Graphic Thoughts: Automating Graphic Edits with Photoshop Styles
Posted Mar 8, 2008

August 2001, WEVA Expo (in the sky lobby of Bally’s)—I still have people tell me they were there when I presented for the first time to a group of videographers. Oddly enough, the one thing that sticks out more than anything else (for those who were there) was when I showed the power of Actions within Adobe Photoshop.

For many, it was their first introduction to automation within a graphics program. Seven years later, Actions are still one of the most popular parts of my seminars and definitely one of the biggest "WOW Factor" details I continue to show.

So what exactly are Actions? The simplest answer is that Actions are Photoshop’s way of recording the steps you make to play back at a later time. In other words, you may have a situation where you have 100 photographs all at 1024x768 resolution, but you really need them all set to 800x600. You could certainly resize each image one by one … but who wants to do that? Actions to the rescue!

Understand too, that the real power of Actions isn’t in the simplistic formulas of resizing like I just mentioned. Some of the masters of Actions creation are doing things that would simply make your jaw drop, especially when they perform functions that easily accomplish hundreds of tasks in seconds.

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to create an Action taken directly from our new graphics training series, Fast & Fabulous. This is an effect we like to call the "$500 Photo Effect." It’s simple to create, the results are dramatic, and it’s the perfect look to have as an Action in your arsenal.

Step 1: Create a New Action
To begin, open any image on your computer (File > Open). Also, if you don’t see your Actions Palette, choose (Window > Actions) in the upper menu bar.

Choose the "Create New Action" icon on the Actions Palette, which looks exactly like the Create New Layer icon from your Layers palette. In the dialog that appears, name your Action "$500 Photo Effect" (Figure 1, below).

figure 1

A nice option is to assign your Action to a function key such as F4. Once the Action is created, simply pressing F4 will run the assigned Action. We’ll bypass this step for now.

Color is another option. This simply highlights the Actions palette in whatever color you choose—it doesn’t actually have any effect on your imagery. Now press Record (you’ll notice the little red circle record icon is lit up at the bottom of your Actions palette) to start saving the edits you perform and filters you apply and configure as an Action.

Step 2: Duplicate Your Layer and Apply a Blur
At this point, Photoshop is now "watching" every move you make (in Photoshop, that is). Go ahead and press Ctrl/Cmd J on your keyboard to duplicate your layer.

Select the top layer (Layer 1), then choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and select something around 3.0 (Figure 2, below).

figure 1

Step 3: Choose Overlay Mode
At the top of your Layers palette you’ll see a drop-down menu with the word Normal (this is the list of modes you can choose). Drop down and choose the mode called Overlay.

Your image should now have a much more saturated look—often, the results can take a very ordinary image to extraordinary by simply going through these motions. If you want to lessen the effect simply drop the Opacity slider to something less than 100% on Layer 1 (Figure 3, below). Note: Another mode I like to use is called Soft Light.

figure 1

Step 4: Complete Your Action and Stop Recording
Since the Actions palette is still recording, you’ll want to press the square Stop icon at the bottom of your Actions Palette (just to the left of the red Record button). Your $500 Photo effect icon is now ready to use!

Simply open a new image and instead of going through the steps manually, just select the $500 Photo Effect from the Actions Palette and press the Play arrow button (or F4 if you selected it as your function key when you created the Action). In seconds your image will get duplicated and blurred, and the mode will get changed, as shown in the before/after in Figure 4, below.

figure 1

Step 5: Load/Clear/Replace Actions
Another thing to note is that you can load/replace/clear Actions by simply clicking in the upper right area of your Actions palette (Figure 5, below). This area will reveal more options for working with Actions, and it’s naturally the place to go when you need to load in a new killer action that you just found on the Internet.

figure 1

And as always, be sure and consult your manual for additional help on working with Actions in Adobe Photoshop.

To see more cool Actions and effects, check out Fast & Fabulous Volume 1 from PixelPops Design.

Lance Gray (lance at is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas simply email him.