Learning how to use Photoshop Actions might not be the most glamorous aspect of creative post-processing, but integrate them into your workflow and you’ll save bags of time by applying your favourite special effects in seconds.
An Action is essentially a recording of a Photoshop process (you can only record Actions in CS; newer versions of Elements enable you to play Actions, but the options are limited).
In this Photoshop tutorial we’ll create a cool retro effect by editing the red, green and blue colour channels on a Curves adjustment layer and show you how to use Photoshop Actions like this to speed up your photo editing times.
The result works a treat, but it’s time-consuming if you want to apply it to lots of images. Record it as an Action, however, and it can be applied to other shots with a single click. And as if this wasn’t clever enough, you can apply an Action to an entire batch of images.
You can share your Actions online, or download Actions created by others.
How to use Photoshop Actions
01 Get set up
Go to Window > Actions to open the Actions panel. Start by creating a new Action set, by clicking on the Create New Set button at the bottom of the panel. Name the new set ‘My Retro Actions’, then click the Create Action icon and enter a name for your Action – we’re calling this one ‘Retro Cool’.
02 Record it
Click the Record button, then create the effect. Add a Curves adjustment layer, choose Blue from the channel menu above the curve window, and create an S-curve. Next select Red, and drag a point down in the shadows section of the curve, then select Green, and create a more gentle S-curve in this channel.
03 Pause the Action
Add another Curves layer, leave the channel set to RGB and pull a point down to darken the image. If you want to use different settings for other images, you can configure the Action to enable this. Choose Insert Stop from the Action panel’s fly-out menu and type a prompt in the dialog – in this case ‘Tweak Tones’. This prompt will appear each time you run the Action.
04 Play it again…
When you’ve finished your series of edits, press the Stop button (you don’t have to rush – only actual edits you make are recorded, without pauses). Your new Action will be displayed in the Actions panel; click the Play button to check it works properly.