Using Photoshop Actions {Photography Tips}

I get asked a lot how I edit pictures. My husband and I run a photography business on the side to earn a little income to pay down our student bills, and we love using photoshop actions to edit our pictures. There are a lot of great actions on Lightroom as well. I currently use Photoshop CS6, but this tutorial should work for most versions of Photoshop. Actions that you use may have stipulations on what Photoshop type you are using.

What are photoshop actions?

Basically actions are shortcuts that we photographers use to speed up our editing process. Yes, we can do a lot of our edits by hand, but having an action to lighten up your picture, change the tint of the file, add cool filters, and change the saturation levels of a picture at the click of a button really speeds up the process and gives some really neat results as well.

Actions are really helpful because you can get a variety of looks quickly and saves a TON of time in the editing room. Many photographers make their own actions to get the style they like, or you can download them from numerous places online.

If you have photoshop one of my favorite free action sets is by Pioneer Woman. She offers a few different sets and they have the best quality free actions I’ve seen. (And you don’t have to worry that you’re downloading a virus either, because she is legit!)

Here are some examples of various actions from Pioneer Woman. The first picture on the top left is Straight Out Of the Camera (SOOC). The others were simply a result of using the action sets from Pioneer Woman, mentioned above.

Where do I find Actions?

There are a lot of great photoshop and Lightroom action presets online. I find my style changes every so often, and I like to rotate through actions and how I edit my pictures.

Here are some of my current favorite action collections:

If you don’t want to spend money you can always check out these types of posts where they offer links to hundreds of free photoshop actions. A warning on these, however, is you will be downloading them at your own risk.

How Do I Use Actions Once I Have them Downloaded?

Once you have downloaded the actions, open up your actions window in photoshop and upload the actions. I sometimes upload them manually, other times I just drop them from the file into my photoshop window. (Most actions come with instructions too in case you forget! If you download actions and don’t know how to install them, mcp actions has a great step-by-step video to help you out. Check it out.)

Once the actions are downloaded, you are ready to use them on any image. (You can actually use them on files too. I sometimes use my texture actions on my digital designs to give them texture and dimension. It’s pretty neat.)

When you see your actions, open up the folder and click on the individual action. Then simply press the “play button” that looks like a sideways triangle. (circled below)

And then you get your new edited picture. 🙂 It’s so simple, but so fun, right?!

I’d also recommend using the opacity feature on photoshop to really get control of the actions you use. On your layers tab, click on the action or layer you would like to edit, then go up to the opacity tool on the upper right hand side (of the layers tab still) and change the opacity until you are happy with it. I tend to like more subtle, classic look for my editing so I use the opacity tool a lot. Just click on the opacity on the top right part of your layers and get it to the level you would like.

Here’s a screenshot of what my screen generally looks like in photoshop. I generally have my history and action tabs open, and then my layers tab as well.

Another great thing about actions is they are customizable. If you like the look of a few actions you can mix and match them with other edits you like. Below are some examples of mixed edits from MCP Actions, Pioneer Woman, and Totally Rad Actions.

baby jared copy

You can even mess around with black and white by using a black and white action and then adding a tint to it to make it a different type of black and white. (The sepia edit on the last picture is at 30% opacity)

Hope this tutorial was helpful! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to get more fun photography tips on right column of this blog.


12 Responses

  1. Hi there- these are great! thank you so much- I just have a question, I was unable to use some actions and got an error message that said “color range is currently unavailable”… do you know why that would be? Also what version of photoshop are you using? -Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Angie!

      I can’t find the file on that picture, but I know I used Totally Rad Actions. On the baby to tone down the yellow jaundice skin I used a mask of “cool as a cucumber” in their daily grind action set (so it didn’t affect me, just the babe), and I also really love the action “claire-ify” on their totally rad revenge action set with my indoor shots, so I’m guessing I used that here. It looks like I warmed up the color a bit, but not much. And probably used a 20% opacity or less on the MCP Magic Skin action set. Hope that helps!!!

  2. Suzanne

    Great blog! I don’t have photoshop yet…and have no idea which version to buy! I don’t want to pay a monthly fee as this is just a hobby for me. What version do you recommend?

    1. Thanks, Suzanne! I got mine back in the day when you just paid a lump fee forever and we didn’t have to pay for upgrades or montly payments… So I’m not sure what they are offering today. I know there are a lot of photographers who LOOOOOOOVE doing all their photo editing in lightroom – they do batch edits, individual edits, and you can do a similar type of thing with actions on lightroom that I talked about in this post. I don’t know what the price comparison is between the two if there are any, but that might be something to check out.

  3. Pingback : 5 Great Tutorials for Photoshop Beginners | The Educated Shutter

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