and uncompress it (double-clicking on it should accomplish that on most operating systems), then launch Bridge, choose Preferences from the Bridge menu (Mac), or Edit menu (Win), click on the Reveal button that appears near the bottom of the General Preferences and drag the uncompressed file into the resulting folder. 


Finally, quit and then relaunch both Bridge and
Photoshop and you should be good to go. You can access the script in
Bridge by choosing from the Tools>Transberry Willmore Tools menu. That will cause the Camera Raw dialog box to appear asking for the settings you’d like to use when opening the file. Be sure to click the OPEN button when done (clicking any of the other buttons in the lower right will cancel the script).


The script has had limited testing and is considered to be a beta version. If we find any problems with the script, please let us know by adding a comment to this post. Once we feel enough people and tried the script, we will post an updated 1.0 version.

If you want to really get the most out of your raw files, then I suggest the following resources:
My Mastering Camera Raw two DVD training set
The Adjustment Layers chapter in my Photoshop CS2 Studio Techniques book
The Smart Objects chapter in my Photoshop CS2: Up to Speed book
Jeff Tranberry’s web site that covers scripting

I want to thank both Jeff Tranberry for creating this script and Russell Brown since the script was inspired by and partially based on scripts that Russel distributes.

The text and images used in this post are Copyright ©2005 by Ben Willmore and Digital Mastery. Do not copy or reproduce any of this content without written permission from the copyright holder.