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Creative Stacking Diversions

Last week, I mentioned that I’d be covering my use of Stack Modes as an “automatic tourist remover.” However, this week, I endeavored to get out in the field and take some new photos specifically for this tutorial, but the weather refused to cooperate, and did so repeatedly. So, we’ll save that tutorial for next week, and take a little creative diversion with Photoshop’s Smart Objects and Stack Modes.


Some time back on TipSquirrel, we explored the Difference blending mode, and saw that it can have a striking effect when combining two layers. Smart Objects, when stacked with the mode called “Range,” have a similar but even more powerful capability.

We’ll start with three images, in Bridge. For this technique, I recommend images that have a mix of colors, textures and shapes – the more, the merrier. For this example, I used an image of some motorcycles, a snapshot taken in a shopping mall, and a photo of a tree turned 90 degrees, just for fun.

SO-Range-01 SO-Range-02


We start by selecting the three images as shown, and within Bridge, using the command Tools > Photoshop > Load Files Into Photoshop Layers…


One the images are loaded into Photoshop, we select all three layers, and (from the Layers Panel context menu) choose Convert to Smart Object.


If you’ve been following the last few tips on Smart Object Stacking, the next step should be quite familiar. Choose Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Range.


And, right away you should see the result.


The interaction between the layers is similar to Photoshop’s Difference blending, and in fact two layers stacked with “Range” will look the same as if Difference blending is used. But, with Stack modes, you can have as many layers as you want, and blend them in a single step.

Here are a few more examples. These three images:

SO-Range-05 SO-Range-06 SO-Range-07

Produce this result:


Add another three images to the same stack:

SO-Range-09 SO-Range-10 SO-Range-11

And you get a 6-image blend:


You can experiment with other blend modes, but I’ve found that “Range” and sometimes “Variance” seem to work best for this technique. If you’re feeling in a psychedelic mood, you can also try “Skewness.”

Give it a try – experiment on your own. You’ll learn a little more about Smart Objects, and you’ll more than likely stumble into some very interesting combinations! Who needs stock backgrounds, when you can create your own more interesting composites?

About Michael Hoffman (224 Articles)
Mike has been a photographer, artist, educator, and technophile for most of his life. Early in his career, he created technical illustrations and photographs for electronic equipment manufacturers, and taught classes in computer aided drafting and 3D modeling software. When digital cameras became widely available in the late 1990s, the move was a natural one, and has led to a happy combination of technology, software, photography and art. Mike is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Acrobat, and is well versed in Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, as well as Illustrator and InDesign. He has also contributed his time and efforts to the excellent work being done by Operation Photo Rescue, in restoring photographs damaged by natural disasters. As an active member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, he continues his quest for excellence in art, excellence in design, and excellence in education.

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