Save Time with Photoshop Actions


When my husband and I started our family a few years ago, I took a brief break from photography. Upon returning I was shocked at how much had changed when it came to post processing an image. Suddenly, giving someone images straight out of the camera just didn't cut it anymore. It was the birth of Photoshop actions. What the what?

Actions are shortcuts for photographers. When a photographer uploads an image from their camera, traditionally they will process the photo in a program such a Photoshop. The editing process can be time consuming. Often photographers will use actions to speed up the editing process. Still with me? Actions are basically a series of recorded steps. They are created, saved as an "action", and each action manipulates the photograph in whatever way it was designed.

For example, let's say I have a series of photographs that all require adjustment in the same way. They all need to be sharpened, have the color adjusted, and contrast tweaked a bit. If I create, or use an already created action, I am saving myself potentially hours of post processing time. My favorite thing about actions is they eliminate a lot of guesswork. If I am trying to copy a specific style or trend an action is a quick way to get the artistic approach I am looking for. Want a look that says Mid-Century black and white? Looking for a little somethin' with some 70's high contrast, heavy earthy tones? Kodachrome! (Sorry, I'm getting a little carried away here.)

Before we can try out an action, the first thing you need to learn is how to install one. After downloading an action onto your computer, open an image into Photoshop that you would like to work on. The first thing you need to do is open your Actions folder. Go to the WINDOW button on the top, and click on ACTIONS.

Your actions palette will pop open on the screen. Next, you want to click on the drop-down menu and select LOAD ACTIONS.

Find the location where you downloaded your actions to, and open them into Photoshop.

Your actions should now appear in the palette. To use an action, simply click on the play button as shown below.

If the scroll down list seems a little intimidating, try using your actions in Button Mode first. Click on the drop-down menu again, and select BUTTON MODE.

When in button mode you just click on the action you want to try. That's it! In a few seconds the action results will appear on your image.

(If you want to see a quick before and after, just click on the History panel to see what the image looked like before you started.) If the action results appear too strong, you can always adjust the opacity within the layer.

That's it! Pretty simple.

Now that you know how to use an action, let's take a look at what an action can do for your image. In the photo below the first image is straight out of the camera. The second image is an action used to sharpen the image. The third action is intended to adjust the contrast and levels of the photo, and the fourth gives me the desired color.

(For a quick reference, the actions used above and below are from Totally Rad actions. #2: Sharpen Like a Ninja, #3: Oh snap at 55%, #4:Pool Party at 40%.)

One of my favorite things about actions is the versatility they offer with black and white images. The first image below is straight out of the camera. Image 2 and 3 are different black and white actions, and the fourth image has a second action applied to add color back to the image.

(The actions used above are #2: Magical Black and White, #3: Bitchin' Black and White, #4:Boring Old Black and White with Lux Soft at 30%.)

Be careful using actions when processing your images. It is possible to get carried away and over process an image. You can also become overly dependent on them, therefore hindering your ability to grow and learn when using photo editing software.

Where can you find Photoshop actions?

My favorite brand is Totally Rad. They are by far the most versatile and easy to use. Their image library on their website is also incredibly helpful in finding a look or style I want to imitate. There are also many free actions available online. DeviantArt has a large database of actions that other photographers have uploaded to share. Another site offering free actions is the much loved Pioneer Woman. These easy-to-use actions are great for beginners. And lastly, if you don't have access to Adobe Photoshop, do not fear! There are specific actions made for Photoshop Elements. Using Adobe Lightroom? Look for "Presets" to use on your photos for a similar outcome.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go create an action that will unload my dishwasher.

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