Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Digital Autopilot - How To Use Photoshop Actions
Use Photoshop Actions to delegate the drudgery
I'm a digital photographer, not so much because of the digital part, more for the photography. I prefer shooting, but I don't mind the challenges of digital imaging that can take a photograph from good to great. The problem is that shooting and retouching are only part of the equation. So much time is spent managing files—downloading, archiving, proofing, processing—that repeating these tasks on a daily basis is bound to drive any photographer to a realization: automation is essential.
Utilizing Photoshop Actions, batch processing and my Mac's Automator application, I've freed myself from much of the mindless digital drudgery. Now I have more time to emphasize the photography part of my job—or just take a break while my computer works for me.
I automate much of my workflow—renaming, resizing, copyrighting, archiving—because it makes my work faster and more consistent. In this column, I'll explain one of my favorite automation techniques: using Photoshop Actions and batch processing to create Web-sized proofs. Next issue, I'll delve farther into automation with Apple's Automator application.
Photoshop Actions are created by recording manipulations applied to an image—including every keystroke and click. To record a “Web-sized proofs” Action, first open an image in Photoshop for use as a template. Open the Actions palette and click the set in which you'd like your new action to appear (or click the folder icon to create a new set). Next, click the Create New Action icon and give it a descriptive name. You also can assign a function key, creating a keyboard shortcut to execute the action with a single keystroke.
Click Record. From this point on, Photoshop is recording every move you make. (You can always stop recording, going back to undo and remove errant steps.) First, resize the image to a Web-friendly 4x6 at 72 dpi, then add text and insert copyright information in the metadata. Click the Stop icon at the bottom of the Actions palette to stop recording, and the Action is saved. When played on another image, the Action carries out the same steps in the same order, producing the same effects. It's like cooking with a recipe that adds all the right ingredients automatically.
Actions are further tweaked with the check boxes adjacent to each step in the Actions palette. The check mark toggles steps on and off to skip individual steps in an Action, and the dialog box tells Photoshop to pause to allow input during that step. If the step were a crop, for example, the crop marks would appear as recorded, but Photoshop would allow you to reposition them on every individual image. This can be handy, but it's less than ideal for batch processing—and that's where the real time saver is.
Batch processing applies a pre-recorded Action to a group of files—either images currently open in Photoshop or in a folder on your disk. I capture RAW with JPEGs specifically for proofing, so I simply save over the JPEGs during processing. Otherwise, to save batched files to a new folder, simply create one on your desktop.
Open the Batch dialog found under Automate in Photoshop's File menu. Select the folder of image files to process and choose where to save the files. (You also can choose to include subfolders, change names and override warnings, if you wish.) Click OK and watch it go. Depending on the complexity of the action and the quantity of images, the process could take mere moments or all afternoon.
I also use Actions to record imaging experiments—they're easier to repeat that way—and to handle client-specific custom requests. I've accrued a large database of techniques, so I organize them in the Actions palette according to the effects they achieve. I even record Actions that run several other Actions with just one click.
If you need help getting started, look online for downloadable Actions you can customize for yourself. No matter how you begin, if you utilize only one Photoshop Action, you're on your way to a more efficient and consistent workflow.