By Peter Bauer

From Photoshop CS3 through Photoshop CS6 there were two versions of Photoshop, the “Standard” version and the “Extended” version. The Extended version included specialized features for working with 3D, video (added to Standard in CS6), and technical features. Starting with Photoshop CC, there is only one version, incorporating all the special features, no more “Extended” version.


Photoshop CC includes 3D capabilities.

Using Smart Object Stack Modes

Working with Photoshop CC, you can combine a number of images into a single stack as a Smart Object. Within the pile of images, you can determine how the pixels in each interact with those in the others. Select several related or contrasting images and add them as layers to a single image, select the layers, and create a Smart Object by choosing Layer → Smart Objects →Convert to Smart Object. Return to the Layer → Smart Object submenu and take a look at the Stack Modes submenu that’s now available. These options determine how the content on the layers within the Smart Object interact to produce the appearance of the Smart Object itself. (Not quite the same, but similar to the way layer-blending modes help determine the overall appearance of your artwork.) You can find technical explanations of each option in Photoshop’s Help, but here are a couple of stacks as examples. On the left in the figure, you see a combination of the layers (shown to the left as thumbnails) using the stack mode Summation, which pretty much adds up all the lightness of each pixel in each channel, on each layer. To the right, several images shot for use with Merge to HDR are combined in a Smart Object using the stack mode Mean, which averages the values for each pixel in each channel. Not quite Merge to HDR, but with some planning and prep, it could be a supplemental technique.


A couple of different uses for stack modes.

Photographers may also find another great use for stack modes. Using a tripod and the same exposure settings, take a number of photos of a static object with moving objects (people or cars, for example) over a reasonably short period of time (minutes, not hours, so the lighting doesn’t change much). Select the thumbnails in Bridge and use Bridge’s menu command Tools → Photoshop →Load Files into Photoshop Layers. (If you’re not using Bridge, open the first image, then open each additional image and drag the layer Background from the Layers panel to the first image.) In Photoshop, use the menu command Select →All Layers. (You never even noticed that command before? Now you’ll use it all the time.) Unless you had a rock-solid tripod, choose Photoshop’s Edit→ Auto-Align Layers command with the Reposition option. Create a Smart Object from the layers by choosing Layers → Smart Objects → Convert to Smart Object. Choose the Median stack mode and watch all of those moving objects simply disappear, leaving you with just the scene, empty of traffic. The figure shows the shots originally taken and the resulting image.


The cars on either side of the river, the bus, and even the falling snow are removed using Median.

If something very prominent or bright in one of the shots doesn’t disappear completely, go back in the History panel to before you created the Smart Object (the Auto-Align Layers step) and delete that particular area from the offending layer, re-create the Smart Object, and reselect the Median stack mode.

The Mean Stack Mode

Another use of the stack mode Mean that is of value to photographers is noise reduction. Shooting in low light with a high ISO setting can result in images with a lot of noise. Using a tripod or bracing the camera, take several shots, perhaps using the camera’s burst mode. (This is a great trick for shooting in a museum that doesn’t permit flash photography.) Open the files in Photoshop layers through Bridge or manually, select all the layers, and align. Create your Smart Object from the layers and set the stack mode to Mean to minimize the noise.

Working with 3D Artwork

Photoshop offers lots of 3D capabilities, including 3D extrusions from layers and paths, control over the spatial relationships among objects, improved rendering, and generally improved performance. The figure shows many of the features available when working in 3D.

Tools, menus, and panels specially for working in 3D.

You can use the tools in the 3D Mode section of the Options bar (to the far right) to rotate and roll and drag and slide and scale 3D objects. The 3D panel offers access to each of the materials (think “textures”) used with a 3D object, as well as a tab on which you add, subtract, or alter lights used in the 3D scene.

Creating 3D objects

Working with a photo or any other 2D artwork, you can create any of a dozen different 3D shapes, from simple spheres, cubes, and cones to donuts, hats, and wine bottles. (Use the menu command 3D →New Mesh from Layer → Mesh Preset.) Working with a layer that contains areas of transparency, you can extrude shapes as well, stretching the layer content backward into a 3D shape. (Use the menu command 3D → New 3D Extrusion from Selected Layer.) Active selections on a layer and even paths can be used to create extruded objects.

Importing 3D objects

Among the file formats that support 3D that you can open into Photoshop are 3D Studio, Collada DAE, Flash 3D, Google Earth 4 KMZ, U3D, and Wavefront|OBJ. Many ready-made 3D objects can be downloaded or purchased from various websites, including




You can use Photoshop’s File →Open command, or add a 3D object to an existing project by choosing 3D –> New 3D Layer from File. And you can find additional resources by using 3D –> Get More Content.

Rendering and saving 3D scenes

After you have your 3D scene looking just the way you want it to appear as a 2D image, use the command 3D→ Render, followed by File →Save As, to save in the file format of your choice. Photoshop uses the Shadow Quality and Ray Tracer High Quality Threshold settings set in the program’s Preferences → 3D.

You can also use the command 3D → Export 3D Layer to save the project in any of eight 3D file formats, including Collada DAE, Flash 3D, Google Earth 4 KMZ, 3D PDF, STL, U3D, VRML, and Wavefront|OBJ.