Actions In Photoshop -- Part I

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

Photoshop CS2 Used in this Tutorial

Working in Photoshop can sometimes be a laborious effort. This is particularly true when some tasks need to be repeated with multiple files. Fortunately, these types of tasks can be automated with the use of actions. An action allows a sequence of tasks to be recorded. After an action is recorded, the tasks can be carried out by running the action.

The Actions Palette

Figure 1: Actions Palette

The Actions palette (see Figure 1) displays all of the available actions. If the Actions palette is not visible, choose Window/Actions. As can be seen in this figure, Photoshop comes with a number of default actions. While these actions certainly have value, most photographers will be interested in creating their own actions.

Recording Actions

Figure 2: Create New Action Icon

Recording an action is very simple. After launching the New Action dialogue box, the tasks are simply performed as they would normally be executed while Photoshop records the steps performed. For example, assume that a photographer wishes to automate a sharpening step as follows:

  1. Move to the top layer.
  2. Create a new layer.
  3. Merge the visible layers into that layer.
  4. Sharpen the layer.
  5. Change the Blend Mode to Luminosity.
  6. Use the Blend If option to protect the shadows from being sharpened.

For demonstration purposes, the steps to creating this action will be shown. The process is started by clicking the Create new action icon at the bottom of the Actions palette (see Figure 2).

Figure 3: New Action Dialogue Box

The New Action dialogue box will appear. There are four fields in the dialogue box:

This action will be named the Sharpen action. The action will be assigned to the default actions (it will be moved later). The action will be able to be played by pressing the F2 and Shift keys. Red will be assigned as the color. These settings are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: New Action Dialogue Box with New Settings
Once the dialogue box has been completed, the Record button is clicked.
Figure 5: Layers Palette

It is now merely a matter of performing the sharpening steps. Figure 5 shows the Layers palette for the image that will be used to create the action.

The Layers palette is selected, and the top layer is chosen by pressing Alt and >.

A new layer is added by clicking the Create a new layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Create a New Layer Icon

The visible layers are merged into the new layer by holding down the Alt key and choosing Layer/Merge Visible. The Layer is renamed as the Sharpen Layer. The Layers palette now appears as shown in Figure 7.


Figure 7: Layers Palette with New Layer


Figure 8: Unsharp Mask Settings
The Layer is sharpened by choosing Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask. The Unsharp Mask settings are shown in Figure 8.
Figure 9: Blend Mode Pop-Up
The Blend Mode is changed to Luminosity by clicking on the Blend mode pop-up and selecting Luminosity (see Figure 9).
Figure 10: Layer Styles Dialogue Box
The Blend If option is accessed by double clicking on the Sharpen Layer to open the Layer styles dialogue box. The chosen Blend If settings are as shown in Figure 10.
Figure 11: Final Layers Palette
The tasks have now been completed and the Layers palette looks as shown in Figure 11.
Figure 12: Stop Playing/Recording Icon
The final step is to stop the recording of the action. This is done by moving back to the Actions palette and clicking the Stop playing/recording icon at the bottom of the Actions palette (see Figure 12).
Figure 13: Sharpen Action in Actions Palette

The new action can now be seen in the Actions palette (see Figure 13). Clicking on the triangle next to the action will expand the action so that each of the individual steps can be seen (see Figure 14).

Figure 14: Expanded Action

Editing Actions

Figure 15: Editing the Unsharp Mask Step

At some point, it may be decided that one of the tasks performed by an action needs to be edited. This is fairly simple. Simply double click the step in the action (while in the Actions palette) and make the necessary changes. For example, the Unsharp Mask step can be edited by double clicking on the Unsharp Mask step as shown in Figure 15.

Adding Steps to an Action

Figure 16: Adding a New Step at the End of an Action

Sometimes, after an action is created, it may be determined that additional steps need to be added to the action. The process to do this depends on whether the additional steps need to be added to the end of the action or someplace in the middle of the action. If the additional steps are to be added to the end of the action, the action is selected in the Actions palette and the Begin recording icon at the bottom of the Actions palette is clicked (see Figure 16). Then, the steps that are to be added to the action are performed. After the last step has been completed, the Stop playing/recording button at the bottom of the Actions palette is clicked (see Figure 17). The new steps will have been added to the action (as seen in Figure 17) In this case, the action now has a mask on the sharpening layer).


Figure 17: A New Step Added to the End of the Action


Figure 18: The New Step Expanded
Clicking on the arrow next to the new step expands the step and shows the details of the step.
Figure 19: Adding a New Step in the Middle of an Action

If the additional steps are to be added to the middle of the action, the process is similar except that the step just before where the new step is to be inserted is selected. For instance, in Figure 19, a new step will be added just after the Unsharp Mask step. Figure 20 shows the Actions palette after a step was added to reduce the Opacity of the Sharpening layer to 50% (note that, in this figure, the new step was expanded to show the step detail).


Figure 20: A New Step Added in the middle of the Action

Adding a Stop to an Action

Figure 21: Inserting a Stop

In some cases, it may be desirable for an action to stop so that the photographer can perform an edit that can not be programmed into the action. Then, the action can continue to complete the rest of the steps. For this type of task, a stop is inserted into the action. To insert a stop, the step just before where the stop is to be inserted is selected. Then, the pop-up menu on the Actions palette is clicked and Insert Stop is chosen (see Figure 21).

Figure 22: Record Stop Dialogue Box
The Record Stop dialogue box will appear. This dialogue box allows a message to be added that will be displayed when the action stops. There is also an Allow Continue option in the dialogue box. If checked, the Allow Continue box allows the photographer the choice of continuing without performing any editing or stopping the action until the edits are performed. If not checked, the action will simply stop and the photographer must manually click the Play Selection icon (at the bottom of the Actions palette) to complete the action. Figure 22 shows a stop that will be added to the Sharpening action that will allow the photographer to adjust the Opacity of the Sharpening layer to whatever amount is desired
Figure 23: Message Displayed at the Stop
Figure 23 shows the message that was displayed when the Sharpening action with the added stop was played. If the photographer clicks the continue button, the action will continue without any editing being performed. If the photographer clicks the stop button, the action will stop, and the photographer can manually edit the image. When the photographer is done with the editing, the Play selection icon is clicked, and the action will continue where it left off.


Actions -- Part II