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Resizing the Smart Way (Using Smart Objects)

If you think there's even a slight chance that you'll need to upsize a photo you previously downsized, then you are going to love Smart Objects. Without getting all tech-geeky on you, when you choose to import your photo as a Smart Object, it embeds the original photo directly into the document itself. So when you go to resize an image you had downsized, it calls upon the original embedded photo so the image doesn't become all pixelated and soft when sized upward. Here's how to take advantage of Smart Objects for resizing:

Step One

Open a new document in whatever size and resolution you'd like (in my example, I created a wide letter-sized document at 11x8"). To import a photo as a Smart Object, you don't open a photo. Instead, you go under the File menu and choose Place (as shown here). This is the simple key to making your photo a Smart Object—use the Place command rather than opening the photo and dragging into another document.

Step Two

When you choose Place (as we did in Step One), your photo appears with a bounding box around it and a large X over the photo (as seen here). Press-and-hold the Shift key (to keep your resizing proportional), grab a corner point, and drag inward to shrink your photo down in size (as shown here). Press Return (PC: Enter) to lock in your resizing.

Step Three

If you look in the Layers panel, you'll see a visual cue that your imported photo has become a Smart Object, and that's the little page icon that appears in the bottom-right corner of your layer's thumbnail (shown circled here in red). Go ahead and duplicate that layer by pressing Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J). The cool thing about duplicating a Smart Object is that your duplicate is linked to your original Smart Object, so things you do to the original affect the duplicate (you'll see why this is so cool later).

Step Four

Now press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform, press-and-hold the Shift key, grab any corner point, and drag outward to resize the photo up in size until that small duplicate photo fills the entire image area (as shown here). (Note: If you drag your corner point off the edge, you can press Command-0 [zero; PC: Ctrl-0] to zoom out and see it again.) When it fills the entire image area, press Return (PC: Enter) to lock in your resizing. As you can see here, the photo still looks crisp and sharp, but that's only because it's a Smart Object. If you had tried to resize a photo in any other format (JPEG, TIFF, PSD, even a RAW photo), the photo would be so soft and pixelated that you just wouldn't use it.

Step Five

In the Layers panel, drag this duplicate layer behind your original photo layer, then lower the Opacity of this layer to 30% (as shown here), creating the back-screened look seen here.

Step Six

Now that we've come this far, we might as well finish things off, eh? In the Layers panel, click on the top layer (the original photo layer) and then choose Drop Shadow from the Add a Layer Style pop-up menu at the bottom of the panel (although there are some limitations to what you can do to Smart Object layers, you can add layer styles like the drop shadow with no problem). When the Layer Style dialog appears (a close-up of part of it is shown here), increase the Size to 16 to make the shadow softer, then lower the Opacity to around 50% to make it lighter, as shown here in the inset, then click OK.

Step Seven

In the Layers panel, click on the full-size background image layer. You can't convert the photo to black and white while it's still a Smart Object (unless of course, you placed a RAW photo as a Smart Object, which you do by using the Place command and clicking OK in the Camera Raw dialog, or by opening it in Camera Raw and Shift-clicking on the Open Image button). So, to get around that limitation, press D to set your Foreground color to black, then choose Gradient Map from the Create New Adjustment Layer pop-up menu (as shown here). This makes the full-size photo on the layer below it appear in black and white (as seen here).

Step Eight

It looks like the smaller photo might look good with a thick black stroke around the photo, so click on the original photo layer again (the one on top), but this time choose Stroke from the Add a Layer Style pop-up menu. This brings up the Stroke Options section of the Layer Style dialog (a close-up is shown in the inset). Set the Size to 3, click on the red Color swatch and change the stroke color to black, then set the Position to Inside from the pop-up menu. Setting it to Inside makes the corners square rather than their default look, which is rounded.

Step Nine

The last step is pretty easy—adding some type. I love this particular font for wedding albums (and a host of other uses). It's called Satisfaction, and I found it at, where it cost $20 (it's actually only $12 if you don't buy the Open Type version with extra ligature characters, but I'm just a sucker for that kind of stuff, so I paid the $20, but to me, it's worth every penny!). Now, the layout is complete at this point, and we were able to upsize a photo that we had originally sized down, and the photo remained perfectly sharp and crisp (go ahead and save a copy of this file with all the layers intact), but I promised to show you something especially cool about Smart Objects and the advantage of duplicating a Smart Object, goes.

Step 10

As long as you saved the original layered file from last week's wedding, you can use it as a template for the next wedding you shoot. For example, let's say a week or so goes by and you shoot a different wedding. Open the layered template file (the one you saved near the end of Step Nine). Then go to the Layers panel, and Control-click (PC: Right-click) on the original Smart Object layer, just to the right of the layer's name. When the contextual menu appears, choose Replace Contents, as shown here. A standard Open dialog will appear (you won't need to use the Place command now, because your photo is already a Smart Object). Find the photo you'd like to use from your current wedding (this time, we're choosing a photo taken in RAW format).

Step 11

Since this is a RAW photo, it first opens in the Camera Raw dialog (as seen here) so you can make any necessary adjustments. When you're done tweaking the photo, click the OK button (as shown here).

Step 12

The previous photo is now replaced with your new photo, and because you duplicated the original layer to create your background layer, it gets automatically replaced as well (as seen here). In our example, the RAW photo I imported was physically larger in size than the original photo, so when the smaller photo appeared, it was larger than the one it replaced. I pressed Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform, then I held the Shift key, grabbed a corner point, dragged inward to scale the photo down in size (as seen here), and pressed Return (PC: Enter) to lock in the change. This took all of 15 seconds.

Step 13

One last thing: in the Layers panel, double-click directly on the Smart Object thumbnail and the photo reopens immediately in Camera Raw so you can easily edit your RAW Smart Object photo (another advantage of using RAW). So, if you're thinking this all seems pretty amazing—you're right—and if you're thinking, "I'll use nothing but Smart Objects from now on" there is a downside you should know about. The main downside is that because it embeds the full original photo (including RAW photos) directly into your layered document, your file sizes can become quite large quickly, and generally speaking when your document file sizes get big, Photoshop can get somewhat slower. Just thought you should know both the good and the potentially not as good (like the spin I put in there—not as good? I should have been in politics).

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