In my recent posts, I’ve been talking a lot about how to speed up the processing of multiple images. Adobe has made this really easy to take advantage of through their variety of methods for this. As a matter of fact, one of my more recent posts connects Adobe Bridge and Photoshop together to make the process of outputting large numbers of photos a snap. To read that post, click below.
When it comes to processing photos though, I have to tell you that actions are king. I’ve been creating and using these things since the beginning. For my purposes, I generally keep things simple, but I can remember looking around online years ago and what I found was astounding. There’s an entire industry dedicated to making and selling Photoshop actions. It’s pretty incredible what folks can come up with when there’s monetary incentive.
What are actions? Well, simply put, they’re a group of instructions that you tell Photoshop to record and save for later. If you always add the same amount of contrast and color adjustment to photo after photo, it might be a good idea to create an action that will record those two steps for later on. The next time you need to make those same adjustments to a photo, all you’ll need to do is press the play button in the action instead of actually going through the adjustment steps. Actions don’t need to be this simple. They can be really, really long and complex. We need to start somewhere though, so I’ll show you just the basics.
In today’s post, I’m going to introduce Photoshop actions to you. I’ll show you how to create one and how to use it. I’m not going to stop there though. Somewhere in the middle, I’ll also demonstrate how you can jump over to Adobe Camera Raw, make a few changes to the photo, and then jump back into Photoshop to finish up the action. Don’t worry, this is all very straightforward. If you can press the Record and Play buttons, you’re good to go.
Before I begin, I do want to point out one thing. Inside Camera Raw there’s something called a Preset. Presets are very similar to actions in Photoshop. In the most general sense, you give the preset a name, hit record and then make any edits you wish. When you’re all finished, you simply press the stop button and your preset is saved for use. The same is true for actions, in that you record, make changes and then press stop. If you’d like to review my previous post about presets, please click through to the post below.
Today’s working photo for this post will ultimately look like this. The original version (which I’ll show you below) is a bit drab. It lacks contrast and I’d say it’s color is a little off. Also, there’s some noise that needs to be removed as well as some sharpening that needs to be done.
Opening the Actions Panel
Let’s start off by opening up the Actions panel because that’s where much of the work is going to take place. There are two really easy ways to do this. First, if the Actions icon is showing in the vertical toolbar in the right side of Photoshop, you can simply click that icon. It looks like a Play button, or a triangle that’s facing to the right.
If that isn’t showing, you can always go up to the Window > Action menu item and click.
Either way you do it, the Actions panel will pop open.
Now, we’re ready to start working in this panel.
Creating a New Set
A Set in Photoshop action-speak just means pretty much the same thing as what a folder means on your computer. It’s a place to store and organize similar actions. So, in this section, I’ll show you how to create a new set. In other words, I’ll show you how to create a “folder” in the Actions panel.
The first thing you want to do is to collapse any sets that already exist in the Actions panel. You do this by clicking on the small down arrow that sits just to the left of the folder icon.
This will make this panel as easy to work in as possible. It’s merely an organizational step.
Next, click on the small Create New Set icon that sits at the bottom of the Actions panel.
Once you do this, a small New Set dialog box will appear that will give you the ability to name the set. In my case, I decided to name the set Demo Actions because I’m only creating an action for this post. I’ll probably delete it afterwards. In your case, if you would like to create actions that you’ll use everyday, you should probably name the set something like Recurring Actions, Common Actions or something like that. It’s the actual action that you’ll create that will need a more descriptive name.
Once you’re finished naming the set, click on the OK button and you’ll see a new, named, folder appear in the Actions panel.
There, done with that.
Creating an Action
Now we’re getting to the fun stuff. We’ll actually record a new action.
The first step I’ll take is to name the new action. In this case, I’ll call it Contrast – Noise/Sharpen – Color because that’s exactly what I’ll be doing to the photo. Increasing the contrast, sharpening the photo and reducing the noise and then adjusting the photo’s color.
To name the action, I’ll click on the Create New Action icon that sits at the bottom of the Actions panel.
Similar to creating a new set, a dialog box will appear next. This time, it’s called a New Action dialog box and it’s where I can type in the name of the action.
Also, directly below the Name field is the Set field. Be sure the proper set that you want the action to reside in is showing. When you’re finished with the dialog box, press the Record button.
The way creating actions works is like this; once I click on the Record button, any edit to the photo I make will be recorded into the action. So, the very first thing I’m going to do is to add an adjustment. Since I want to increase the contrast, I’ll click the Brightness/Contrast option in the Adjustments panel. Doing this will create a new adjustment layer in the Layers panel and will also pop open the Properties panel for that adjustment. I’ll go ahead and push the Contrast slider all the way to the right inside of that panel.
The next edit I would like to make is actually in Camera Raw. So, to get into that, I’ll first make sure the proper layer is selected in the Layers panel, which happens to be the one with the image in it, as opposed to the adjustment layer. Then, I’ll head up to the Filter > Camera Raw Filter menu item and click. This will launch Camera Raw right inside of Photoshop.
Inside of Camera Raw, I’ll click into the Detail panel and make some changes to the Sharpening and Noise Reduction areas.
When I’m finished with those edits, I’ll click the OK button. Camera Raw will close out and I’ll have to wait a few seconds for those changes to be applied to the image inside of Photoshop. Those changes that I just made in Camera Raw will be recorded into the action as well.
Finally, I’ll head up to the Image > Auto Color menu item and click. This will automatically alter the colors of the photo slightly.
These are the only changes I’d like to make to the photo and have applied to this particular action. When I’m finished with what I’m doing, I’ll click the Stop button at the bottom of the Actions panel (the small square).
Now, if I take a look at my action that’s right underneath the Demo Actions set title, I can see every change I made. If I opened up another image into Photoshop and wanted to make the same exact edits, all I would have to do is click on the action name and the Play button and be done with it. Every action would occur automatically. Now that’s pretty awesome.
Really, that’s all there is to it. When I used to make all sorts of actions, I would usually include “saving” and “closing” the file into it as well. That way, once all the edits were automatically completed, the file would just disappear from the Photoshop workspace. It would be finished and saved into the folder of my choosing.
I also want to mention one last thing. In this post, I merely wanted to show how to create and record an action in Photoshop. I didn’t use any best practices for actually editing the file, such as duplicating the original layer so I had a backup in case something went wrong or making the layer a Smart Object for the same reason. When you’re editing your own files, be sure to take all the necessary precautions to preserve the character of the original. I’ve written many posts right here on this blog that cover all of those topics.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. As always, thanks for reading!