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Using Actions to Save a Photo

2009 September 1
by Katie

You guys have asked over and over to get some tips on photography.

The fact is…

I am not good at taking photos.

I am not a photographer.

I know nothing about taking pictures. 


But I can photoshop the heck outta stuff.

So today I thought that I would go over how to use Adobe Photoshop actions (not elements, mind you) to save a bad photo.  First comes the task of finding a photo in my files that stinks.

yeah…that takes me all of .00000001 seconds. 

So here is a picture of our friend Billy and his newborn.  I took this one at about 7pm in a hospital room on Hayden’s birthday.  I don’t have a fancy lens with a low aperture (it’s on the Christmas list) so I tried to dig my elbows into my sides to stabilize the camera and then just prayed that some of the snaps were gonna be clear enough to alter.

Pretty gross.

Not Billy or Hayden of course.

My photography skills.  They are just gross. It’s not exactly something that would make it to the print out counter at Walmart.

Obviously, I don’t use flash.  I find that you can get truer detail without it.  And I downloaded Pioneer Woman actions a while back to use on my photos.  They are free to download.  If you are like me and had no idea what ‘actions’ are – they are a saved set of alterations that can be applied to a photo with a single click. 

So here today I am going to show you how I took this crummy photo and turned it into something that will be passable as a photograph. (real photographers are allowed to laugh at any point!)

First I took the original photo:

then I applied the Action PW’s B&W:

Still very dark but now the hue is stripped out and the corners are ‘burned’ or darkened (as you can see on the baby blanket).

So time to lighten.  I applied the Slightly Lighten action five times at full strength and the sixth time at 50%:


Whew.  Much better.  Now you can really see their faces…and that window becomes less of a focal point.  Plus that lovely corner burning is framing out the center of attention. 

Now to give the photo a little more detail.  I apply the Define & Sharpen action and get the little nubblies on the blanket to pop out and the little scruff on Billy’s chin to become noticable.  Gotta love some scruff :)

And last but certainly not least I wanna warm this sucker up by clicking the Warmer Action. 

Let’s look back on where we started.  We all love a good before and after, don’t we?


So there you have it – a complete set of actions that you can use with your Photoshop package to spruce up your photos.  And I am loving that it just requires a click of a mouse. 

Now tell me…what kinda photography skills are you learning lately?  You know that I am always up for some tips and techniques :)   After all, I am a true less-than-amateur.  Happy Photoshopping!

14 Responses leave one →
  1. theartfulabode permalink
    September 1, 2009

    I love the Pioneer action set! My favorite photoshop tool is just simply adjusting the Levels. You want your picture to be like a bell curve in Levels, so you just adjust the arrows on the right and the left to get closest to a bell curve shape. Hard to explain, but if you get the hang of it, it really makes your crummy pictures into something salvagable. :)

  2. stephanie hoffer permalink
    September 1, 2009

    Ooo, I’ll have to snag those actions from Pioneer Woman (man, I wish I could be called a pioneer woman). After all I do have the most adorable, photogenic child on the face of the planet; I’d hate to waste a bad photo on her cutie-pa-tootie face! Thanks for the tips KB

  3. *claire* permalink
    September 1, 2009

    what a sweet picture!! you would have thought it was doomed at first :) ::wishing i had photoshop::

  4. September 1, 2009

    I soooo wish I knew how to Photoshop the heck out of things. :(

  5. September 1, 2009

    Nice save. But give yourself some credit. Your exposure was off but your composition was right on. And that’s a huge part of the impact of a photograph.

  6. September 1, 2009

    I love PW’s actions. They save a lot of my photos!

  7. Kristi permalink
    September 1, 2009

    Thank you thank you thank you!

  8. September 1, 2009

    I looove PS actions! And, the pioneer woman giving them away for free is icing on the cake!

  9. September 3, 2009

    call me dumb, but what is actions? is it a type of photoshop? or do you have elements and dl actions?

    • September 3, 2009

      Hi Laura,
      Actions are not a type of photoshop. Once you enter the program photoshop (not photoshop elements) you can create, save, download or purchase a series of photoshop actions. What are actions? They are a set of movements particular to photoshop. Think of it in terms of Microsoft Word – actions would be a single button (would require a single click of the mouse) that would highlight, copy, paste and save (which individually would require 8 clicks). In photoshop, the actions are each different so that you can achieve different looks with minimal work.

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions!

      XO – Katie

  10. September 3, 2009

    I use PW actions as well – love them! Great post. I totally believe in the power of Photoshop!

  11. September 9, 2009

    So what version of PS do you have?

  12. January 31, 2013

    Does applying all those actions (especially the sharpen) make your photos grainy? What do you do in this case?

    • January 31, 2013

      It does if your picture is already with a high ISO and shot in JPEG. There isn’t a whole lot you can do. You can despeckle…but that’s about the easiest thing.
      xo – kb

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