WHAT ARE PHOTOSHOP ACTIONS?
A Photoshop Action is a recorded set of image editing steps. When replayed, these same steps can be applied to other images. Actions can record tasks such as image and layer adjustments (curves, colour balance, etc); menu commands (resize, rotate, etc); apply filters (sharpen, blur, etc), and more.
Once created, actions can be replayed to apply these same steps to a single image at a time, or to multiple images using a batch process.
An action can be as simple as resizing an image to screen resolution and applying a sharpening filter. Or, it can be as complex as Kelly Brown’s All In One Workflow Action which performs over 100 steps to create 17 adjustable workflow layers, which you then customise to best suit each image.
Using Photoshop Actions will improve your workflow efficiency by skipping the need to manually perform each step of your process. For example, a sharpening method which normally takes 5 steps to apply manually, can be applied with a single click as an action.
Benefits of Photoshop Actions
- Speed up your workflow.
- Stop tediously performing the same steps manually throughout your edit.
- Assign Function Keys to actions for faster shortcut access.
- Apply actions to multiple images at once using Photoshop’s Batch Process, or Bridge’s Image Processor.
- Download and install actions created by others, applying them as best suit your images.
- Using actions created by others can help you experiment to find what you do and don’t like, while developing your own style.
HOW TO INSTALL ACTIONS IN PHOTOSHOP
A Photoshop Action file has a .atn extension. When you download an action set, save it to an easy to find location, and find the .atn file. This is the file you will LOAD into Photoshop.
If you have downloaded a .zip file, you will need to unzip and locate the .atn file.
LOADING PHOTOSHOP ACTIONS MANUALLY
From the Window menu, tick Actions to reveal the Actions window, if it is not already visible. Click the “hamburger” menu on the top right (marked 1 below) of the Actions window, and choose Load Actions (2). Locate and load your .atn file. Your new Action Set should appear in your Actions window.
In some cases, you can simply double click the .atn file and it will launch and load the Action Set into Photoshop. This method isn’t always reliable however, so it’s good to know the manual load method above.
ACTION INSTALLATION ERRORS?
“File not compatible” – This error usually indicates that your file is either not an .atn file OR that it is corrupt. (It’s not a Photoshop version issue.)
Corruption may happen during download or unzipping. If you see random characters such as ._ at the beginning of your .atn filename, this usually indicates corruption. Download a fresh copy and try again.
HOW TO USE PHOTOSHOP ACTIONS
Action vs Action Set
A Photoshop ACTION is a single list of recorded tasks.
A Photoshop ACTION SET is a collection of one of more Photoshop Actions. Sets, like folders, allow you to keep your actions organised.
For example, Colour Harmony by Kelly Brown, shown in the video above, is an Action Set, which contains 10 different colour toning Actions.
How to Play Photoshop Actions
- Click the > icon beside an Action Set name, to reveal the Actions it contains.
- Click to highlight the Action you wish to play.
- Once an Action (not Action Set) is highlighted, the Play icon at the bottom of the Actions window becomes available (white).
- Press Play and watch the action run.
For some actions, pressing Play is all that’s needed. Others will require further attention once they are played.
- Some actions may pause and prompt you to perform a task, such as entering a value into a pop-up window, or making a selection. Do the task as instructed.
- If the message prompted you to press Play after completing the task, do so, using the same Play button in the Actions window. The Action should continue on from where it paused, and complete its steps.
Often you’ll be able to adjust settings such as layer opacity to customise the action’s results to suit the image you’re working on.
Workflow and skin retouching actions will often prompt you to selectively apply the action. For example, you may be prompted to paint the effect in the appropriate areas, using layer masks. This allows you more control over the strength and location of the effect. In such a case, you’re saving time in the initial setup process, while having control over how the action is applied to your images.
Watch Kelly Brown demonstrate her Beautiful Skin and Details Action Set in this free tutorial. Take note as she moves between the various actions in the set, using layer masks to apply as required. These actions give her full control over her edits, while speeding up the process.
Learn more about Using Layer Masks from our previous article.
ASSIGNING SHORTCUTS TO ACTIONS
Photoshop allows you to assign your Function keys at the top of the keyboard, as action shortcuts. These, along with the default keyboard shortcuts will allow you to use Photoshop more efficiently. With practice, these shortcuts become muscle memory.
- Double click on an action to display its Action Options.
- Select a Function Key from the dropdown list as the action’s shortcut.
- Keys which are unavailable will be greyed out.
- Use combinations of Shift, Cmd/Ctrl and Shift+Cmd/Ctrl to quadruple the number of available Function Key shortcuts.
- ie. F6, Shift+F6, Cmd+F6, and Shift+Cmd+F6 gives you 4 shortcuts per function key.
PHOTOSHOP ACTION FAQS
We have an entire post dedicated to your Photoshop Action FAQs HERE.
Plus, you’ll find a FREE Video Demonstration of Kelly Brown’s Photoshop Actions in this “Editing With Actions” tutorial.
Using Photoshop Actions is a simple step you can take to speed up your workflow. As business owners, it’s a logical step to increase your productivity and efficiency, allowing you to move on to other tasks.
When purchasing actions, choose wisely. Remember, an image which is captured correctly in camera will produce a cleaner, crisper final print, than an image which had to be “fixed” by a miracle action.
Get it right in camera. And then use actions which enhance and improve your workflow, to help you produce images that reflect your own style.