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Photoshop Smart Objects explores the creation and use of Smart Objects, one of the most technically demanding tools in Photoshop. Deke McClelland walks through the four primary purposes of Smart Objects, and focuses on one of their most practical advantages, non-destructive transformations. This feature allows any object to be manipulated in any way, while still maintaining its original pixel information. Finally, Deke shows how to crop compositions without affecting a single pixel, even in masks. Exercise files accompany this course.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts and color settings for Photoshop from the Exercise Files tab.
I have gone ahead and saved my progress as SO versus pixels.psd, found inside the 01_how_they_work folder, and in this exercise we are going to set about masking this model against her background, for a couple of reasons. One is it is a great technique. It is great to be able to take a person against a white background, mask them against another background, and have it look absolutely impeccable, incredible and so on. But also, I want you to have a sense that even though we are working with this container here, these protected pixels, we can still bring the full power of Photoshop to bear.
So one of the things I want to emphasize here is a Smart Object acts like a foreign creature inside a Photoshop. Photoshop is a pixel-based image editor. A Smart Object has protected pixels that Photoshop can't directly get to. So that's why it is this foreign object here, and yet we can still mask it, we can still apply Opacity and Blend modes. You are not going to much miss the fact that you can't get to those pixels, as you are about to see. All right, I am going to go ahead and click on this pixels layer right there and I want to get rid of it. Under CS4, I can just press the Backspace key or the Delete key on the Mac in order to get it out of the picture, because it is no good, right? We ruined it.
The only good version of the model is this Smart Object right there. I am going to go ahead and zoom out, and I am going to Ctrl+drag, actually I am Ctrl+Shift dragging her over to the right. That would be a Command+Shift+drag on a Mac, just to situate her generally inside of her new home. Now she is too big for this environment. So I need to scale her some more. So I am going to press Ctrl+T, Command +T on the Mac in order to invoke that Free Transform command. And I am about to scale her for a third time. Now you might think, "Deke, this is just ludicrous, why do you keep scaling this "poor pixel-based image that is going to destroy it, ultimately?" No, it's not.
As long as we are working on a Smart Object, I cannot harm the image, I want to emphasize that. So were my life long enough, I could scale her infinite times without applying any damage whatsoever. So I am going to go ahead and turn on the link here inside the Options bar. And I am going to reduce the Width value to 57% and that is going to reduce her as you can see right there. And then I will press the Enter key a couple of times here on the PC, the Return key a couple times on the Mac, and I am going to Ctrl+drag her down. Notice that she has got this flat edge on her back right there on the right-hand side.
So if I Ctrl+drag her down until that more or less meets the bottom of the image, then I have a lot more flexibility. I don't have to set that edge right there against the right edge of my larger image. She can float some place in between as she is right now, and I can see the top of her hair, which is important, because I really want to see the detail. Now, at this point, I want to set about masking her, as I was saying, I want to create a layer mask, but a couple of things to bear in mind. First of all, she is going to be easier to mask if she is entirely set against the white background, instead of having this blue sky at work behind her as well, and I will take care of that in a moment.
A larger problem is that when you are creating a mask, the mask in only as big as the canvas size. So for example, she is bigger than the canvas, right? She is taller than the canvas right now. She is not as wide. The sky in the background is exactly the same size as the canvas, because it is a background layer. It is a fixed layer, and whatever mask that we set about creating it needs to be the same size of the canvas as well. Now, I want to mask all of her, so I want some more room to work, so I am going to increase my canvas size. So I am going to up to the Image menu and I am going to choose the Canvas Size command, that's Ctrl+Alt+C, Command+ Option+C on a Mac, in terms of the keyboard shortcut, and I am going to turn on the Relative checkbox, just so that I can add X number of pixels.
And in my case, the X number of pixels is going to be 200 pixels to the height. We don't need to add any pixels to the width. We have plenty of room to work horizontally. I just want to add 200 pixels tall. Make sure that center Chiclet is selected, so you are adding a 100 pixels up top and a 100 pixels at the bottom, click OK, and you get this number here. And the reason this is important is because we can now see the full height of the model image. All right. That's a good thing. Now, I am going to add an intermediate layer between background and Smart Object, so I will click on the background layer, I will press Ctrl+Shift+N, Command+Shift+N on the Mac to bring up the New layer dialog box.
I will name this layer White, because I am going to fill it with white. I will click OK, and then white is my background color currently, as you can see here at the bottom of the toolbox. So I am going to press Ctrl+Backspace or Command+Delete on a Mac to fill that entire layer with white. Now I will switch over to the Channels palette. You can see that I have my Masks palette open right now. It is of no use to me quite yet. When you are creating a mask you want to be working inside the Channels palette. We will come back to the masks palette when we are refining that mask. But for now, what we want to do is we want to perform a calculation on the existing channels in this image.
We have red, we have green, and we have blue to work with. We are going to apply that calculation and create a base channel in the next exercise.
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