Speed Up Your Workflow with Photoshop Actions

It’s not without a reason that Adobe Photoshop is among the most trusted software by both photographers and designers. The possibilities seem endless and you’re able to make great changes to your images. However, it’s also more complicated than basic softwares such as Adobe Lightroom and achieving specific effects might be time consuming. Luckily, there’s a way to achieve them with just one simple click: Photoshop Actions.

What are Photoshop Actions?

Photoshop Actions are the best way to speed up your processing workflow. Similar to Lightroom Presets, Actions are pre-made selections or adjustments you can use to process images.

Raya Pro Photoshop Actions
Raya Pro Actions Panel

Many of the adjustments we wish to make in Photoshop require multiple minor adjustments which may take a lot of time. Instead of doing these exact same steps every time you process an image, you can create a Photoshop Action that does it in seconds. While most pictures are different and require customized settings, you can always go back and make changes to the adjustments after running an action.

Actions are a great tool to streamline your workflow and make it easy to achieve the desired adjustment.

Just like with Lightroom Presets, you can either make the adjustments yourself or purchase bundles of actions made by others or both! For small adjustments, making them yourself is easy but personally, I’m a big fan of Jimmy McIntyre’s Raya Pro Actions Panel and Tony Kueyper’s TK Actions Panel. Both of these are carefully developed by professional photographers and I use them as a part of my workflow on the majority of my images.

How do you make Photoshop Actions?

Actions can be looked on as recordings of your movements/changes. Basically, Photoshop records all your actions from when you tell it to start and stop. When you’ve saved the action, you can then use it again at anytime by pressing play. This will tell Photoshop to Speed Up Your Workflow with Photoshop Actionsplay the recorded adjustments and do them again. Now, let’s see how you can do this:

First of all, locate the play icon button and click on it. Normally, this button can be found in the right side tools panel. If it’s not visible there, you can unhide it by going to Window -> Actions.

You should now see an window similar to the example on the right.

This is where all your actions are stored, the ones you’ve made yourself as well as the ones you’ve purchased (though the purchased ones also often come as a complete panel).

Click on the folder icon (New Set) to create a new folder containing your own Actions and give it a name such as “My Actions”.

Making the Action

Now, let’s get on with it and make our first action.

  1. Click on the sheet icon (Create new Action)
  2. Name the action “Global Contrast” and place it in the “My Actions” folder
  3. Press the record button
  4. Open a curves adjustment layer and create a basic S-curve. If you don’t know what an S-curve is click the drop down menu next to “Preset” and select “Medium Contrast”.
  5. Name this layer “Global Contrast”.
  6. End the recording by pressing the stop button.

The Action is now saved and stored inside the “My Actions” folder. Delete the layer we just made and play the action to make sure it works properly. (Play the action by selecting it and pressing the play button)

The example above is very basic and obviously not a time consuming adjustment. However, you’re able to keep recording multiple layers and adjustments. That means that you could record quite complex workflows and later execute them with one click!

Examples of Photoshop Actions to create

Honestly, the options are endless when it comes to creating Photoshop Actions. You could create an action for all adjustments you make but that isn’t necessary and will probably be more time consuming than doing the adjustment manually.

It’s better to make Actions for more challenging adjustments that require multiple layers and tools.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Dodge/Burn Layer (See our article Dodge and Burn in Photoshop for more information)
  • Orton Effect
  • Sharpening for web
  • Highlight painting
  • Luminosity Masks

Have you made your own Photoshop Actions? What Action would you find useful to speed up your workflow? Let us know!

Christian Hoiberg is a full-time landscape photographer who helps aspiring photographers develop the skills needed to capture beautiful and impactful images. Download his free guide 30 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Photography and open the doors to your dream life. Visit his website or Instagram to view more of his photography.