I frequently hear photographers talk about maximizing their time behind a camera and minimizing their time at the computer. It’s not the creative postproduction that these photographers want to avoid—it’s the digital drudgery that can consume so much of a one’s time. Tasks like file management and basic processing aren’t nearly as fun and interesting as creative retouching and image processing. Thankfully, Photoshop has customizable actions and batch-processing tools that allow photographers to execute a change once, record it and play it back later, ad nauseam.
The great thing about recording actions is their versatility. They can be as simple as a one- or two-step change (like resizing a file to a particular dimension) or as complex as a multipart procedure requiring input along the way. They even can incorporate other previously recorded actions.
Whatever action you want to create, the process is simple: Create and name the new action, press record, do what you want to do and then stop recording. Here’s how it works with some common procedures that surely will free you up to spend more time as a photographer and less time as a button pusher.
Photoshop actions are created by recording every keystroke and click you make, whether that’s a crop or a color correction. The key to remember is that you want the changes to be generic enough to be applicable to multiple images—whether they’re for a single body of work or a general “look” that you’ll want to apply to multiple pictures forever. As an example, let’s record a multistep action that boosts contrast, saturation and sharpness, and resizes a file for e-mailing or publishing online.
Begin by choosing a sample image to work on as a template and open it in Photoshop. Open the Actions palette and click the set in which you’d like your new action to appear (or click the Folder icon to create a new set). Click Create New Action and give it a descriptive name, like “Saturation, Contrast, Sharpen, Resize for Web.” (Fig. 1) You also can assign a function key, creating a keyboard shortcut to execute the action with a single keystroke.
Now, click Record. From this point on, Photoshop is keeping tabs on every move you make, and you’ll see evidence of this in the Actions palette. (You always can stop recording to go back or undo errant steps if necessary.)