Level 2 : Photoshop Tools Expanded

Tutorial 2-1 Layers & How to Use Them
Tutorial 2-2 Layer Styles & Blending Options
Tutorial 2-3 What are Channels for Anyway
Tutorial 2-4 Masks that make you look cool
Tutorial 2-5 A Quick Look at Filters & Plug-ins
Tutorial 2-6 Hip and Trendy Styles
Tutorial 2-7 Artistic Brushes, expanded
Tutorial 2-8 Patterns; Fills & Backgrounds
Tutorial 2-9 Actions, Scripts & Automation
Tutorial 2-10 Preparing & Saving Files

2-09 : Actions and Automation

Do you ever find yourself doing repetitive tasks? I don't know about you, but it really bores me to do the same thing over and over. If only there was a better way! You'll also want to check out the video at the end of this tutorial.

Think about your morning routine. You wake up, hit the snooze button, get up, shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, use the toilet, make coffee, eat breakfast and drive to work. Wouldn't it be great if you could sleep through all of that?

I might have a series of photos that I Open > Apply Auto Color > Apply Auto Levels > resize to 800x600, and save in a different folder. It would be great if I could just press a button each time I open an image. It would be AWESOME if I could do that to a whole folder at once (and I could sleep while Photoshop does all the work).

Well Photoshop is awesome. Actions are awesome. Actions free you from the regular routines that you use a lot (or even once). The best part is that they are easy to make and easy to use. Once you start using these, you'll be hooked.

Creating an Action
Making your own Action is a breeze. I'll walk you through the example I used in the introduction. Open any image file and then select Image > Duplicate. The first thing you need to do is open the Action palette. You'll see that there are already some in there.

Action Palette in CS4

Looks interesting already. Once again we have to find the miniature button on the top right of the palette. From here, click on New Action.

You'll see a dialog box open - give your action a descriptive name and press Record.

.New Action

Once you press Record, Photoshop is tracking your every move and including it as part of the script. Do the following procedures:

Auto Color
Auto Levels
Image Size > 800 px wide (don't enter a height as you might change the aspect ratio of the image)
Save the image
Close the image

Now go back to the Action Palette and press the Stop Recording button (indicated in the small red box below).

Stop Recording

Pressing this button ends the sequence of events for the action. You will also see all the steps that were recorded in this action (shown in the larger red box above). It will list Levels twice even if you did the steps correctly.

Using an Action
Now that you have your own custom action - now what? Open an image and then select Image > Duplicate to make a copy you can experiment on.

Go back to the Action Palette, select your Action (not a step that is included in it) and press Play.

Play Action in CS4

If all goes according to plan, the image will quickly be modified and then saved to the current folder. Hope you listened to me and made a copy!

Another thing that makes actions so awesome is that you can skip a step within the Action when you need to. Suppose that you don't want to resize a particular file. Just uncheck the box next to Image Size. Miss a Step Just remember to check it again when you're finished to save trouble later.

Try creating your own script. Imagine that you are using fancy text for headings throughout a website. Start recording before you make a new file, and end it before you save it. Add a drop shadow and bevel to the text while recording.

Automating a Task / Batch Processing
Now that you've seen a hint of how powerful an Action can be - imagine using that action on a folder of images all at once. It's easy - and a great time saver. Navigate to File > Automate > Batch

Batch Processing in Photoshop CS4

In this example, I have first selected the Action that I want. Then I pick the Source folder that contains the images that I want to convert. Next I need to pick a Destination for the converted images (it can be the same folder, but I HIGHLY recommend against this as it can't be undone). Pick the Choose button to select the destination folder.

Browse for Folder

I also like to change the file name - in this case, I've appended the filename with _800 to let me know that they've been resized. I'm also putting the converted files in a folder under the source so that I can find them easier.

Double check everything you have and press OK. You'll see the images flash up on the screen one-by-one as they are converted. You can't use Photoshop until the process is complete, so take a nap - you've earned it!

Importing Actions
Another great thing about Photoshop is that a lot of people use it. That means that there are other people out there making actions that you can use. There's a lot to choose from, and it's easy to carried away and grab them all! For now, let's look at the process in loading Actions into your computer.

First, find a site that offers some free Actions. Try this one, for example. Look for the download link to your desktop or some other folder. If you install it in the Actions folder (Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS4\Presets\Actions) you will have to reload Photoshop to see it. For now download it somewhere else - I'll explain the other way of loading in a moment.

This is actually a series of Actions to create a 'Cross Processed' look. This was done in the film days by developing negative film in slide film chemicals or vice versa.

In the Actions palette, click on the small arrow and find Load Actions and navigate to the folder where you saved the .ATN file. Find the file and load it. Now you will see it in your list of Actions.

New Loaded Actions

What you see is a collection of Actions under "Cross-Processing by JennyW" If you have an image open, you can select the Cross_CMYK action and press play. Here's what it did to a photo of Tosh (mouse-over for the new image).

Before and After Cross Processing Action

As mentioned earlier, if you saved the .ATN file in the proper folder - you had to restart Photoshop. If you did this open the Action palette, click on the small arrow and you will now see the new set in the list. Click on the new group to load it for use.

List of Action Groups in CS4

I think that you can see how powerful Actions are. Remember to use them next time you have a task that requires the same multiple steps on multiple images. Learn to load new actions and when you create something cool, you can share yours. Imagine a wedding photographer that has 2000 photos to resize. They're a great timesaver.

Some links to free Actions: Link 1 - Link 2 - Link 3
Who can forget the classic movie "Action Jackson"?

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