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Sample Lesson: Jim Miotke's Photoshop® for Photographers
Online Photoshop Course


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The following is a sample lesson from a previous version of Jim Miotke's Photoshop® for Photographers online photography course. This lesson was written with Photoshop 6 in mind but while help anyone with the full versions of Photoshop that feature Actions. Note: Jim no longer teaches this Photoshop® for Photographers class - the lesson is now a free sample.

Lesson #8: Saving Time - Automation via Actions/Batching

Burning your candle at both ends? Save time with Photoshop's automation features
Burning your candle at both ends? Save time with Photoshop's automation features.
© Jim Miotke, 2003
Saving time is something I can talk about for hours. So I'll try to be brief, giving you only the information you need to know and allowing you to get back to your daily tasks.

That's what automation in Photoshop is all about: streamlining your experience in the program so you can get in, make your changes, and get out in the least amount of time.

The different versions of Photoshop offer different ways to automate tasks. While the full version of Photoshop features "Actions", Photoshop Elements features a Batch command. So to be fair to all of our students, we will take a look at both.

But you might be asking, "What's the point?" So, before we look at the Hows, let's talk a little bit about the Whys.

First Questions First: Why Automate?
When I first learned of Photoshop Actions, my instinctual, gut-reaction was to wonder "Why would anyone want such a thing?" After all, photographs are artistic expressions - what can be automated about art? It sounded way too "computer-geeky" to me.

However, as I became more and more involved in Photoshop, I quickly began to realize how much time I spent doing repetitive, mindless tasks. As I developed habits, I began to see that I could save a lot of time and effort by using automatic scripts to have Photoshop do these habitual tasks for me.

For example, let's say you have several images that you would like to upload to BetterPhoto.com. In the instructions, I recommend that you size your images at something like 500 x 750 pixels (500 pixels on the short dimension). I also recommend that you upload TIFF files (they result in sharper uploaded images).

Option A would be to work on each image in its own time, resizing and saving it after you have made any needed corrections (such as sharpening or color adjustment).

Option B would be to adjust and color correct each image without worrying about resizing and saving as a TIFF file. These two latter tasks can be easily automated. Then, once you are done preparing all of your images, you can choose a menu function that runs your automated script on all of the images. While you go out to dinner or head outside to make a few more beautiful photos, the software does the work for you. This saves you a lot of time in the long run.

Automation in Photoshop 6+
The full-blown versions of Photoshop include a sophisticated feature called Actions as a way to help you automate.

Note to Elements Users: you can skim over this section. Elements' Batch command works in much the same way but doesn't allow you create your own automated tasks. We will talk about Batching a bit later in this lesson. As an alternative, you might enjoy experimenting with Elements' Photomerge command (in the File menu) to make cool panoramics.

Actions are basically pre-recorded tasks. They work like a cassette recorder - you hit one button to record and another button to play back what you have recorded. Instead of recording music, though, Photoshop Actions record the things you do (your "actions").

Once you have recorded a series of actions, you can repeat that series on another image with one simple click.

How to Set Up an Action
All you have to do is:

  1. Open up an image - you need a sample image to work with when recording your actions.
  2. Click the Create New Action button near the bottom right corner of the Actions palette. (See the left image in the examples below.)
  3. Name your Action.
  4. Hit the Record button to the left of the Create New Action button. This will begin the recording process. (See the middle image in the examples below.)
  5. Start doing whatever you want to record. After each step, you will see the action get registered in the Actions palette.
  6. When you're done hit the square Stop button to the left of the Record button. (See the right image in the examples below.)

Hit the Record button to begin recording an Action.
Hit the Create New Action button to make a new action.
Hit the Record button to begin recording an Action.
Hit the Record button to begin the recording process.
Hit the Stop button to stop recording an Action.
Hit the Stop button when you're done recording.

What is Recordable and What is Not
Not everything is recordable in Photoshop. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. How would the computer know, for example, where to draw a selection marquee? How would it know the exact hue you were looking for? It can't.

It can easily remember, though, what folder you like to save your image files in. It can remember that you prefer to save your images as high quality/low compression JPEG files. It can even remember that you like to downsize each image after you save it, allowing you to save a smaller, thumbnail version.

If you can perform the action from a menu function, without artistic intervention, then it is totally "Action-able."

If you are not sure, you can try to record your action. If you see an entry added to the Action in the Actions palette, then it worked. If not, that action is not recordable.

Can I Step In?

Clicking in the red circle will activate a stop
Clicking in the red circle will activate a stop.
Photoshop even allows you to step in to make some artistic judgement calls from time to time. If you want to color correct each image individually, for example, you can do this within an Action.

First record your Action as you would, including the color correction step.

Next, after you have stopped recording, click to the left of the color correction step in your Action to activate what's called a stop.

