Editing RAW Files as Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop

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May 10, 2021
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There are two things I’ve come to absolutely love and rely on over the past few years. One of them is shooting in RAW format and the other is editing my photographs in Adobe Camera Raw. Really, there are so many benefits to following this particular workflow, I’m not sure I would have the time to explain them all. I can, however, lead you to a great post that lists some benefits (and drawbacks) of photographing in RAW format. Check out the post below if you’re interested.

10 Reasons Why You Should Be Shooting RAW

The thing is, sometimes, after I do my editing in Camera Raw and then move the photo over to Photoshop for further edits or finishing touches, I realize I’d like to make some additional changes to the RAW file. This usually has something to do with color (for me, white balance). You know, after looking at things for a while, something pops up that needs a change. Either that, or a whole new idea takes shape. Whatever the reason, it’s usually a real pain in the neck to have to close down whatever it is that I’ve been working on in Photoshop, only to return to Camera Raw, make the edit and then start over again in Photoshop. In my opinion, that’s pure nonsense. Can you imagine doing a ton of work in Photoshop editing a file after you’ve already edited in Camera Raw? Can you imagine having to throw all those edits away to re-edit the initial photo in Camera Raw? Can you imagine!? This sort of thing makes me crazy just thinking of it.

Well, I’m here to fill you in on a little secret. And honestly, if you aren’t aware of this, it’s going to blow your mind. Guess what? There’s a way to edit a RAW photo in Camera Raw and then move it over to Photoshop as a Smart Object. From there, you can further your edits in your typical Photoshop fashion. If any more edits to the original RAW file (now Smart Object) are necessary, it’s super simple to re-open the RAW file inside Camera Raw to make changes. Then, those changes are applied right inside your Photoshop file. No starting over required.

I know. It’s crazy awesome. Don’t worry, I’ll explain exactly what I’m talking about below. I’ll do so with a sweet little example project. First though, please brush up on your familiarity with Smart Objects, if you aren’t aware of their awesome powers.

What are Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop?

Converting Multiple Layers into a Smart Object in Adobe Photoshop

Also, I think it may be prudent for you to read a short article about Camera Raw’s importance in the photo editing workflow. This, of course, is if you aren’t a believer and user yet.

Camera Raw vs Photoshop – Which Should I Use?

It’s a good article. If you’re serious about photography and making your photos look the best they possibly can, you owe it to yourself to learn as much as possible about the process in which that may happen.

Opening My Files​

For this demo, I’m going to walk through a simple project. The final outcome will be the same as the leading photo for this post. Basically, I’ll open 4 RAW files from Adobe Bridge into Camera Raw. Since I’ve already edited these photos in Camera Raw previously, from there I’ll simply pass them off to Photoshop as Smart Objects. Then, inside Photoshop, the magic will happen.

First, using Adobe Bridge, I’ll select the photos I’d like to open.


These are photos of some muffins I recently made. I like to store the original (edited) RAW files in case I need them again.

Next, I’ll click the Open in Camera Raw button up top to launch the photos into Camera Raw. Don’t know how to do this? Check the below posts out.

How To Open Files & Photos Into Adobe Camera Raw

How Can I Open Multiple Photos From Adobe Bridge Into Camera Raw?

You can see that I have all 4 photos now open in Camera Raw.


Okay, since these RAW photos have already been edited, there’s nothing I need to do to them. I can open them directly from Camera Raw to Photoshop as Smart Objects. How do I do that? It’s simple. All I need to do is hold down the Shift key on my keyboard to change the Open Images button in the bottom right area to an Open Objects button. So, I’ll hold Shift and then click Open Objects.


TIP: Before opening the objects, I need to be sure all 4 photos in Camera Raw are selected.

Let’s see what happened. I can tell you that all 4 photos opened as Smart Objects inside of Photoshop. Each one opened into its own tab. Inside each layer, there’s a Smart Object icon. Here, take a look below.


If you look at the layer thumbnail closely, you’ll see a small icon in its lower right corner. That means it’s a Smart Object.

