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Why Use Actions?

There are quite a few tasks a Photoshop user is required to do on a regular basis. Tasks like sharpening or resizing photos are done really often. Well, imagine if you could create your own custom sharpening workflow that’s triggered with the click of a button. That’s what Photoshop Actions bring to the table

When you click the Record button at the bottom of the Actions panel, Photoshop will record all the menus you access, all the buttons you click and all the values you enter. It will not record some things, like painting with a brush or the passage of time while it’s recording.

The Actions Panel

The Actions Panel contains sets. In the sets are the individual Actions. In the Actions are the steps you’ve recorded.

  1. Stop playing or recording
  2. Begin recording
  3. Play Selection
  4. Create a new set
  5. Create a new Action
  6. Delete

This is my current Actions panel. You can see my actions are in a set called Al’s Actions.

Our First Action

To create a new Action, click on the button at the bottom of the panel, or use the panel menu.

This is the New Action dialogue.

The New Action dialogue allows you to name your action. Choose the actions set you want to store it in. You can attribute a keyboard shortcut to your action. A colour can also be given to the action. This colour shows when you set your Actions panel to Button Mode.

The Acions panel in button mode.

When the panel is in Button Mode, you simply need to click on an action once to have it play. Notice the Play button isn’t even there.

Sharpening photos is a common task which lends itself to at least partial automation. We’ll set up a workflow which runs through a series of actions, but asks for parameters along the way.

We’ll use the Sharpen with High Pass technique to sharpen a photo. All you’ll need to do in the future is to hit the Play button in the Actions palette to sharpen any photo.

Toggle dialogues button.

Note that the Toggle Dialogue On/Off button is turned on. This makes it that when the action runs, the High Pass dialogue will prompt you for a setting. Every photo needs a different value in the filter, so it’s convenient to have this option.

If you make a mistake while recording an action, you can continue recording, then fix it after. Complete your recording. Target the step with the error, then hit delete. Click the record button, then perform the corrected step. Stop recording. Done!

The Image Processor

Photoshop’s Image Processor is a built-in automation powerhouse. You can batch-export images and much, much more.

The Image Processor dialogue.

Section 1: Feed Image Processor a folder of images.

Section 2: Tell Image Processor where to save the output of the processing.

Section 3: Choose one or more file formats and settings in which to save your images.

Section 4: Run an action on the processed images.

The Image Processor converts and processes multiple files. The Image Processor lets you process files without first creating an action.

You can do any of the following in the Image Processor:

  • Convert a set of files to either JPEG, PSD, or TIFF format; or convert files simultaneously to all three formats.
  • Process a set of camera raw files using the same options.
  • Resize images to fit within specified pixel dimensions.
  • Embed a color profile or convert a set of files to sRGB and save them as JPEG images for the web.

The Image Processor works with Photoshop (psd), JPEG, and camera raw files.

Image Processor + Actions!

We’ve covered Image Processor and Actions on their own. Now let’s see how powerful they can be when combined.

Photoshop’s Image Processor is a powerful tool. What really amps up it’s juice is the Actions menu at the bottom. On top of changing file types and resizing on the fly, you can have it run an action. Knowing that an action can do pretty much anything in Photoshop, makes the Image Processor your go-to automation tool.

The Image Processor dialogue. It runs a Gradient Map action, then saves the file as a 500px native Photoshop file.

Let’s create a new action that makes the images look monochromatic, with an orange colour cast. We’ll use a “Gradient Map” adjustment layer to achieve this.

We’ll apply the Image Processor to the original photos from the first folder. While we’re at it, let’s make the images 500 pixels wide.

Batch Workflows

Once you’ve recorded a workflow, you can apply it to as many image files as you wish. This is what Batch does.

Launch a batch workflow on many files.

A single action is very practical for affecting one or a few images. You just open the image, click the Play button in the Actions panel, sit back and watch the magic happen. But what if you have 20 images, or 200, or even 20,000?

Batch processing is key to applying an action to a large number of images. You set up your action beforehand. Go File > Automate, Batch… In the Batch dialogue, you get options for locating the files and re-naming them.

The Batch dialogue.
  1. Play: Which action are you going to run on all your images?
    • Override action “Open” commands: When checked, this will process the images specified above rather than images your action may ask for.
    • Suppress File Open Options Dialogs: Sometimes, when a file is opened, Photoshop presents a dialogue. When checked, this will suppress that dialogue and continue processing.
  2. Source: Give the command a folder of images to process.
  3. Errors: If Photoshop encounteres a problem while it processes the images, it can log the errors in a text file, then continue with the rest of the images.
  4. Destination: Tell Photoshop where to put the completed images.
  5. File Naming: Set up costom a file naming convention for the processed files.
    • If the action you’ve recored has a Save As… command in it, this option will ignore it. It will save the files where you tell it here, with a custom name.

