Photoshop – Smart Objects

4 02 2012

Since I’m on a roll, I’ve got a few minutes, and I’m in the middle of processing some digital photos that I’ve took, I thought I’d write another little post about something else Photoshop related…Smart Objects.  I’m going to hit on 2 main pieces of Smart Objects during this post, first using smart objects as a way to create embedded and easily update-able images in Photoshop or Illustrator files in Photoshop, second using multiple images to create make a busy street appear empty by using stack modes.

Smart Objects as links:

As I mentioned in my previous post today, shrinking an image or layer down and then enlarging it forces Photoshop to lose a lot of valuable data but then guess to try to make up for the lost data.  Is there a way around this?  YES!  Smart Objects create embedded Photoshop files within a Photoshop file.  How does this work?

To create a Smart Object, open the image and go to Layer>Smart Object>Convert to Smart Objects

The Smart Object is now created, you can tell because the layer will have a new black box in the preview of the layer.  When the Smart Objects are created, create a new layer and make some changes on the new layer.

Now we’ll make changes to the original image and watch it update.  Double Click on the layer containing the Smart Object to open it.  the following message will pop up:

Notice you can tell you’re working in the Smart Object because you’ll see the tab at the top is a .PSB file.  To create a noticeable difference, I’ll invert the original image and then save it again.

When you save the original layer again, close it and look at the update automatically made to the previous .PSD file.

Through this technique you can work in multiple layers and multiple files to ensure maximum flexibility while working!  The other great thing about this is the non-destructive to the original image.  The other cool thing about this is the way that you can use Illustrator files as Smart Objects in Photoshop.  For more on this, check out Colin Smith’s video via

Stack Modes:

So often times you’ll be out taking some photos and want a nice shot of a building, but there are people who are walking by, cars driving, or other things that happen to be bothersome to your artistic vision.  Well now with the use of Smart Objects, we can eliminate anything that’s moved throughout the sequence of images.  Using this technique is fairly simple, but takes a bit of forethought when actually taking the photos.

1) If possible use a tripod to stead the photos.  If not tripod is around, that’s ok, Photoshop can guess and try to align them, just don’t move!  Try to take a set of images in succession without moving, looking down, or shifting your camera.

2) Take multiple images and allow some time in between images.  This will certainly help when we get into the Photoshopping process because of the algorithm used to eliminate the moving objects.

3) Be artistic and have fun with it.  Don’t forget to experiment and see what cool images and post processing you can create!

I must admit that I stole this technique from Scott Onstott’s tutorial years ago.  I’ve taken a few images of a neighborhood here in Cleveland and will be using them as the basis for this exploration.


Once you get back to your computer (and defrosted in my case) download the images and then we’ll look at post-processing.  There’s two ways to create the Stacked Mode Smart Objects.

The first way is to open all the images of a single sequence in Photoshop.  Go to File>Scripts>Load Files into Stack

When the Load Layers Dialogue appears, select Add Open Files (or Browse and select Files…this is the second way of creating stacks)  Ensure that the check box for “Create Smart Object after Loading Layers” is checked.  If you didn’t use a tripod (or if you did and just want to ensure alignment) select “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images”.

You will then most likely have time to go to the bathroom, get some coffee, or change the laundry out as it processes.  When it’s done you’ll see the stacked images on top of each other.

Notice the Smart Object icon in the layer palette.

Once the stack is created is as simple as going to Layer>Smart Objects>Stack Mode>Median.

Again, it’s time to get some coffee, change the laundry, go to the bathroom, or whichever you didn’t just do 5 minutes ago.  When you come back, you should a much cleaner version of the sequence.

Stacked Sequence - Median - click for full size image

The way that this works that Photoshop looks at all the images and only keeps the pixels that are the same in 50% or more of the images.  This is why it’s generally good to wait a second or two between images.  As you can tell, I was not so patient and while the car in the middle of the scene has vanished, the turning van on the right has created a bit of a trail.  It looks pretty cool, but the van certainly doesn’t create as clean of an image as I’d have liked, so next time I should take more time between images, or I could try with less images, for example the first image(DSCN007.jpeg), the middle image (DSCN011.jpeg), and the last image (DSCN014.jpeg).  Note:  I haven’t tried this for the sequence above, so I’m not sure if it will work, but sometimes it’s worth a shot.

Now that we’ve cleaned up the image, experiment with some of the other stack modes!








Standard Deviation