Originals Not Affected​

It’s important to note something at this time. The moment I passed the RAW file off to Photoshop from Camera Raw, the connection the image had to the original file was severed. Each tab and layer inside Photoshop is now an independent entity. Any changes I make will only affect what’s inside the Photoshop file and not the original RAW file. This is extremely helpful because I may have 20 different plans for the RAW file. There’s no way I want some funky edits I make in Photoshop to transfer back to the original.

Creating My Graphic​

I’m going to do some work behind the scenes here. First, I’ll merge all the Smart Object layers together into one file. Basically, I’m clicking and dragging each of the three file layers into the remaining file. It doesn’t matter which three I select to move. Here they are all together.


Next, I’ll choose my background. In this case, it’ll be the finished muffins that are still in the tray. Since the other 3 photos need to be reduced in size, I’ll select all 3 layers and use the Edit > Free Transform tool to accomplish this task.

Once that’s finished, I’ll unselect those 3 layers and align them across the bottom of the background photo. And finally, I’ll reduce the overall image size to only 1000 pixels wide. That’s the size of my screenshots, so you’ll be able to see things more clearly.


Do you want to know the absolutely most awesome thing about what I’m doing? If you take a look at all the resizing that I’ve previously done, you might get nervous. If these were regular pixel based images, I’d be throwing away tons of data. Since they’re all set as Smart Objects, I haven’t thrown away one bit. At this very moment, if I wanted to enlarge one of the smaller layers back to its 5000+ pixels glory, I could do that and have it at the same great quality it began as. I could do that will everything if I wanted to. That’s the power of using Smart Objects.

To finish up my graphic so I can get to the neat part, I’m going to simply add a stroke and a shadow to each of the smaller images. Check it out.


Editing a Smart Object in Camera Raw​

This is the part we’ve all been waiting for. Up until now, I could have done all this the regular way. You know, opening photos from Bridge into Camera Raw and then into Photoshop. Merging the layers into one, resizing some of them, aligning them and then resizing the overall image. So what? That’s easy.

Well, what if I wanted to edit the white balance of one of the smaller images? Or perhaps the exposure? Or make it black and white the way only Camera Raw can do it? What then? If I imported everything as pixel based images instead of as Smart Objects, I’d have to re-edit the original RAW file in Camera Raw and then re-import it, re-size it, re-align it and then add the stroke and shadow again. That’s bad. Very, very bad.

The worst part is – if I edited the original RAW file in Camera Raw and made it funky looking for Photoshop, my original would be altered. As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t want that if I had further uses for that file. Even though Camera Raw edits in a non-destructive manner, it’s still not very productive to undo things you never wanted done in the first place.

Back to my demonstration.

Do you know what I have to do if I want to make the center smaller image black and white now that’s it’s a Smart Object? Simply double click the thumbnail in the appropriate layer. I’ll do that and see what happens.


Take a look at that. Camera Raw opened my Smart Object. I can now move to the HSL/Grayscale panel and click the Convert to Grayscale check box and watch as my image turns to black and white.


I can make some edits if I want to and when finished, click the OK button in Camera Raw. When I do that, Camera Raw closes and I return back to Photoshop. Let’s see what happened to my graphic.


That’s pretty wild. And the best part is, if I wanted to, I could double-click that layer thumbnail again and return to Camera Raw. From there, I could un-check the Convert to Grayscale checkbox and my image would return to color. Also, again, my original RAW file is left untouched.

I’d say this is a pretty awesome bit of knowledge to add to anyone’s workflow. Let me know your thoughts below.


May 10, 2021
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How To Open RAW Files As Smart Objects Directly into Adobe Photoshop​

I’ve been talking about the value of shooting in RAW mode with your camera and using Smart Objects in Adobe Photoshop for a few years now. If you’re interested in reading all my posts about these topics, please use the search bar at the top of this site to find each one. Just search “RAW Mode” or “Smart Objects” or something like that. There aren’t all that many, so you’re bound to find a few. I’ll link to some posts below as well, just to help you out.

Whenever you can save time while working inside of Photoshop, you should definitely take advantage of whatever it was that offered you this time savings. If it’s a new tool, use it. If it’s a new workflow, use it. If it’s a new technique, use it. Time costs money and there’s absolutely no reason for step by step purity when working in the photography or graphic design business. After all, each and every software maker on the planet has been coming up with new time saving strategies since the very beginning. You should find out what those strategies are and use them to your best advantage.

