Recently I was able to make the hike into one of the most iconic locations in my home state of Utah, the Subway in Zion National Park. As with many first time visits I wasn’t quite prepared, but I managed to get some images I like. The one at the top is my favorite, which is a 2 shot stitch with my Arca Swiss Rm3di and IQ180 back, shifting the back 12mm each direction. After working on the image for a while in Photoshop, I saved it. The progress bar moved slowly until it hit about 97%, at which point I was greeted with this dialog box …
I gave up on using the .psd format quite some time ago because of it’s 2 GB file size limit, but I find myself running into the 4GB limit on tiff files quite often. Nearly all of my images are opened in Photoshop for things like creative sharpening, and like many photographers, after saving the final file in Photoshop I head back to Lightroom for printing. Everything works great until I get one of these images which has to be saved as a Large Document Format file (.psb) because Lightroom does not support that format (unfortunately Lightroom 6/CC didn’t change this).
Until recently to view and print these files from Lightroom but also maintain the master file, I would flatten the master file in Photoshop and do a “Save as …” from the File menu, appending “_from PSB” to the file name. This new file would be imported into Lightroom using the sync folder option which then allows viewing and printing the image in Lightroom. Unfortunately, if I needed to make a change to the file later, the master file isn’t accessible through Lightroom. The work around isn’t too bad … right click on the file in Lightroom, choose the option to reveal in the operating system, and then find the .psb file associated with it and open that in Photoshop. After changing the file, it must be flattened and saved using the Save as option again. Using the same file name overwrites the prior version which prevents ending up with several orphaned versions of the file, but sometimes Lightroom doesn’t realize the file was edited, requiring some steps to refresh the image in Lightroom (such as rebuild the preview, move to the Develop module and back, or the guaranteed fix is to remove the file from Lightroom and re-synching the folder.)
In my workflow, one goal is the ability to make corrections, or worse case scenario go back to almost any point in time on my master file. While I work slowly and deliberately, sometimes when I print out my final image in a large print, I discover some small thing I missed like a small sensor spot or a mask which just isn’t quite as clean as it needs to be. With that goal in mind, when I’m ready to work on the image in Photoshop, the original file is always embedded in a smart object in the bottom layer of the file, whether it is the raw capture or a tiff file.
I know many photographers use smart objects in their workflow this way. What has changed for me and created the need for this workaround is my move to a tech camera and stitching for many of my captures. I was pulled in by the allure of the high end glass and the ability to use shift and tilt for correction, depth of field, or stitching. I was also hopeful to lighten up my pack a little. At this point I stitch most of my images, either by using shift, or using a pano rotator and nodal point rotation, and I’m finding most of my master files are larger than the 4GB tiff file size limit.
Recently I decided to see if there was a better way to manage these .psb files within my preferred workflow. I found a new method which still requires two files, but does not require me to flatten the master and “Save as…” because the Lightroom version of the file is updated automatically, and editing the original master doesn’t require a trip to the Macintosh Finder or Windows Explorer.
This image started as a 4 shot capture, edited in Capture One 8, and the resulting tiff’s merged using PTGui, a front end for Panotools. I also use Photoshop to stitch panos, but found with this one there were anomalies in the plants in the foreground showing seams, and Panotools did a much better job with the merge.
Above is the original file which in this case is opened directly into Photoshop. Sometimes I import this file into Lightroom and then open it as a smart object into Photoshop, but since Photoshop CC has added the ability to use Adobe Camera Raw as a filter there really isn’t a need to import the tiff file into Lightroom. When I open it directly into Photoshop the first step is to convert the layer into a smart object, and then add a Camera Raw filter to the layer. This filter is now a smart filter, and can be edited and modified by double clicking the smart filter. If I am working from a raw file from Lightroom, I open the raw file as a smart object into Photoshop, which embeds the raw file into the file.
This is the completed master file ready to print, and you can see the original image is now embedded in this master file as the bottom layer. A substantial amount of correction and adjustment has been done through the camera raw smart filter on this bottom layer. Of course each files layer structure varies, but most have at least 2 or 3 additional layers. In all of my master files since switching to this method, I have two common layers, the bottom one as described, and the top layer.
The top layer is always the file as I want it to be printed. It is created by using what is referred to as a “stamped copy”. This creates a new layer based on merging all visible layers (unlike the merge visible command which replaces the visible layers with the new merged layer). To create this layer I make sure all layers are visible that should be included, click on the top layer, then press Command-option-shift-E on a Mac or Control-Alt-Shift E on a PC. This layer is certainly optional, but in my case my final step is often the use of FocusMagic on this merged layer of the file. At this point I’m ready to save the .psb file. It is important to note, whatever the visible state of the master file when saved is what shows in the file that is intended for Lightroom.
Now I’m ready to make the file that can be seen and printed from Lightroom. Here are the steps.
1. After saving the master file, select a full image layer (not an adjustment layer) and choose Select All from the Edit menu (command or control-A), then select Copy from the Edit menu (command or control – C).
2. Select New… from the File menu. In the new file dialog, confirm the document size in pixels matches the master file size (which they should if you did step 1 correctly).
3. Instead of pasting the clipboard, select “Place Linked …” from the File menu.
4. In the dialog, locate and select the master .psb file, then click the Place button.
5. At this point, you should see the transform rectangle over your document. You may not actually see your image, (it can take a while to show up depending on the speed of your hardware and the size of the file), so it may still just be a plain white document.
6. Hit Enter to link the master file without any transformation (you don’t have to wait until you see the image).
7. The master file should then show in your new document. (see below) This contains the same data as if you had flattened the master file, and shows whatever is left visible in the master file. Note the link icon in the layer indicating it is a smart layer linked to an external file.
8. Save this file in the same location as the master file, using a naming convention that reminds you it is from a PSB.
9. After saving the file, go to Lightroom and import this file (Assuming you are keeping all of these files in the same folder, syncing the folder is a good method).
Here is a screenshot in Lightroom, showing my newly created Lightroom version of the file. It is important to remember that you never make any changes to this file. If any editing is necessary, rather than trying to locate the original .psb file, you can right click the file in Lightroom and choose edit in Photoshop (be sure to select Edit Original in the dialog that pops up). Once open in Photoshop, double click the linked smart object layer in Photoshop. This will open the master .psb file for any necessary editing. When you are finished editing the master (in my case this usually means deleting the top layer, and recreating it), close and save it, which automatically updates the single layer file. Close and save it, and if you go back to Lightroom all the changes are there. If you can’t see them, sometimes the preview doesn’t rebuild right away and you may have to wait, click on another file and go back or move to the develop module and back. Usually they show up immediately if you follow this process.
If you open the master file directly from the operating system and save it, this secondary file will not automatically see the changes, so best practice is to always edit the master file via this file. However, if you have modified the master and saved it without going through the secondary file, you can open that file, right click on the linked smart object and select Update Modified Content from the popup menu to refresh this file with changes to the master file. Be sure to save the file however to retain the updated content.
So that’s it. Because the secondary file doesn’t embed the master file, but simply links to it, the resulting file is the same as a single layer tiff file. But access to the .psb while working from Lightroom is much simpler and more seamless than my previous method.