How many times have you finished tone mapping an image and made your final Tiff or Jpeg image only to think that you wish you would have done things differently in your HDR program when tone mapping or adding adjustments during the HDR process?
Do you wish that you could just go back to where you left off in that process and make any change you wanted?
Well of course you could just merge the images again and yeah you were smart enough to save the recipe you used as a preset. But what about the 20 control points you added to the image. Plus all that time spent remerging and aligning the initial images. There has to be a better way.
There is, using HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Smart Filter in Photoshop.
What is a Smart Object?
Smart Objects have been around in Photoshop since I think CS2; however they really came into their own in versions CS4 and later. I just upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CS6 so I’m loving all the new options I have (It is a great upgrade). In the later versions you have options to add layers as a Smart Object and use them with the filters in your filter menu.
A Smart Object allows for a couple things. The main thing that people like about a smart object is that it is pretty much infinitely resizable within your Image, retaining all the characteristics of the original layer even if you blow the object up to much larger proportions. This is much like using a Vector image in Illustrator except that it is still a Raster (Pixel) image. So you don’t see any of the pixelization or jagged edges you would have if doing that with a standard Raster (Pixel) layer.
That’s the main use of a Smart Object but for us there is another use that really fits our needs. It allows us to go back and edit any filter we use on that Smart Object layer. *If we drop down our filter list in Photoshop, virtually all of those filters can be applied to a smart object layer and later in our process we can go back and make changes to the filter and all the while doing so in a Non-Destructive manner.
That is a really cool thing. So we are going to show how to use Smart Objects but in a very specific way with Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2, which because it operates in the 32 bit domain (as opposed to 16 or 8 bit we are used to working in) It has a few things we need to be aware of.
Using Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 as a Smart Object/Filter
We will begin out journey here in Photoshop Bridge (sorry Lightroom users, although you can open an image as a smart object in Photoshop from LR, we can’t do the merge and enter HDR Efex Pro from there as a smart object)
In Bridge, we select the images we want to use for our HDR and then with them selected go up to Tools > Nik Software > Merge to HDR Efex Pro 2. (It’s also available on the right click/ctrl click flyout)
This will be begin the process. A screen in HEP2 will pop up with these options:
And there under the red arrow is the most important part of the merge process, the check box for “Create Smart object”.
From here, everything continues as it normally does, the alignment/ deghosting opens and from there right into our normal tone mapping. We do anything and everything we want to to the image, apply presets, make adjustments, add control points and when we have it as we think we want. We click OK
Now the image will open in Photoshop and we have our image as a Smart Object layer.
Returning to HDR Efex Pro 2 tone-mapping
From this point if we want to go back to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, we simply click on the smart filter; HDR Efex Pro 2 and that brings us right back to where we left off.
All our adjustments just as we were and completely editable, all our control points exactly where they were and fully editable. The only thing missing is the history and we can’t enter the merge dialog again but that really OK since everything else is fully editable. Clicking OK once again brings us back to Photoshop.
So that’s cool enough and I usually will at this point save this image as a Layered Tiff or PSD file.
At this point we will of course want to carry on with our finish post processing of our image but this brings up one peculiarity to using a Smart Layer on HEP2 that I mentioned earlier. The image is a 32 bit Image so that means that not all adjustments or filters are available to work on 32 bit images. They’ve added more and more as Photoshop has progressed but still are quite limited…
Some Limitations and Workarounds
Adjustment Layers are limited to Levels, Exposure, Hue/Saturation and the Channel Mixer. Sometimes that’s all I might need.
Filters are limited to a few Blur and Sharpen effects.
But we can open up more adjustments and filters by changing the mode of our image ( I still would save a copy in 32 bit) to 16 bit or 8 bit mode.
We do this by highlighting the Layer (Layer 0) and then going up to Image > Mode > 16 Bit (or 8 bit) It will ask if we want to merge the layers, Say “Don’t Merge”
It will convert the mode of each exposure layer and then allow for more different Adjustment Layers and a full range of filters including other Nik Filters. In fact those Nik filters are so smart on their own that they will recognize that they are being applied to a smart layer and will themselves be editable as a smart object. How cool is that?
Now of course there is never a free lunch in life or editing. There still are some things we can not do with our image as a smart object. We can’t Paint on them, *Edit, Thanks to Steve’s suggestion, You can Paint if you add a Blank Layer above the Smart Layer” …..we can’t Dodge and Burn. We can’t clone or heal. Basically anything that operates on a pixel level we can’t do. So at this point if you wanted to edit and refine further we would have to merge down the image and rasterize it thus eliminating the smart layer and our ability to edit in HDR Efex Pro 2. (Photoshop will warn you this will happen). That’s’ why I say to save separate copies at maybe one or two points in the process so you can always return to a state you may need.
So you may flatten the image and finish your project.
One note though of something that May happen and how to handle it. Depending on when you flatten the image, if it is still a 32 bit image when you flatten the image, Photoshop assumes you are merging an HDR and will open up its own tone mapping. (This happens anytime you change from 32 bit to another bit depth, which is how you can tone-map a single image in Photoshop, convert to 32 bit and back) To work around this, simply drop down the Method list to Exposure and Gamma, make sure the controls are “Centered” (Exposure 0.0 – Gamma 1.0) and click OK.
At this point it is just like working on any merged image and you can do anything in Photoshop your heart desires, of course EXCEPT, go back and edit the Smart HDR Efex Pro 2 Filter. That’s’ why I say once again to save separate copies along the way. They may save you a ton of time. And remember you can use Smart Objects with all filters including other Nik Products like Color Efex Pro 4 And Silver Efex Pro 2
Hope that helps
Thanks to Janice Wendt at Nik Software for her enlightening me on Smart Objects and Nik Filters
Oh if you want to see the final image, Here it is: