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4.23.2009

Digital Photoshop Actions


{Reported by Emilie Ahern}

Lately I have had a bunch of people ask what camera I use to take my photos. You'll be surprised by the answer. A normal...everyday...little Sony digital DSC-W5. Fits in my purse. No lenses to lug around. And the best part? Set on auto mode with the flash turned off. No aperture and ISO for me...I don't really know what those things are. So how do I get such good photos? The answer.....Photoshop Actions.


So just what are "actions"? Say a fancy-shmancy professional photographer takes some photos and loads them onto her computer to enhance (or "proof") them. She might sharpen the image. Adjust the lighting. Enhance certain colors...all to get a certain effect. As she proofs her photos, our imaginary photographer records and saves every step that she takes. She can then save all of these steps and turn them into an "action".

So, an action is a set of photo altering steps used to achieve a certain look. Get it? So instead of a amateur like me actually learning about how to use every single little tool in Photoshop to make a photo black and white and enhance the contrast...I can just buy some genius' Photoshop Actions and they do it for me.

You plunk any photo into Photoshop and hit a play button and the steps do ALL of the work for you. And there are infinite numbers of actions to try...from making your photos into comic book characters, making them look warn and vintage, sharpening, rounding corners...and much much more.

(click to enlarge. Courtesy of Mindy's Photo Actions)

You can always use Google to search for free actions to try out. A good resource for free actions is Action Central and the Adobe Photoshop Exchange. The Pioneer Woman offers a free set on her blog.

You can also buy some if you can't find free ones you like or find a certain photographer whose proofing you really love. Before you purchase any Action sets make sure they are compatible with your particular program. Some are only for Photoshop Elements and others only run in regular Photoshop.

A popular site is Itty Bitty Actions. Their sets run for around $100 and you get a large number of actions (around 50). But my favorite set is perfect, inexpensive and worth every penny. Mindy's Photo Actions Vibrant Color set. I bought them at http://mindysphotoactions.blogspot.com/. Mindy herself will help you install them and answer any questions you may have. This makes them perfect for a beginner who is unsure about installation and utilizing them. She sells them for cheaper in small sets so you can just buy what you want and add more later as desired. I use her "Vibrant Color" on pretty much every photo I take and often use her "Soft Indoor Light" as well. Here's a little before and after so you can get the feeling of what these actions can do for you.

Before:


After:



Before:


After:


I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that Actions have changed my life. They have enhanced my photographs so much that I felt proud enough of family photos recently to frame them and hang them in my Living Room. I just can't live without my (I mean Mindy's) Actions and my freebie Pioneer Woman set.

What do YOU think? I'd love to know what you think. Have you ever tried Photoshop Actions? Would you like to try them? Do you think they are worth the money or do you prefer more traditional photos? Do you have a favorite set you want to share?

19 comments:

yyam said...

This is GREAT. I really didn't know that there were free actions available! I've seen some demonstrated by Maggie Holmes on the Studio Calico blog..I'm really psyched to try them out now. Thanks for this.

Ashley Harris said...

When I had Photoshop (due to upgrading OS my PS is no longer compatible) I absolutely loved, adored and lived by my actions. They are what gave me great rather than okay photos. Saving up for a new PS for me!

Theresa said...

Haven't used PS actions at all, and frankly didn't know about them. My current photo editing software has an "enhance" feature that works really well about 90% of the time. I have been considering upgrading to PS or PS Elements, and this might just give me the incentive to take that plunge. Thanks!

cassie d'ambrosio said...

I've been wanting to try actions for a while, but heard that they are difficult to install. I should try a free one. Thanks for reporting on them.

Jess said...

I am just starting to use actions myself, but am a little iffy on how to use them when you have to adjust certain levels on different layers or "paint" on stuff (like eyes) to change the look. They are great, though! and I LOVE your photos--I read your blog, and always think you must have some fantastic camera!! Glad to know you have yours in your purse, just like me!! :-)

marisa said...

I always loved the way certain photos looked and wondered how expensive the camera was that they used! Knowing that I could get these actions for free or even for a small amount is exciting! I think I might try these! Thanks so much for the info.!!

JennV said...

This is great information. I had NO IDEA that photo shop or actions could enhance a photo so much! I have just been thinking that I must be the only one out there with a regular old camera!

Natalie said...

I love photoshop actions and use them all the time on my photos.

There's a great free site called Coffee Shop that has great freebies and tutorials. http://coffeeteaphotography.blogspot.com/

I don't know what my layouts would be like without the beautiful enhancements from actions.

marla said...

PHotoshop actions sounds like a fun thing to try and it would enhance my photos.

Steffanie S. said...

I've never heard of these! But now you've sent me on a mission to investigate and find out more! I, too, just have a point & shoot and don't want to learn about or lug around a big fancy camera. But I want those fabulous photos, darnit! Now maybe I can have both. Thanks Emilie!

AngMomof3 said...

I really appreciate the one-stop shop for options on actions (say that 10 times fast!). I want to try some out, but really didn't want to pay for some that may not be what I'd like. Love the options you present!

Elizabeth said...

I think your photos are stunning, and I love seeing how your post-processing affects them! But do give yourself some credit--you still have to compose/time/interpret the shot and moment, and you do that very well : )

Anonymous said...

I've been using actions for the past year or so (I purchased some from Mindy and also use a lot of free ones). They are super easy to use and you adjusting them is really easy to get the desired effect. Don't be afraid to use them even if you aren't too computer savy.

Aly D said...

great article, Emilie! another photo action fan here!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for detailing photoshop actions. I've wanted to try them for a while, but at least now I know a wee bit about them! And, it's great that you have links to free ones to try.
Thanks Emilie!
carol.in.canada

Michelle said...

Thank you for this article. I have been wanting to try out some actions, just haven't had the money to do so. Thanks for the links to the freebies!
... I LOVE your girls red hair! I am a red head and have wanted each of my 4 children to be red heads. Nope, they all are blondie/browns. Oh well, there is still hope for the grandchildren.

Amy said...

i've never heard of these before ~ what a great idea! now if i only had photoshop..... :)

stephanie said...

Wow is all I can say!
Oh, and thank you for all the tips. :)

P.S. Glad to know I'm not the only one who uses a *normal* camera and not some fluffy kind. Good for those who know how, though.

Rhayne said...

I've never even heard of actions but wow what a difference they make! Thanks for sharing :o)