This stop means that when you run the Action, it will pause at this point, allowing human intervention. Once you are done making your artistic, human changes, the Action continues onto the next step.

How to Resize Both Portraits and Landscapes
If you go to the Image Size command to downsize images to a consistent thumbnail size (e.g. for display on the Web), you will quickly notice that applying the same Image Size Action on both vertical and horizontal images can get tricky.

If you specify that each image should be exactly 200 pixels wide, for example, landscape images are going to be much smaller than vertical portraits. If you tell Photoshop to downsize by a particular percentage, larger source images will produce larger thumbnails and smaller source images will produce smaller thumbnails.

Vertical image at 200 pixels wide
Vertical image at 200 pixels wide.
  Horizontal image at 200 pixels wide
Horizontal image at 200 pixels wide.
Downsized 75% from smaller source file
Downsized 75% from smaller source file
  Downsized 75% from larger source file
Downsized 75% from larger source file.

Either way, there will be no consistency of size.

The solution is to use Photoshop's Fit Image command.

When you are recording your Action, go to the File menu and choose Automate/Fit Image instead of opting to use the usual Image Size command.

If you want each image to be no bigger than 750 pixels on the long end, for example, type "750" into the width field and "750" into the height field. This will ensure that each image you process is no larger than 750 pixels wide or high, regardless of whether it is a vertical or horizontal image.

Tip: When you record a Save As command in your Action, do not actually rename your file. Simply allow it to be saved under its original file name. You can then go rename it afterwards. You don't want to name it while recording the Action because, if you do, every time you use the Action, the resulting image will be called that particular file name. When you resist the temptation to rename it while recording the Action, each resulting image will be named distinctively.

Applying an Action
After you have recorded an Action, you can apply it to other images in one of two ways.

  1. You can hit the Play button to apply it to an open, active window.
  2. You can choose Automate/Batch from the File Menu to apply the Action to a whole set of images at once.

Hit the Play Button to apply the Action to one image
Hit the Play Button to apply the Action to one image.
  Select the Automate/Batch option from the File menu to apply the Action to multiple images at once.
Select the Automate/Batch option from the File menu to apply the Action to multiple images at once.

Both options will save you a lot of time. The latter option, though, is that one that I use the most. It allows me to go do something else, while the computer does the Photoshop work for me.

The Batch dialog box
The Batch dialog box.
Here you indicate the folder that contains your source images, the Action you would like to apply, and the destination where you would like to save the results.

Automation in Photoshop Elements
PSE users will find a Batch command in the File menu that will give them limited automation abilities. It works much like Actions - the main difference is that you cannot create your own Batch commands, customizing them to meet your particular needs.

With the Batch command, you can:

  • Automate the conversion of images from one file type to another.
  • Change the image's size and resolution.

So this will allow you to save a lot of time when it comes to converting file types and making them all one standard resolution.

As Elements does not offer the Fit Image command that we discussed above, you will have to find another way to consistently resize all of your images (if that is the task that you are interested in doing).

One way you could make a set of images all one consistent size would be to separate your vertical source images from your horizontal source images. You can then run the Batch command on the vertical set using a standard width and then run the Batch command a second time on the horizontal set using a standard height. This will give you a collection of images all the same size.

Shortcut of the Week: Create Your Own
One of the beauties of Photoshop Actions is that they allow you to custom-create your own shortcuts.

For example, as much as I have searched, Photoshop does not seem to have any shortcut that will allow me to quickly and easily open up the Image Size command. And as I use this command often, I would like to make my own shortcut to it.

To do this, I open a sample image and click the Create a New Action button. I name it "Open Image Size", and then indicate which function key I would like to use as my shortcut. For example, I might choose F12. Once the Action is recorded, pressing the F12 key on my keyboard will activate the Action.

After I record the Image Size command on this sample image, I stop recording and click to the left of the Action to create a stop. This will cause the Image Size dialog box to open and remain open while I make individual sizing changes.

Viola! I now have a shortcut to the Image Size command.

Assignment: Create a Contact Sheet
The assignment this week is two-fold:

  1. Make your own Action or run a Batch, whichever your program allows. Experiment - see if you can do it. Although there will not be anything to upload from this, I would still like you to try it out. Post your comments or questions about either of these functions in the Course Q&A.
  2. Make a contact sheet. To make a contact sheet simply go to the File menu and choose Automate/Contact Sheet II. This will ask you to designate a folder of source images. Then, hit the OK button to start making your contact sheet.

Contact Sheet
Contact Sheet Menu
Contact Sheet
Contact Sheet
Click to enlarge.

This second assignment leads perfectly into the subject of our final two lessons - image management. After all, printing off contact sheets is one great tool for cataloging and organizing your images.

Upload one contact sheet from this week's assignment by Sunday evening.


Have a great week!

Jim

Have questions? Use our online Q&A forum or email me for answers.

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