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Lightroom &
Photoshop CC workflow (Pt. 1): Smart Objects

October 2014

Adobe now offers a Creative Cloud Photography bundle that includes Lightroom editing software and Photoshop CC for photographers who want to organise, edit, enhance and share their images via desktop or their mobile devices – this package currently comes bundled with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 6D DSLRs, plus the PowerShot G1 X Mark II and G7 X compact cameras. In a four-part CPN series of articles and video tutorials Richard Curtis (a Principal Solutions Consultant in Digital Imaging for Adobe UK) will examine the workflow between Lightroom software and Photoshop CC to help you to understand the benefits of working with both in tandem. In Part 1 of this series Richard Curtis explains how to use Smart Objects within the Lightroom and Photoshop CC workflow and, in a special video, he reveals how Smart Objects ensure your image edits are non-destructive for longer. Please click on the play button in the window above to watch the video...

The Creative Cloud Photography bundle – which includes Lightroom and Photoshop CC – offers photographers even more flexibility when it comes to editing their photographs and opportunities to make their images look even more amazing. Integration between the two products is a key benefit and is re-enforced with this bundle. The integration is not new – it has been in place some time now – however, with the release of the Photography bundle and the ongoing updates to the Creative Cloud, this integration has become much stronger and offers even more possibilities to edit and make images look more beautiful.

Traditional workflows

The typical workflow between the two solutions is to let Lightroom render its adjustments and then take the results into Photoshop CC. This is a great, and well-defined, workflow but it doesn’t offer an option to re-edit the Lightroom adjustments from within Photoshop CC. The integration between Lightroom and Photoshop CC in the Photography bundle has become much more flexible, by making use of Photoshop ‘Smart Objects’.

The ability to open a Smart Object from Lightroom into Photoshop CC is not unique to the Photography bundle but there have been a number of significant improvements to the workflow, including the ability to use more Photoshop Filters in a non-destructive way on Smart Objects as well as the traditional adjustment layers.

With traditional Photoshop workflows, any Lightroom/Photoshop adjustment(s) had to be ‘rasterised’ early on in the workflow and this reduced the options for any non-destructive work. There are classic ways of editing images in Photoshop, and ‘work-arounds’ to try create a non-destructive process, but these can result in workflows with a large number of layers and committing to adjustments early in the workflow with no way to re-edit any previous enhancements.

New, non-destructive workflows

The Creative Cloud Photography bundle offers new workflows for the photographer to embrace a true non-destructive workflow without having to commit to adjustments early in the process. Images can now be saved with all of their Lightroom or Camera RAW adjustments intact, with supported ways to re-edit the original RAW adjustments from Camera RAW or from Lightroom. This new workflow is a saviour for anybody who wants to tweak, enhance and then re-tweak their pictures to get the best result at any time in the process.

The objective of this walk-through (which uses the 2014 release of Photoshop CC) is to show the integration of image editing between Lightroom and Photoshop CC and another way to open pictures, keep the Lightroom adjustments active, and create a non-destructive workflow for any future enhancements.

Initial adjustments can be made in the Development module of Lightroom, so we don’t need to worry if the results are not exactly what we are looking for as we can modify them later once our work is inside Photoshop CC. I will illustrate the workflow with a step-by-step guide…

Step 1: Opening an image in Lightroom

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the original image of monks in Bhutan opened in Lightroom 5.

Here is a picture (right) that I took in Bhutan. I like the way that the monks are running up and down the stairs, carrying food and other items. I think it nicely shows part of the Buddhist monks’ way of life. However, there are a few issues that I would like to solve and, after all, both Lightroom and Photoshop are editing tools to help fix any photographic problems with the picture.

First of all, when I took the picture I was stood to the right of the scene; this angle has created an awkward result. Also, to me, the monk disappearing out of the frame is not something in my opinion that helps the photograph. Of course, all of these issues might not be what you would look to fix in the photograph...

