Commentary # 18 ~ April 2008
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Light, Camera, Photoshop Actions!!

April 2008

- by Craig Wassel

It never ceases to amaze me that although so many own and use PhotoShop or PhotoShop Elements, so few truly utilize even 10% of their power. Maybe it's due to the dizzying and even intimidating array of menus, tools, options, and terminology found within them. Reading a book to learn what PhotoShop can do can be just as daunting, and also potentially un-captivating for those who prefer visual learning. Classrooms are great for visual learners, but they can be expensive, and difficult to fit into a busy schedule.

Nonetheless, if you have laid down your hard earned money for PhotoShop or PhotoShop Elements and are serious enough about your photography to be putting it online, then you owe it to yourself to explore and discover everything they can do. At an average of $100.00 for Elements and $650.00 for full blown PhotoShop, only using them to crop, resize, add text, or perform other simple tasks that can be done in free image editors is a tremendous underutilization of their power.

In my October 2007 commentary "Just Like Crackerjacks" (link), I wrote about how I view and use image editors like PhotoShop in my workflow. To recap: They are part of my digital darkroom, and I use them to develop and process my images. When I do, I am asking myself, "if I were in the chemical darkroom, how would I be treating this?". But this commentary is not to re-hash all of that. This one is about saving indescribably large amounts of time using the powers of PhotoShop.

Here comes a question: how long would it take you to do the following to prep one of your photographs for the web?:
  1. Open 16 bit .tiff file and reduce it to 8 bits.

  2. Reduce it from 300 dpi to 72 dpi, and resize it to 600 pixels tall if it is in portrait aspect or 600 pixels wide if it is in landscape

  3. Place a 2 pixel wide frame around it that is color #eeeeee, followed by a second 10 pixel wide frame that is color #555555, followed by another 2 pixel wide frame that is color #eeeeee, and then finally an outer 50 pixel wide frame that is color #222222.

  4. Resize the photo one more time to either 600 wide or 600 tall as before, then add copyright information into the .exif data

  5. Last, add a watermark that says John/Jane Doe Photography, then save it as a .jpeg that is ready for the web.
If you were to do this manually with mouse and keyboard, it would minimally take 3 minutes per photo to accomplish this, and that is if your fingers can fly with keyboard shortcuts. Imagine having to do this 250 times to update photos in every gallery on your website. That would mean it would take 12.5 hours of PhotoShop labor, and that is if you could work like a robot. Of course, none of us can.

PhotoShop can do it in about 1/15th of a second per photo. Literally.

Yes, the 5 steps I described above (and I assure you my description of the steps has even been greatly abridged) are what produce the framed look you see on the photographs in the right column of this page and on every photo on this site, and what could take me minutes per photo to accomplish, PhotoShop can do in 1/15th of a second per photo. You probably have a different set of steps you use to prep your work, but it all translates. If have your own steps, then it is likely they can be turned into an action. After that, all you need to do is select your action and click its "play" button.

If you already know about PhotoShop actions, then this doesn't sound to good to be true. If it does sound too good to be true, then there is power in your PhotoShop that you have not even begun to tap. As I said before, you paid a good amount for your software, so learn every tool and corner of it you possibly can.

My goal is not to provide a tutorial on how to write actions, but to continue to refute the stigma some have placed on PhotoShop, and promote what I see as its true place and value for serious photographers. When I say serious, I do not mean "serious digital photographers". It does not matter whether we are aspiring amateurs or seasoned professionals, or whether we are shooting digital or film or both. We are living in the online age, and one of the questions I am most asked is, "Do you have a website?".

For modern photographers, it is almost a necessity, because people expect or even assume that we do. A site is an additional committment, and that means it will take away at least some time that we would rather use for shooting. That means there is a consideration of how to efficiently and proficiently get our work online, regardless of whether its origin is digital or film. If you have Photoshop, don't stop at learning just the basics or even at how to use it as part of your digital darkroom. If there are tasks you regularly do in PhotoShop, chances are you can automate them by turning them into your own custom actions. They can then be applied against a folder of images by using PhotoShop's "File > Automate > Batch" tool. You don't even need to read a book or take a class to learn how. There are many great and free tutorials online written by those who know far more than I do, and it is from them that I have learned to get my work prepped as fast as possible.

And that leaves more time for vision and shooting.

"It matters little how much equipment we use; it matters much that we be masters of all we do use. "

~ Sam Abell ~

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" . . . At an average of $100.00 for Elements and $650.00 for full blown PhotoShop, using them simply to crop, resize, add text, or perform other very simple tasks is a tremendous underutilization of their power . . . "

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