Let’s run our Sharpen with High Pass action on our source photos. Save them to the the provided folder.

Crop & Straighten Photos

The Crop and Straighten script in Photoshop can be a real time-saver if you have a series of photos you need to crop and straighten.

If you’re in the process of digitizing old photos, you may think you’re stuck with scanning only one print at a time. Photoshop can help you if you scan more than one at a time.

Six photos scanned at once. All askew.

Place as many images on your flatbed scanner as can fit. It doesn’t even matter if they move a bit when you close the lid. Just make sure the photos aren’t overlapping. Go ahead and scan your photos into one file.

Once you have your scan, you can use File > Automate > Crop and Straighten. This script will magically create a separate file with each photo in it.

Crop and Straighten output. All photos straightened.

The one condition for this to work is that the backgrounds of the photos are not completely white. When Photoshop produces the separate file, it detects the edges of each one. If the background of your photo is completely white, it may not be able to differentiate it from the scanner’s white lid.

Using Photomerge

Learn how easy it is to use Photoshop to create beautiful panoramic images.

Photoshop includes a function called Photomerge. It’s under the File > Automate menu. It receives a series of photos. Your source photographs play a large role in panoramic compositions. To avoid problems, follow these guidelines when taking pictures for use with Photomerge.

Creating a Droplet

A Droplet is a file you can keep anywhere on your computer. When you drop image file on it, it will perform a workflow.

A droplet applies an action to one or more images, or a folder of images, that you drag onto the Droplet icon.

Actions are the basis for creating droplets—you must create the desired action in the Actions panel before creating a droplet.

The Create Droplet dialogue.
  1. Choose File > Automate > Create Droplet.
  2. Specify where to save the droplet. Click Choose in the Save Droplet In section of the dialog box and navigate to the location.
  3. Select the Action Set, and then designate which action you intend to use within the Set and Action menus. Select the action in the Actions panel before you open the dialog box to pre-select these menus.
  4. Set processing, saving, and file naming options.

Process a file with a droplet

Drag a file or folder onto the droplet icon. Photoshop starts if it is not already running. Photoshop will open and process each file, one after the other. you can work in other applications on your computer, but they will likely perform slowly, since Photoshop is working as hard as it can.

Remember that Automator can do many simple tasks Photoshop can. The added benefit is that it doesn't open the images. In general, it runs much, much faster.

Back Up Droplet Actions

A droplet is based on an action. Let’s say you create your action, then create a droplet. You delete the action from the panel. You then lose the droplet. You’ll need to re-record the action to create the droplet from it.


In order to not lose anything, record the action, then go to the panel menu. Choose Save Action…. This will save a file on your computer with the whole set of actions in it, which you can re-load in the panel.

Creating Contact Sheets

Contact sheets are a very useful thing to have in the studio. We’ll create them automatically with a script included in Photoshop.

Contact sheets can be used to aid photo selection after a shoot. They can be presented to clients for approvals. In other words, they’re very convenient to have around. The challenge is that creating them manually would be very tedious.

The Contact Sheet dialogue. Let Photoshop create a contact sheet for you.

The dialogue is big, but pretty easy to use. The options are clear. Note that you can preserve layers, which makes the contact sheet easily editable.

Formative Activity

We’ll apply a watermark on the original, first folder. Use the provided watermarks. We’ll have the conditional actions apply the portrait watermark to the portrait photos and the landscape watermarks to the landscape photos.

Image Processor

  1. Feed the Image Processor dialogue the original large images from the first folder we used.
  2. Convert the images to jpeg, psd and tiff files.
  3. Resize the images to 512 pixels in either orientation.
  4. Do nothing in the section 4 at the bottom of the dialogue.

Have the processed photos put in the provided folder.

PDF Presentation

Use the original images from the first folder to create a PDF Presentation. We’ll set it up as shown in the image on this page.


Include your PDF Presentation file in the “skill-12” folder.


Use the provided images to create a panorama using Photomerge. Let’s turn on Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas. Once we have our panorama, we’ll need to get rid of any aberrations in the photo.



In this unit, you’ll create a droplet which will turn the processed photos to monochromatic orange, then save them as jpeg files.