Step 2: Open RAW image as a Smart Object in Photoshop

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the ‘Open as Smart Object in Photoshop’ option.

To enable the non-destructive workflow and the powerful features of Photoshop CC, the RAW image will need to be opened into Photoshop whilst, in the meantime, keeping our Lightroom changes so that we can work on them later. Instead of using the ‘Edit in Adobe Photoshop’ option in Lightroom – CMD +E (Mac) or CTRL +E (PC) – the option ‘Open as Smart Object in Photoshop’ will be used. This menu option can be reached by right clicking on the image in the film strip or the middle window, or by using the menu item ‘Photo / Edit in / Open as Smart Object in Photoshop’.

Step 3: Access contents

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the image open as a Smart Object in Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop CC you will see the same single layer result as in a traditional workflow. The difference is the small icon in the bottom right hand corner of the image on the layer. This icon denotes that a Smart Object is in use. The Smart Object is effectively a container, which is storing Photoshop Objects. In this example the Smart Object is holding the RAW file as well as the Lightroom adjustments (in the form of metadata). The Smart Object could also contain layers, masks, video as well as any other Photoshop object.

To access the contents, just double click on the image on the layer. Before the contents are opened in this example, a Photoshop Adjustment layer will be added to make an enhancement to the photograph.

Step 4: Adding Photoshop Adjustment layers

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing accessing a New Adjustment Layer – in this case Curves – from the top Layer menu in Photoshop.

Photoshop Adjustment layers are accessed from the Layer menu option and are placed above the layer that is selected in the layers pallet.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing an ‘S’ Curves Adjustment layer applied to the image in Photoshop. This deepens shadows and lifts highlights, thus adding contrast to the image.

The Curves Adjustment layer has been applied (as shown below, right) and the image has had a simple ‘S’ curve applied to it (the ‘S’ curve will deepen the shadows and lift the highlights, thus adding contrast to the image).

Once an Adjustment layer has been applied (in this case a simple ‘S’ curve) you may decide that you want to go back to the RAW file to change something. The adjusted image data in the is now contained within a Smart Object and this can be opened up in Camera RAW. Note that there is no direct link between Photoshop and Lightroom but there is a link between Photoshop and Camera RAW...

Step 5: Access Smart Object for RAW adjustments

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the contents of the Smart Object in the Camera RAW filter – this allows you to modify the original Lightroom edits via features such as radial filters, lens corrections and adjustment brushes.

Even though the Curves layer is applied to the image, the contents of the Smart Object can still be accessed by double-clicking the original Smart Object layer. This action will open the Camera RAW filter and allow modifications to the original Lightroom edits. The values in Camera RAW interface will be the same as from the initial settings in Lightroom (both Lightroom and Camera RAW share the same technology). The usual features in Camera RAW (Lightroom) are also available in this dialog; including lens corrections, radial filters, adjustment brushes, split tone, etc.

Step 6: Apply RAW adjustments to Smart Object layer

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the RAW adjustments being applied to the Photoshop Smart Object layer.

Once adjustments have been made/refined and ‘OK’ has been pressed in the Camera RAW dialog, Camera RAW adjustments will then be re-applied to the Photoshop Smart Object layer. The Smart Object will always show the final result of its contents.

Step 7: Using Filters on the Smart Object

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing accessing the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter under the Filter menu of Photoshop CC.

Previous to Photoshop CC only a few of the available Filters could be applied to a Smart Object and used in a non-destructive workflow. In Photoshop CC almost all of the Filters can be used on the Smart Object and provide a re-editable, non-destructive enhancement to the photograph. Photoshop Filters can be found under the Filter menu item within the top Photoshop CC menu bar.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter of Photoshop CC being applied to the Horizontal of the image.

