Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Don't repeat yourself...use PS Actions!

I spend at least as much time editing and touching up my images in Photoshop as I do taking them. Well, probably *more* time editing and touching up. Once you realize just how much time you spend in Photoshop, you start looking for ways to be more efficient, and ways to save time. The recordable Actions in Photoshop are a great way to shave significant time off of any repetitive tasks.

Actions in Photoshop are simply recordings of mouse clicks, keyboard presses, and operations in the editing environment. Any time you find yourself doing the same set of operations over and over again, consider recording them into an Action, which will save your repetitive steps into a sort of script that you can later replay at any time.

Recording actions is incredibly simple: bring up the Actions palette, click on the "New" button, give your new Action a name, then hit the record button. Anything you do from that point on will be recorded, until you hit the stop recording button. Brian Auer over at Epic Edits has an excellent tutorial on how to make them, with lots of details.

Just pay attention to any "gotchas" regarding image size or scale, and you'll likely have few problems. The image up on top is a small part of my actions palette, showing some of the (sometimes cryptic -- sorry!) names for actions I've recorded.

For example, on nearly every studio portrait I do, I make a 3.5x5" proof image (to be sent out to MPix for printing -- and nearly every one gets a feathered oval selection done on it, filled with black and set to "soft light" mode, to give a bit of a vignette effect -- as in the image below:

So on nearly every same-sized (3.5x5" @300DPI) image I processed, I would do the same operations of picking the circular selection tool, setting its feather radius, drawing out the oval selection, inverting the selection, filling with black, blurring the black oval a bit, and then setting that layer's transparency to about 75%. Doing so on each image took about 30 seconds -- not that long. But I did well over 2,000 such proofs in "senior portrait season" alone this year...recording that group of identical operations done over and over again into an action saves me 30 seconds per image. That's 1,000 minutes saved just this year, or nearly 17 hours! Little time savings can add up really fast. This action is in my palette as "srport_darkhalo."

Some of my other time-saving actions include:
RAWtoJPG: flatten an image, change from 16 to 8 bit RGB mode, convert color profile to sRGB
llind_USM2500: An unsharp mask of radius 2, amount 500 -- "image polish" for downsized images
YS_LightenFaces: does a levels adjustment layer, increasing highlights and midtones, then creates a layer mask and fills it with black, and sets the layer mode to Luminosity. Then using a white brush at low opacity to paint over the mask on faces lightens them up just a bit when they were in shadow.

Overall, actions save me anywhere from a minute to 4 minutes per image, just by automating repetitive tasks I do over and over again. Add that up over the course of a year, with the number of images I edit, and it's a substantial time saver. Giving me more time to shoot images, and less time at the computer editing them.

So don't repeat yourself, do it once and record it as an action.


  1. greetings from Lisbon (Portugal); actions in Adobe PS are just like macros in MS Excel

  2. If only this recording of actions could be done for real life work too, life would be so much easier. AHHH! Imagine not repeating yourself again and again to obstinate employees and just hitting the record and replay button, I can't help fantasizing. :/