I’m a big fan of Photoshop actions.

As much as I love editing my photos manually, there’s something extremely satisfying about letting Photoshop do it for you. Actions, in a nutshell, are a recording of edits that you can apply to your photos by simply pressing the play button in the Actions palette. (It sounds far more complicated than it really is, trust me!)

I find that they’re especially great for

  • photos that lack a striking color scheme
  • creating a “mood” through color, texture and exposure, similar to what Instagram does.
  • editing photos in a hurry
  • attempting to resolve issues created by using the built-in flash on a camera (for the love of Pete’s dragon, avoid using the flash at all costs! Shoot in natural, indirect sunlight as often as possible!)
  • having fun with your photos!

I’ve downloaded most of mine for free from Deviant Art, but there are plenty of other great websites that offer actions as well.  Once you have your actions loaded into Photoshop, this is how you use them:

Step 1: Open your photo in Photoshop (any version). This photo was shot in mid-morning light with the automatic setting on my point-and-shoot camera. There’s a certain dullness to it that can easily be remedied by an action. Sidenote: I often use Auto Levels (Image > Adjustments > Auto Levels) before beginning any action, just to give the photo a good base. However, this is not a necessary step.

Step 2: Choose your action. Open your Actions palette (Window > Actions) and choose which action you would like to use. When I first downloaded mine from Deviant Art, I tried them out on a few photos and then renamed them based on what I thought I would remember them by (hence Sunny Love, Bright Love, etc). Don’t be afraid to customize with cheesy names! (; Once you have clicked on your action (I’m going with Sunny Love), hit the Play button at the bottom of the Actions palette.

Step 3: Watch your photo change instantly! Seriously, the best part about actions is that you get to sit back and let Photoshop take the wheel for a moment. Even if you already know the general look of an action, it’s always a surprise to see how it alters each individual photo.

Step 4: Evaluate and make changes (if desired).  In the case of this particular photo, I enjoy the overall feel of the complete action, but I would prefer to scale it back a bit. You can easily experiment with different results from the same action by opening the History palette (Window > History) and clicking on each step. I find my favorite result 7 steps back.

Step 5: Flatten Image. Once you are completely satisfied with your photo, be sure to flatten the image (Layer > Flatten Image) if you plan on saving it as anything other than a .psd (Photoshop) file. This is also a crucial step if you plan on making additional adjustments outside of the action adjustments (see step 6).

Step 6: Make any additional adjustments. I want to brighten to my photo slightly, so I open the Exposure window and adjust it accordingly.

Step 7: Enjoy your awesome new photo! Doesn’t the end result look so much more interesting than the original? I love actions!

A note about printing actions-enhanced photos: I feel like it’s always a bit of a crapshoot to have these photos printed by a professional service. When I don’t print at home, I use Kodak Gallery (so I can pick them up at my local Target) and the results are usually pretty decent. However, the occasional photo looks a little funky and you just have to learn to roll with it (:

What actions are you guys using these days? Do tell!


One Response to “Photoshop Tutorial: Actions”

  1. janelle

    not only do i actually love pete’s dragon (true story: i used to watch that movie so much that my mother had to hide the vhs from me every once in awhile to take a break from it), BUT i also love this post!! i never knew to flatten the images before. i need to start doing that. also, i use a lot of those night-fate actions as well! they make dang good ones.


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