Smart Objects for Dummies (Windows & Photoshop Creative Cloud)
17 Dec 2016
I use Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud as the primary platform for processing bird and wildlife images and have streamlined my basic workflow to 10 easy steps which addresses most post processing requirements. On occasions there is a need to include an extra step or two and I sometimes like to use the brush tool to apply selective edits such as a noise reduction or a shadows/highlights adjustment. Rewind, what? say that again! That's right! the smart object feature allows us to create layers and masks for certain adjustments that otherwise lack their own adjustment layer. For this example I will create a noise reduction adjustment layer mask for use with the brush tool. Here's how it works.
Figure 1: Australian Pied Oystercatcher being chased by a biting fly - Note* Additional noise added for the tutorial
Step 1: Select the image for processing and duplicate a Background copy layer (BCL), rename this layer 'Noise'.
Step 2: Right click the newly named 'Noise' layer and left click Convert to Smart Object (a small window should now appear in the lower right cnr of the layer)
Step 3: With the layer highlighted select; filter, noise, reduce noise. A dialogue box should open. Check preview, Basic and Remove JPEG Artifact. Enable Settings (default) and adjust Strength to 10, Preserve Details, Reduce Colour Noise, and Sharpen Details to 0%. Click OK. A global noise reduction should have taken place and a layer mask (Smart Filter/Reduce Noise) should have been created below the adjustment layer each with their own layer visibility icon.
Figure 2: Noise reduction applied globally, note the blur to the subject, fly and splash as well as the background
Step 4: Here's the fun bit. Select the Smart Filter mask by left clicking on it and choose the brush tool (keyboard shortcut b). Make sure the swatch box in the left hand margin is black and using a soft brush @ opacity 100% paint over the subject and the areas where you don't want noise reduction.
Figure 3: Selective noise reduction complete
The great benefit of this selective adjustment method over others such as the magic wand tool, lasso tool, quick selection tool etc is that the opacity measure, swatch and brush tool can be applied simultaneously to fine tune the adjustments to either the subject or background or both. For example dark noisy backgrounds may not require brushing (which would recover detail) whereas you may wish to recover some detail in the mid-ground or lighter tone background areas, for example brushing in at 50% opacity or maximum (original) detail at 100% opacity. You may also enjoy the creative benefits of treating subject noise by lightly brushing over shaded areas.
I encourage you to try this with your own images and once you get the feel for the method experiment with other 'non-layered' adjustments such as shadows/highlights, sharpen and so on by creating additional smart objects. To do this first flatten the image under Layers as you need to create Smart Objects one at a time then continue with the workflow.
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