Creating Your Own Photoshop Actions

Hard at work at the Saints/Giants football game in the Louisiana Superdome. (Photo Copyright 2009/Bill Haber)

Hard at work at the Saints/Giants football game in the Louisiana Superdome. (Photo Copyright 2009/Bill Haber)

I’ve written in a couple of other image toning posts here at The Discerning Photographer about my use of Photoshop Actions, promising to explain how to set up your own customized set. Photoshop Actions are little pieces of scripted automation, allowing you to automate repetitive tasks that you perform in your image toning workflow. In this post I’ll show you how to set up a simple action for converting an image from RGB to LAB for burning, dodging and sharpening. You’ll be able to take this information and use it to set up your own customized set of actions best suited for your workflow.

One note: The illustrations for this post use the current Photoshop CS4 on a Windows PC. The functionality of Actions creation has not changed much through the last several versions of Photoshop, so you should find the instructions still work, possibly with minor cosmetic changes as to where a menu item might be located.

Let’s get started. First you’ll need to open an image up in Photoshop. (I’m using here a photo a friend shot from a recent Saints/Giants football game in the Louisiana Superdome.) If the Actions palette is not already visible, go to Window>Actions to open it.

First you need the Actions palette visible, if it isn't already.

First you need the Actions palette visible, if it isn't already.

If you’ve never created an action before, the default set that ships with the program will open. In the upper right hand corner of the Actions palette window you’ll see a tiny “down triangle” and a box. Click and hold that and a new fly-out list will appear. Select “Button Mode” from the list.

Clicking on "Button Mode" to get into the 'backside' of the Actions palette.

Clicking on "Button Mode" to get into the 'backside' of the Actions palette.

At the bottom of the palette you’ll see some small icons, each denoting a different function. If you hold your cursor over each icon for a moment, a brief explanation of its function will appear. The icon that looks like a sheet of paper with a turned-up corner, down on the right by the trash can, is the “Create New Action” icon. Single-click this icon.

Getting a new Action started.

Getting a new Action started.

Now you’ll be asked to name the icon, and give it a color. There’s also a choice of linking it to a Quick Key (like ‘F7’) but I usually don’t do this. Now hit the ‘Record’ button.

Naming your new Action.

Naming your new Action.

From this point, every thing you do will become part of the automated action you’re creating, until you hit the ‘Stop’ button.

First go to Image>Mode>Lab Color. Go to the Channels palette (Window>Channels). Click on the ‘Lightness’ text to select the Lightness channel. Then click the box for the eyeball for overall ‘Lab’ at the top of the Channels group. This will allow you to see the effect of your burning and dodging or sharpening upon the overall image without actually burning/dodging/sharpening the color in the photograph-our principle concern here.

Image>Mode>Lab Color.

Image>Mode>Lab Color.

Selecting the LAB Lightness channel, then clicking the 'eyeball' for overall LAB to see the effect.

Selecting the LAB Lightness channel, then clicking the 'eyeball' for overall LAB to see the effect.

Now go back to the Actions palette. At the bottom, the first icon in the group is a square. Single-click this square to ‘Stop Recording’ the action.

Finishing your Action recording process.

Finishing your Action recording process.

Saving your new Action as part of your Actions palette.

Saving your new Action as part of your Actions palette.

One more important step: you must ‘Save Actions’ to keep this new action as part of the group. To do this, go back to the triangle/square in the upper right hand corner of the Actions palette. Click it and choose ‘Save Actions.’ You can give it a unique name and save it inside your Photoshop applications folder, or elsewhere. You might want to also save it out as a file and email it to yourself; then it becomes available for your use on other computers simply by signing into your email and downloading it.

You’ll also want to go ahead and create an action to convert back from LAB to RGB.  I have in my standard list actions for clockwise and counterclockwise image rotation, a standard image sharpening that I frequently use, and a downsizing to a web size and resolution that I frequently use as well. Your list will be determined by your workflow, so think about what you do most frequently and how you might want to automate it. Now, get busy!

selfport1aHi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: Photoshop

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

2 Comments on "Creating Your Own Photoshop Actions"

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  1. pam says:

    what kind of canon camera are you using? Alot of good important for me I’m a beginner photographer.

  2. I’m using Canon Mark IV and Mark II cameras right now. The PS actions will work regardless of your camera model, though!

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