Avaitor Main Image

Smart Objects are layers that contain image data from raster or vector images, such as Photoshop or Illustrator files. Smart Objects preserve an image’s source content with all its original characteristics, enabling you to perform nondestructive editing to the layer.  -Adobe

This sounds complicated but it’s simple once you use Smart Objects on a project. To help understand the power of Smart Objects, we will use the Aviator Project as an example. This article is NOT a step by step guide for creating the Aviator but a valuable learning concept. Once you read through this article, you will be able to apply these concepts to almost any project for a consistent look.

The Assignment

Imagine your assignment is to create a World War II calendar using twelve models and several vintage planes. The art director wants the twelve final images to have the same color and special texture effects. You set out and photograph several vintage airplanes. Then you arrange a photo session with twelve models using the same lighting set up. You spent the majority of your time creating a great mock up in Photoshop using a model and a plane. The client and art director love it. So far so good. Now they request you do the same for the other eleven models and planes. Trying to duplicate the exact effect eleven times is time consuming and the effect will never look the same. This is where Smart Objects come to your rescue!

Creating a Photoshop Template

Start with a blank Photoshop document. Apply the proper setting size and ppi (pixels per inch) to match the final product. Import your two images and convert each layer to a smart object. Now when you apply filters to your layer, they become editable SMART FILTERS. This will allow you to experiment until you get the exact look you are after. Save the document as a Photoshop Document and add TEMPLATE somewhere in the file name. Example: Aviator-TEMPLATE.psd. You will thank me later when you are rushing to look for a template.

Nesting Smart Objects

Select both smart object layers and convert them to one Smart Object. Give the layer a descriptive name. Now any filter you add to this smart object will be a smart filter. The new filter effect along with additional effects will apply to the entire image.

Replace Image, Keep Effect

We created our template and applied our effects. The art director and client love it. Now they want the other eleven images to complete the calendar. Starting with the template, open the first nested smart object. This opens a file with the extension .PSB (A PSB file is an Adobe Photoshop Large file). Noticed, this is the same document we started with except both images are smart objects. Right click on an image and select Replace Contents. Select a new image then click Place. The new image appears. Save the document and when you return to the main image, the effects have been applied to the new image. Save the image as a jpg and repeat the process.

The project is compete. The client and art director are happy and it didn’t take you all night to edit each image individually. As a bonus, you have a template with effects that can be used for others projects. This concept becomes second nature once you apply it to a few projects. Just follow the steps below and start making templates for other projects such as Sports, High School Senior Portraits, and Weddings. As always, if you have questions please send me an email.

Creating the Template

  • Create a Photoshop document to the size of your project
  • Copy or place both images to the new document.
  • Convert each image to a smart object.
  • Select both smart objects, nest them together by converting them to a smart object.
  • Apply effects or smart filters.
  • Save your work as a PSD, include the word “template” in the filename.

Replacing Images

  • Double click on the single smart object
  • Right click on the image you want to replace and select Replace Contents.
  • Save the PSB file and return to the template.
  • Tweak effects and save the new image as a full size jpg.

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. This is a very confusing tutorial. I’m sure anyone familiar with the process would be able to follow the vague instructions, but not a neophyte trying to understand Smart Objects. I’ve tried to duplicate it twice and only end up with frustration.


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About Vanelli

After a successful career as a three time Triple Crown Karate champion, Robert Vanelli turned his attention to teaching. As an educator for over 30 years, Vanelli has created several photography and digital workflow program including a special program, Click for Kids. Borrowing concepts from the martial arts, Vanelli instilled values such as integrity, and goal setting using photography as a vehicle to motivate children. As the lead photographer for Exposure Photographic Art Studio, Vanelli has had the opportunity of capturing images of special VIP’s, including the President of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Toyota, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, CEO’s of companies such as Yahoo,the Oakland A’s and several martial arts legends.


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