Improve Your Digital Imaging Skills In One Simple Step - 11/3/08
Rely on recipes to repeat your retouching successes
So you're a dedicated pioneer of digital photography techniques too, right? Even if you're not breaking new ground, you're still bound to want to try new-to-you things. So how can you maximize your experimentation time in the computer, ensuring that when you do discover a great way to do something or a complex combination of techniques that produces a unique result, you'll be able to repeat on the computer? Easy: you write down a recipe.
In the old days, darkroom photographers made continually evolving notes of their procedures in making a great print. (See Rolfe Horn's web site, for example, in which he illustrates the complex procedures that go into the permutations of each darkroom print he makes, www.f45.com/html/tech/index.html).
Working in the digital darkroom is a whole new beast when compared to the laborious darkroom process, and recording every step of a recipe can be a hindrance to the fast-paced, freethinking world of post-production experimentation. Thankfully your favorite post-production tool has a recipe-recording device built right in. Two, actually: the history palette and the Record Actions controls.
If your dabbling is of the "I wonder what this filter does" variety, Photoshop's History Palette probably offers enough information to help you recreate an effect. If you stumble upon a filter or adjustment or combination therein that really gets your juices flowing, simply take a gander at the History Palette and make note of the combination of adjustments you made. That's a simple and effective way to figure out what just happened, but it's still up to you to remember how to do it again. That's where the Actions menu comes in incredibly handy.
For people like me, who can't remember what was for breakfast, recording Actions in Photoshop is an experimental lifesaver. Here's how it works: Open the Actions palette, and click the "Create new Action" icon and give it a name, say, "Experiment One." Click record and get to work. As you make changes to the image, all the while Photoshop is recording what you're doing. Not only is it a great way to go back several steps in the process and really dig into the values and adjustments you made, it can actually be saved to play again identically.
When you're happy with the results of your experiment, click Stop to end the recording. You can now rename the new recipe to something more appropriate for the results-say, Crazy Colors and Wild Contrast FX-and perform it on future images at the click of a button. I'd say that's a pretty powerful way to keep track of your experiments in the computer, without having to take meticulous notes or worry about botching the recipe.