May 9, 2005

Multi-raw conversions using Smart Objects

Here’s a tip for using the new Smart Object feature of Photoshop CS2 and mutiple raw exposures with Camera Raw to produce a simple high dynamic range image blend.

It has been suggested that we may see one-shot cameras with extended dynamic ranges and we are already seeing the potential to record a wide range of tones with the cameras that are in use today. But when shooting outside, we often encounter scenes whose dynamic range is beyond what today’s cameras can capture. To get the most out of our raw files it can sometimes be useful to use the Camera Raw plug-in to interpret the raw data using two or more conversions and combine these together as layers and blend them together to produce a single composite image. This will work, but requires many steps. The other way is to place the raw files as Smart Objects in Photoshop CS2.

To do this, you need to select a raw camera file in Bridge and go to the Bridge main menu and choose File > Place > In Photoshop. This is the simplest way to convert a raw image into a Smart Object. Once the image is placed in this way you can create an unlinked duplicate of the Smart Object layer by choosing Layer > Smart Objects > New Smart Object via Copy. Then go to the Layers palette and choose Edit Contents to make further adjustments to both the original and the copied Smart Object layer (or layers). So let’s have a quick look at how you can do this in Photoshop CS2.

Figure 1 – To begin with I created a new document in Photoshop using a preset setting that matched the standard size pixel dimensions of the camera I was using.

Figure 2 – I then selected a raw image in Bridge. . .

Figure 3 – . . .and chose File > Place > In Photoshop from the Bridge menu. This opened the selected image in Photoshop and placed it as a Smart Object Layer above the Background layer.

Click on image to see full size dialog in a new window.
Figure 4 – As the layer was placed, the Camera Raw dialog opened allowing me to edit the Camera Raw settings before clicking Open to OK the settings for this first placed, Smart Object layer.

Figure 5 – Here you can see the camera raw image placed as a Smart Object layer in the layers palette. I then moused down on this first Smart Object layer using Control (Mac) right mouse (PC) to access the contextual menu and selected New Smart Object via Copy.

Figure 6 – This created a new duplicate Smart Object layer.

Click on image to see full size dialog in a new window.
Figure 7 – I was able to edit the Contents of the copied Smart Object layer by choosing Edit Contents from the Layers palette menu or by simply double-clicking the Smart Object layer. In the dialog shown here, you can see that I applied a lighter image adjustment to bring out more detail in the shadows. I then clicked the Open button to OK the adjustment. This updated the Smart Object copy layer.

Figure 8 – Finally, I added a layer mask to the copy layer and applied a black to white gradient to create a transitional fade between the two smart object layers.

Figure 9 – The final combination blends the two different exposures to produce this result.

This technique can be adapted in various ways. For example, you can use the layer blending options to change the layer blend mode or double-click the layer to open the Layer Style dialog where you can adjust the Blend if: This Layer options to adjust the transition between the two Smart Object layers.

There is also a much quicker way to place Camera Raw files as Smart Object layers. You can cut out steps 1,2, 4 and 5 completely by using Dr. Brown’s new Place-A-Matic script for Bridge. To find and get hold of this script, go to the PSN story: Dr. Brown – New Scripts!, from there you will be able to download the Dr. Brown’s Services 1.0 script for Bridge. And do remember to watch the movie as this will show you how to install the script correctly on a Mac or PC computer. Once you have installed the Dr. Brown’s Services 1.0 script, select the photograph in Bridge that you want to place and then go to the Bridge Tools menu and choose the above script from the menu.

The script will automatically create a new document with the correct dimensions and open the Camera Raw dialog to allow you to adjust the settings for the first camera raw Smart Object layer. After you click Open, the script will automatically create a duplicate camera raw Smart Object layer and allow you to create a new camera raw setting for the second Smart Object layer.

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