Software

How to speed up your photo editing with Photoshop actions

Some aspects of photo editing are fairly repetitive. Why not use an automated tool for those photo editing processes? Here's a look at how Photoshop actions can save you time.

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Image: iStock/undrey

I guarantee with every photograph I shoot, the processing will include a step of sharpening the image. Typically, I use the high pass filter in Photoshop to sharpen my images as I enjoy the results of performing frequency separation on the image. I previously shared a how-to video on using the high pass filter in Photoshop. Since sharpening is always done with my editing, I decided to implement a Photoshop "action" to speed up my editing workflow. Here's how you can do the same.

What is a Photoshop action ?

Unlike Lightroom, Photoshop requires you to click through menu options or enter keyboard shortcuts to do certain editing steps. No, this isn't as fast as pushing sliders on the screen, but it is still an effective way to use this app. Photoshop actions allow you to record the clicks and other selections and execute them later. Think of actions as macros for Photoshop.

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Creating your own action

Photoshop actions will record every click and shortcut you enter. Right clicks are not advised when it comes to creating an action. Menu options and keyboard shortcuts have successfully worked for me. In my example, I'm going to set up an action to complete a high pass filter on my image.

First, go to the Photoshop Actions menu or click Actions on the toolbar (Figure A). If you don't see the Actions menu or the Actions tool, go to the Window menu and select Actions.

Figure A

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Image: Ant Pruitt

In the Actions palette, click the New Action icon (Figure B), which looks like a sheet of paper, to create your new action.

Figure B

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Image: Ant Pruitt

Name the action whatever you'd like—just as long as you can find it in the menu later. I called it My Sharpening in this example (Figure C).

Figure C

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When you're ready to roll, click the red record button to start recording what you're doing on the screen. Remember, Photoshop isn't recording video of what you're doing. It's simply recording what you're clicking and how you're doing it.

Creating a high pass filter on my image requires several steps: duplicating the original layer in the Layers panel, creating smart objects, grouping the smart objects, applying a Gaussian blur on one layer, applying high pass filter on the other layer, and changing the high pass filter's blend mode to Linear Light—all of which is recorded with my new action. You can see everything that's executed in the Layers panel on the lower-right side of the screen (Figure D).

Figure D

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Image: Ant Pruitt

When you've completed your steps, click the Stop button on the Actions palette (Figure E). This will complete your action and save it for future use.

Figure E

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Image: Ant Pruitt

Next time I open up an image for editing, I can select the My Sharpening action and Photoshop will knock out all of those steps for me as soon as I click the Play button (Figure F).

Figure F

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Image: Ant Pruitt

You can see the task is completed by noticing the new layers and filters showing up in the Layers panel—and you can see that the image sharpness has improved (Figure G).

Figure G

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Image: Ant Pruitt

Pretty easy, right? The only issue is that when you're dealing with settings such as sharpness, you may have to make adjustments, not to your action but to your layers. I used smart objects as layers so I can easily make minor adjustments if I need to. No need to create a new action or delete the action I created.

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Ready to create your own action?

The extra minute or two that actions have saved in my editing flow has been a welcome efficiency. Hop on into Photoshop and create your own actions. Share your advice and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members and let us know what actions you decided to use for your workflow. And as always, feel free to tag me on Twitter.

About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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