Author: Ted Dillard

Publisher: Lark Books (Sterling Publishing Co.)

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Smart Object Pipeline: Revolutionary Tactics for the Photoshop Layer Workflow

Warning! This book is only for experienced users of Photoshop (PS) and the Adobe Camera Raw Plug-in (ACR).

Although smart objects have been around since PS 2, and although most PS authors make at least some reference to them, this is the first photography book devoted to them. (A smart object is an image file that you can reedit and readjust in ACR, even after opening in the main PS. The purpose of this attribute is that it may be easier (and according to the author) less destructive of image data to adjust in ACR.

The book opens with a lengthy review of RAW files, ACR, and PS layers and masking (as well as an introduction to the smart object) to the extent, and only to the extent, that this knowledge is key to the author’s process. Once this is done the author explains how to use smart objects, and related smart filters, to adjust images, primarily through selective adjustments and including more advanced techniques that one might never encounter if one were not using smart objects to adjust an image.

To me, smart objects are most useful, first, when there is a chance that one might want to go back to the original RAW file to recover more data from the original image; and second, when one is applying a non-editable filter or certain image adjustments to an image, like unsharp mask, that one might want to change in the future. Dillard caries this a step further, preferring ACR smart filters instead of adjustment layers.

What the author hardly mentions is that using smart objects creates files that are several times the size of a picture adjusted with adjustment layers, and that each time one returns to ACR for an adjustment a great deal more processing power and time is taken then with adjustment layers. This may not be an overriding consideration in this era of cheap storage, fast processors and huge amounts of RAM, but I, for one, am already running out of space for internal and external disk drives.

In PS there are many different routes to reaching a desirable image. Some users prefer to use ACR only to capture the most data while other users prefer to do most of their adjustments with the plug-in. Certainly the author’s method offers another technique that may prove useful in particular cases, and so, for experienced users, anxious to add to their personal tool box, this book may be worthy of consideration.

I must confess to being put off by many of Dillard’s suggestions about using PS that run so contrary to the common wisdom, like sticking with 8 bit processing, and dismissing the recovery, fill, clarity and targeted adjustment functions of ACR on the grounds that the same tasks can be accomplished in curves. I found his sharpening suggestions, like always sharpening at a radius of .5 pixels and sharpening at output size rather than 100%, incredible.

Occasionally there were suggestion for techniques that I had, I’m embarrassed to say, not discovered, like changing a mask color from white to black, using invert.

I doubt that I will ever adopt most of the techniques in this book. On the other hand, the book increased my sensitivity to the use of smart objects and filters.

In summary, if you are an experienced user, are willing to consider new techniques, can decide when recommendations can be rejected and are willing to read a PS book solely on the chance that you will add a valuable tool to your arsenal, this book is for you.