The Filter to be used in this example, and one that will fix the perspective, is the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter. To use this Filter, lines are drawn across the image, in both the horizontal and vertical positions, where required. This will tell Photoshop CC where in the image the straight lines are. If there was any barrel distortion (including from fisheye lenses or wide-angle lenses), then the lines that are drawn will follow the inherent lens curvature and Photoshop will draw a curved line instead of a straight one. For each line there is an option to right click and pull up a dialog that will straighten out and fix to the Vertical/Horizontal.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Filter correction(s) made with the result back in Photoshop CC and shown on the original Smart Object layer. Notice the Curves Adjustment layer is still in place above the original Smart Object layer.

Once the correction(s) have been made, the result will be sent back to Photoshop and shown on the original Smart Object layer. Notice the Curves Adjustment layer is still in place above the original Smart Object layer. The Filter is applied to the Smart Object and will be positioned underneath it (as shown below). The Filter adjustment will be created with a mask; the mask can be used to show or hide parts of the filter effect. Also, using the eye icons that are next to the mask, the filters can be turned. The Filter adjustments can be re-edited by double clicking on the Filter.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing that, at this point, everything can be re-edited including the Curves adjustment, original RAW edits from Lightroom as well as the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter, all by double clicking on the relevant object. In this case Exposure is being altered.

Everything at this point is re-editable including the Curves adjustment, the original RAW edits from Lightroom as well as the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter; this can all be accessed by double clicking on the relevant object.

Step 8: Using the Crop tool in Photoshop

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Crop Preview inside Photoshop CC.

Once back in Photoshop CC the Crop tool can be used to trim the picture up and remove the monk from the edge. The Crop inside Photoshop CC, as well as Photoshop CS6, has the non-destructive crop feature. The non-destructive Crop feature has a small icon on the tool bar, which can be used to control the removal of pixels after the crop. In this example, the pixels will not be removed and can be re-edited at any time (this option may also be marked as ‘Delete Cropped Pixels’ on the Crop toolbar).

Step 9: Saving the file & adjustment possibilities

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the saved image appearing in Lightroom 5.

Once the Photoshop file is saved – via CMD +S (Mac) or CTRL +S (PC) – the result will be placed in the same location as the original RAW file and will also appear next to the original file inside Lightroom.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Lightroom screen showing the available Edit options within Photoshop CC.

Once the PSD file is inside Lightroom it can stay there, be part of the search/index system and can be found during the Lightroom filtering process. If the PSD file needs to be re-opened inside Photoshop CC then the regular – CMD +E (Mac) or CTRL +E (PC) – keystrokes can be used to send it to Photoshop CC. Additional Lightroom adjustments can be made inside Lightroom at this point and re-opened using the ‘Edit a copy option’ with Lightroom Adjustments (remember that Lightroom will never modify an original file).

However, the benefit of having the Camera RAW filter inside Photoshop CC means that adjustments at this stage in Lightroom are no longer required; the file can be simply opened into Photoshop CC and made using the Smart Objects and Camera RAW filter. This approach can make the editing process non-destructive, even after the Photoshop CC file has been saved.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the image open from where it was left – in this case Photoshop CC.

Once the file is opened as the original from Lightroom, then the file will be opened from where it was left.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Camera RAW PSD file being opened by using the ‘Open With – Adobe Photoshop CC’ option.

If in Camera RAW, the PSD file can be opened by using the ‘Open With - Photoshop CC’ option. This opens it as a normal PSD file and you can also still access the Camera RAW file by just double clicking on the layer, which will open the file for you in Camera RAW.


I hope that this article and video tutorial have given you a good insight into how Smart Objects work, both from Lightroom and from Camera RAW, and have explained a way for you to keep your image edits non-destructive for much longer inside your workflow.

Biographie: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a Principal Solutions Consultant at Adobe UK with a focus on Digital Imaging. Richard is the UK contact for Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Imaging workflows around the Creative Cloud. He is a keen technologist and has been a keen photographer for over 20 years, with a focus on street, travel and portrait photography. His favourite photographers include Irving Penn, Mary Ellen Mark and Henri Cartier-Bresson.


Screen showing the original image of monks in Bhutan opened in Lightroom 5.