The title of this post really doesn’t do it justice because I plan on going over many more tasks than the title indicates. Sure, the primary topic has to do with how to place and replace a Smart Object in Adobe Photoshop, but I’m also going to do a bit of transforming and masking as well. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t capture those ideas in the title.
In today’s post, I’m going to walk through a short project in Photoshop. I’ll first open an image and then I’ll “place” another image into the same file. After a bit of tweaking via some selecting, I’ll replace the original placed file with another. By the end of this post, I hope you’ll easily understand how to place an object as a Smart Object into Photoshop, select everything with the Rectangular Marquee Tool, shrink that selection down proportionally, apply a mask and then replace the originally placed file with another (in case you change your mind about the first one – or are just using the first one as a placeholder). All while keeping any changes and edits you made to the first placed file. This post sort of goes hand in hand with a few of my previous posts. If you’d like to browse through them, please click the links below.
For this post, I’ll be working with three different photos. To demonstrate the points I’d like to make, I’ll be creating a somewhat odd combination of the three. Since displaying them one by one below, I’ll simply combine them into one image here.
Opening An Image in Photoshop
This is the easy part. To kick things off, I’ll first open up the image with the bird in it. This is a critical step because this image won’t change in my workspace. The next image that will be launched into this application will be “placed” there initially and then swapped out later on, so sequence matters.
To open the first photo, I’ll simply head up to the File > Open menu item, click and then find my image. Once that’s done, I’ll open it up.
To learn more about how to open a file into Photoshop, please check out this post.
Placing a File into Photoshop As a Smart Object
In this next step, I’ll create my placeholder Smart Object. The reason I call this a placeholder is because it doesn’t matter what photo I actually use during this step, as long as it’s sized correctly. At any time, I can simply swap this image out for something else. I’m sure you can think of an occasion when this might help out a bunch. You’re missing the one you want to use in the final product or you want to experiment with different images. The list goes on and on.
To start off with this next step, I’ll place the photo with the clouds in it on top of the bird photo. To do this, I’ll head up to the File > Place Embedded menu item and click.
Basically, you place a file into Photoshop the same way you open a file into it. The only difference is that you choose a different menu item to start out. Also, when you place an image, it’ll appear in the Photoshop workspace as a layer with a large X over it and with handles along the outer perimeter. Sort of how it looks when you transform a layer.
To apply the placement and to get rid of the X and the handles, I’ll click Enter on my keyboard. Basically, this will leave me with the background layer in the Layers panel of the bird photo and the sky and clouds layer as a Smart Object on top of that. The reason the placed layer turned into a Smart Object automatically is because Adobe has things set like that by default. I could change that in the Preferences > General menu if I wanted to, but I’ll leave the settings like this because they’re helpful in this case. I’ll actually be writing posts in the future that talk all about difference preferences and settings.
Here, take a look at my Layers panel.
Can you see the little Smart Object square icon that’s located in the lower right corner of the sky thumbnail? That icon tells me what’s what.
Swapping Layer Order
Since I’m going to be creating a composite image using a blend mode, I’ll need to reverse the order of the layers. And since the bottom layer is currently considered the background layer, I’ll need to click on the small lock icon to unlock it. Once that’s finished, I can drag the bottom layer to the top position and drop it there.
I also double-clicked on each layer name to rename them to something more descriptive.
Applying a Blend Mode
It’s really easy to apply a blend mode to a layer in Photoshop. All that needs to be done is to select the layer and then choose a blend mode in the drop-down in the Layers panel. For more on this topic, please take a look at these posts.
Applying this blend mode will give me a composite that looks like this:
I know it’s a little strange looking, but that’s the whole reason I’m setting this file up the way I am. You’ll see what I’m talking about more below.
Creating a Border
I’d like to create a black border around this composite, so to initiate this, I’ll click on the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. I’ll be sure to drag this new layer down to the bottom of the panel and then I’ll choose the color black from the color picker and use the Paint Bucket Tool to pour that color into the layer, making it solid. This is what the Layers panel looks like now.
Alternatively, I could have used the Edit > Fill menu to fill the layer with black, but I chose not to.
Next, I’ll select the Smart Object layer, which is the center layer, click on the Rectangular Marquee Tool in the left vertical toolbar and press Ctrl+A (Command+A on Mac) on my keyboard. That will “select all” and surround the image with marching ants.
I’ll now head up to the Select > Modify > Contract menu item and click.
When I do that, the Contract Selection dialog box will appear.
This is a very handy tool that lets us modify the size and area of a selection. In this case, I initially selected the entire area of the layer. Since I want a border, I can shrink that selected area down a bit. I think 100 pixels is fine, so I’ll type 100 into the Contract By field. Also, since I want this change to occur from the edge of the working canvas area, I’ll check the Apply Effect at Canvas Bounds box.
Finally, I’ll click the OK button and watch as my selection shrinks down by 100 pixels on all sides.
There are some seriously helpful modify selection tools in Photoshop, so you can be sure I’ll be writing all about them in later posts.
Now, I’ll just go down to the bottom of the Layers panel and click on the Add a Layer Mask icon. The result will be a black border that’s 100 pixels thick around the entire image.
Replacing Contents of a Smart Object Layer
As you can see, I did a little work to the Smart Object layer. I know it wasn’t tons of work, but I’m sure you can imagine much more being done in different scenarios. The bad part is that if I didn’t “place” this layer as a Smart Object and I wanted to swap another photo in the current one’s place, I couldn’t. I’d have to perform all the work I just did over again. But since I placed the photo as a Smart Object, I can easily replace it with a different photo and all the modifications I made to the layer will remain intact. Let me show you how this works.
I’ll select the Smart Object layer in the Layers panel. Then, I’ll go up to the Layer > Smart Objects > Replace Contents menu item and click.
From there, I can browse my computer to find a different photo to swap in the current ones’ place. In this case, I’ll choose the frozen lake photo.
Again, I know this image looks a little weird, but I think you get my point here. The layer is still a Smart Object so it’s being used as a placeholder for whatever image it is that I feel looks the best. I could even select the bird layer again to change which blend mode looks good, if I feel like it. It’s sort of like I created a template that I could use over and over again. So cool.
That’s about it for this post. I think I showed some pretty neat tips here. Personally, I really love the fact that you can use a Smart Object as a placeholder. I also really enjoy using the modify selection options because they make my world so much easier to work in.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!