One of the best ways to maintain a non-destructive workflow in Photoshop CS6, is to use the power of Smart Object layers with your Adobe Camera Raw (or ACR) output. For this quick tutorial, we’ll take a look at how easy it is to open your raw files as Smart Objects in Photoshop, and then return to ACR when you need to make additional changes to the way your raw photo is rendered.
First, open a raw photo into ACR, via Mini-Bridge, Bridge or directly from the File > Open menu command in Photoshop. Once the file is opened, go about your edits as you normally would. Here I optimized the exposure and contrast in the Basic panel, and made additional corrections to limit noise, lens distortions, and improve the saturation of warmer colors with the HSL panel. All of these changes will be stored as part of the Smart Object. Below you can see the Basic panel changes.
Next, click the blue hyper-link-like text at the bottom of the window (center). This will open the Workflow Options. At the bottom of the options dialog, there is an item that says “Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects”. Click the checkbox to select this option, the click the OK button to go close the options window.
When you’re ready, click “Open Object” at the bottom right of the ACR window. After a few seconds (depending on computer speed and image size), the image will open into Photoshop. When it does, take a look at the Layers panel. Instead of a standard Background layer, you have a Smart Object layer! From this point you can add Adjustment layers to refine the look of the photo. Here’s the fun part: if you decide you need to change the appearance (let’s say the color) of the original output, just double-click your Smart Object layer.
When you do this it will open back into ACR with your prior settings intact! From there you can change what you like, then click OK (bottom right). This will re-process the raw file and open it back into Photoshop. If you go into the History panel from this point, you can identify the re-processing step: it’s called “Edit Contents”.
With this type of round-trip workflow, it frees you to be more creative from the start, knowing you can go back to your original raw settings at any time to make adjustments. You can see this same workflow in action, and learn more about Smart Object layers, layer types, blend modes and layer effects in my Photoshop CS6 Layers Training.