Harness the power of Photoshop actions

Harness the power of Photoshop actions

One of the best gifts that Photoshop gave to the creative community over the years is time. If you’ve ever developed photography the old fashioned way in a traditional darkroom, painstakingly working on the contrast of the images you captured, you know what I mean.

Before technology took hold, graphic designers rendered many of their designs by hand. Their jobs involved the painstakingly slow task of creating pasteboards and mockups using photos and art cut by hand.

Photoshop, when you know how to use it well, can save you tremendous amounts of time. But, if you really want to be the master of efficiency, you’ve got to get on the Photoshop actions train.

What are Photoshop actions?

Basically, actions are a recording of steps you take in Photoshop that you can replay. When you replay them, Photoshop performs those exact same steps again on whatever image you have open.

So, if you’re a photographer and you find yourself performing the same edits to photos, again and again, you will save tons of time by using Photoshop actions.

How do I use Photoshop actions?

Before you dive into creating your own actions, you can try out a pre-made one to see how it works.  Let’s check out this awesome freebie from Graphicadi that creates a faux HDR effect to enhance the photo’s details.

·         Step 1: Install the action

To install the action, go to Window > Actions to open the Actions panel. Next, click on the hamburger menu in the corner to open the Actions options. Now, go to Load Actions…

When your file browser opens, navigate to the actions file you would like to install. In this instance, I’m looking for a file called “Free HDR Actions by Graphicadi.” Action files are saved as “.atn” files, so files with that suffix will work.

Double click the file to load it. Your action will now appear in the Actions panel.

·         Step 2: Run the action

I have a beautiful photo of a rusty old roller-coaster that I’d like to really make pop. I want to enhance the color and the details to an extreme degree. So, I’m going to select the HDR details + color enhancements action.

Click on it in the Actions panel and then click the play button at the bottom.

Now, sit back and watch Photoshop do all the work.

Once it’s finished processing, you can tweak your image how you like. In just one click, these were the results:

Nice, right?

Let’s try one more. This time we’ll work with a set of actions that are a bit more robust.

Make-up touch-ups are a repetitive, time-sucking task that plague the workflow of portrait photographers. Let’s use the Makeup Kit Actions to try some different looks on our example photo quickly. Here’s our subject, showing off her natural beauty.

First, go ahead and install the plug-in by going to Window > Actions > Load Actions… and open the “Makeup Kit.atn” file.

If you take a look at your Actions panel, you’ll see that you now have actions for lipstick, bronzer, eye shadow, blush, and hair.

Let’s start with a little lipstick.

Click the Lipstick action. Then, click the Actions play button, just like last time.

If you check your Layers panel, you’ll notice that the actions created a Lipstick folder with a mask and inside the folder is a variety of colors.

Turn on the visibility for Royal Red by clicking the box to the left of it so the open eye appears.

Then, click the black mask thumbnail next to the Lipstick folder.

Now, select the color white. Use the brush tool, set to a soft brush, to paint lipstick onto your photo subject’s lips. If you make a mistake, use Undo or simply correct it with your brush set to black.

Ok, let’s add some shadows to her face using Bronzer.

Go back to your Actions panel, click the Bronzer action, and hit play.

Now, go to your Layers panel. Next to the newly formed Bronzer layer—you guessed it—is a mask! Let’s use the same technique again to paint some flattering shadows onto her face. Load up a large, soft brush with white color and paint away.

This is our finished look. That took no time at all!

How do I create my own actions?

Once you dive into Photoshop, you become a creature of habit. There are processes that you tend just to run over and over again. Well, instead of losing all that time doing them manually, why not make some actions. There is a bit of a learning curve to creating Photoshop actions, though, especially as you begin to work with layers.

As a general rule, it’s best not to make an action rely on a layer with a specific name to function. Also, to save yourself some grief, try starting with simple actions and working your way up to creating more complex ones.

So, let’s make an easy one and do a basic punch-up on this photo. It will work well with all photos that share a similar lighting and color scheme.

Ok, start with the first photo you’d like to edit open. Then, in the Actions panel, click the New button.

Enter a name that you’ll remember for your action in the Name field. Then, for Set, I selected Default Actions to place it in the main Actions folder. I added a Function key by selecting F11 and Shift, which means if I press Shft + F11 / Cmd + F11, I can automatically run this action. Finally, hit Record.

Now, it’s time to set up this action. This tutorial assumes that you have some basic working knowledge of adjustment layers. Create the adjustments just as you would while editing a photo. Here are the adjustments I performed in order:

  • New Adjustment Layer > Levels > Auto
  • New Adjustment Layer > Exposure > Exposure +.33, Offset +.0250, Gamma Correction 1.07
  • New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter > Filter Deep Yellow, Density 63%
  • Set first Photo Filter layer to 45% opacity
  • New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter > Filter Deep Red, Density 16%
  • Set second Photo Filter layer to 25% opacity

Once you have created these adjustment layers, click the stop button on your Actions panel.

Congratulations! You’ve created your first Action. Let’s test it out.

If you open another image with similar lighting conditions, just hit Shft + F11 / Cmd + F11 to activate the action. Much faster than all those adjustment layers.

Where can I get more actions for Photoshop?

Otherwise, Photoshop actions are all around the internet if you do a little digging. Envato Elements, Creative Market, and Graphic River are well-known markets with a great selection.

We’ve got quite a few right here at Graphicadi! Check out our sweet collection of Freebies for Photoshop actions and other graphical goodies. We also have a few amazing, robust Actions like the make-up tool seen in this tutorial in our shop.

You can also check out our list of 20 Time-saving Fashion Retouching Photoshop Actions.

So, get out there and start experimenting. Your workflow will thank you.

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