A Guest Post by David Salahi from The Photo Performance

I use Nik Software filters in Photoshop a lot but when I first started using them I would often find that after applying a filter I would later want to go back and make changes. If you just apply the filter normally there’s no way to go back and make changes starting from the same settings that you originally used. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to make your filters editable: convert the layer into a Photoshop Smart Object before applying them. All you have to do is right-click the layer name and choose Convert to Smart Object.

Convert Photoshop layer to Smart Object

You then apply your filter as usual. But because you’ve applied it to a Smart Object your filter becomes a Smart Filter and is non-destructive. You can go back at any time and tweak the settings to get it just right or to create a new look. Here’s what the Smart Object looks like after Color Efex Pro has been applied as a Smart Filter:

Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro applied as a Photoshop Smart Filter

To edit your filter settings you can simply double-click the Color Efex Pro Smart Filter and you’ll get right back into that filter where you left off before.

This works great but the problem I kept having was that I’d forget to convert the layer into a Smart Object before going into the filter. Sometimes I’d spend five or ten minutes tweaking the settings and then I’d realize I had forgotten to convert the layer to a Smart Object before starting. That’s fine if you’ve dialed in just the right settings and you’re sure you’re never going to want to change things. But, personally, I always like to have the option to make changes. Even if I’ve got the perfect settings as I’m viewing the image at the moment I may need to change them later for printing or if I resize the image.

Creating an Action

So, my solution was to create an action which both converts the active layer to a Smart Object and then selects the filter. This reduces the number of clicks and helps me to make sure that I am always applying my filters to Smart Objects. And when you create an action you can assign a shortcut key so that pressing a single keystroke allows you to quickly run the action.

To create an action first make sure the Actions panel is visible; if it’s not select Window → Actions from the Photoshop menu. Then click the Create New Action icon at the bottom of the panel; it’s the icon immediately to the left of the trash can:

Creating a new Photoshop Action

In the dialog that appears enter a name for your action and, optionally, choose a function key. If you choose a function key you will be able to run your action just by pressing that key. In the example below I’ve selected F8 as my function key shortcut. Then click the Record button and record your macro.

In this example, I first converted a layer to a Smart Object as described above. Then I ran the Nik Software Dfine filter by selecting it from the Filters menu. I made my changes in the Dfine filter and clicked OK which brought me back to Photoshop. Note that when I got back to Photoshop the macro was still recording as indicated by the red circle:

Photoshop New Action dialog

To end the recording I clicked the Stop icon (the square icon immediately to the left of the red recording icon).

Running Your Action

After you have created your action you can apply it by selecting a layer and pressing your shortcut key or by clicking the Play icon. However, by default, Photoshop will run the macro exactly as it was originally recorded. So, whatever filter settings you applied while recording the macro will be applied whenever you run the macro in the future. In fact, it may run so fast that you may not even see the filter user interface (i.e., the Nik software filter in these examples). In some cases, this may be what you want. More likely, though, you will want to have the macro stop and allow you to choose the settings that are appropriate for the particular photo that you are editing. Fortunately, this is easy to do. To force Photoshop to stop and allow you to choose the setting just click on the Toggle dialog on/off icon for the action step in question. In the example below I have clicked the square for the Viveza filter so that the action will stop and allow me to adjust those settings.

Toggle Dialog in Photoshop Action panel

Note that the square for the step immediately above, Convert to Smart Object is turned off. This means Photoshop will automatically run that step without asking for any user input.

So, with your action created you can quickly run your filter knowing that you can go back and change the filter parameters to your heart’s content at any time. Not only that but you can also add filters. For example, after applying a Color Efex Pro filter I might want to apply Nik’s Sharpener Pro filter. No problem. Just make sure the layer is still selected and apply the next filter. In this way, you can non-destructively add multiple filters and even change the layer order of the filters. In the example below I wanted to make sure my Sharpener Pro filter was on top. If I had needed to I could have swapped the order of the two filters by dragging either one to the opposite level.

Two Nik Software filters applied as Photoshop Smart Filters

But Watch Out!

There’s just one gotcha’ you need to be aware of. Whenever you convert a layer to a Smart Object it discards any existing Smart Filters already applied to the layer. So, for example, if you have an action for Color Efex Pro and another for Sharpener Pro and both of them include the Convert to Smart Object step then running one action after the other will have the effect of discarding the first filter. The workaround is simple. When applying multiple filters only run the first one from your action. Then, apply the second filter the usual way. Both filters will be Smart Filters which you can later go back and edit as desired.

Bonus Tip: Adjust Smart Filter Opacity and Blend Mode

One last tip: to fine-tune your filter you can adjust its opacity and blend mode by double-clicking on the slider icons to the right of the filter name:

Setting the opacity of a Photoshop Smart Filter

If you have multiple Smart Filters you can adjust the opacity and blend mode of each one individually this way. For more info on recording actions see the Photoshop online help.

David Salahi is an amateur photographer who enjoys travel & nature photography. Visit his blog The Photo Performance for in-depth reviews of photo processing software and hardware.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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Smart Object Action Keeps Your Filters Editable