In today’s post, I’m going to show you a very cool technique that will knock your socks off. If you shoot in RAW mode with your camera and then find yourself working with Smart Objects a lot in Photoshop, this post was written for you. There are so many great things about what I’m going to share with you below, I can hardly contain myself.

Demo Photo​

Since I need to work with a RAW photo for this post, I decided to dig into my food photos that I took a while back. I found the perfect photo of a sandwich I made a couple of years ago. I posted this sandwich recipe on my food blog, if you’re interested in it. I know, I don’t want to cross over too much here, so that’s all I’ll say about it.


I have to tell you though, it’s an awesome sandwich and is one that’s making me hungry right now. I will try to resist eating until I finish this post though. I have work to do.

Launching Into Camera Raw​

I have already discussed how to go about opening photos into Adobe Camera Raw by taking advantage of a variety of different methods.

How To Open Files & Photos Into Adobe Camera Raw

For this post, I am going to assume you already read my previous one that discussed this and that you know how to go about doing this. Right now, I have the photo in question opened up where I want it. I have already done my editing and am ready to move onto the next step. Take a look at the sliders in the Basic panel to see what I’ve done.


From here, since this is a RAW file I’m dealing with, I’d like to keep it in this format while working inside of Photoshop, after I transfer it there. To keep a RAW file raw and to have the ability to return to Camera Raw for further editing, I’ll need to launch the file from Camera Raw into Photoshop as a Smart Object. I know, this sounds kind of confusing. Here’s the idea boiled down; I opened a RAW file into Camera Raw. I’m now going to change one specific setting that will allow me to transfer this file, the way it is, into Photoshop as a Smart Object. From there, I’ll be able to jump back and forth between Photoshop and Camera Raw, all the while, keeping the same RAW format, so there’s no loss of quality along the way.

Opening the Workflow Options Dialog​

I really only need to change one setting to get all of this done. Since I already made my edits, I’m going to click on the link under the photograph in Camera Raw.


After I click that link, the Workflow Options dialog box will appear.


At the bottom of this box is a setting called Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects. This is inside of the Photoshop section. I’ll check the setting box by clicking on it. Once it’s checked, I can move on. That’s it. If I keep an eye on the Open Image button I usually click on to send files from Camera Raw into Photoshop, I’ll notice that it changed text to now reads Open Object.

Creating a New Preset​

Since I won’t always be needing to launch images from Camera Raw into Photoshop as Smart Objects, I don’t want to make this setting permanent and the only one available. Because of this, I’ll need to create a new preset. In the same Workflow Options dialog, I’ll click on the Preset drop-down. From there, I’ll click on New Workflow Preset.


Once I do that, a smaller box will appear that gives me the opportunity to name the new preset I’m about to create. In this case, I’ll name it Photoshop as Smart Object.


When I’m finished with that, I’ll click the OK button and I’ll be done. The preset will be saved and I can use it anytime I wish. I’ll click the next OK button and I’ll be all set.

Jumping to Photoshop​

Now that I’m back in the regular work area, I can see that the link down at the bottom changed to indicate the new preset. Take a look.


This text means that this preset is active. I’ll want to make sure I go back to the original one when I don’t want to transfer files over this way. When I’m ready, I just need to click on the Open Object button and the image will jump right over to Photoshop as the Smart Object I wanted. I’ll do that now.


As you can see in the Layers panel, the layer is a Smart Object. That’s indicated by the small icon located in the lower right corner of the thumbnail. From here, I can continue to make my edits inside of Photoshop.

Jumping Between Photoshop & Camera Raw​

Returning to Camera Raw after working on a photo is simple. There’s no need to create a Smart Object, because that’s already been created. There’s also no need to use a Smart Filter. Or any filter, for that matter. All that needs to be done is to double-click on the Smart Object layer. That will bounce you right back to Camera Raw, where you can make further edits and then you can return to Photoshop once again. To learn more about a similar process, please read the post below.

Using Camera Raw as a Filter Inside Adobe Photoshop


I hope I clearly explained how to open a RAW file from Adobe Camera Raw into Photoshop. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!