Facebook Pixel 3...2...1...Actions!! A Guide to Using Photoshop Actions to Speed-Up Your Workflow

3…2…1…Actions!! A Guide to Using Photoshop Actions to Speed-Up Your Workflow

Do you find yourself doing the same processes in Photoshop over and over again? Do you wish you knew a way to quickly do amazing things to your photos without going through a bunch of steps? If you haven’t entered the world of ACTIONS yet, let me be your guide! I’m going to teach you how to install Photoshop Actions that you purchase or download on the web, and even better, how to create your very own Actions.


Find the “.atn” file and double-click it.

There are tons of places to find Actions on the web. Some cost a lot, some are free. There are a lot of great ones, and a lot that aren’t really worth using. I look for Actions that fit my style, and are fully adjustable. Which means that I can turn every layer off or on, adjust the opacity of each layer, and customize to fit my style and each individual photo.

Installing Photoshop Actions

Once you’ve purchased and downloaded your Action, make a backup file somewhere, just in case. Then, open the folder, find your Action (it will be a file with .atn extension), and double click it.

(You do not need to have a photo of a gorgeous bride open in Photoshop as you do this, but it never hurts!)


This might seem too easy to be true, but most of the time this works. It’s automatically installed into Photoshop when you double click. Easy as that! If for some reason that doesn’t work, or you like to do things the hard way, you can use the following method.


Make sure your Actions Palette is open. You can do this by clicking “Window” at the top of Photoshop, and making sure the check mark next to “Actions” is on. If you don’t see a check mark, just click on “Actions” and your Action Window will appear.

Click on the upper right hand corner of your Actions palette, and a drop down menu will appear. Select “Load Actions”.


Then, you’ll navigate to find and select that .atn file, click “Open”, and it will be installed. Now your Action is ready to be used. All you have to do is open a photo, click on your Action, and it will run through a bunch of steps in a very short amount of time (running times may vary based on the number of steps in the Action and the speed of your computer). Be aware that not every Action will look great on every photo, and many times Actions need to be adjusted before they look right. Be careful not to overuse Actions. They are great tools, but can ruin a photo quickly if you don’t practice adjusting and learning what Actions work with different types of photos.

How to create Photoshop Actions

Now that you know how to install someone else’s Actions, I want to teach you how to be a Photoshop rock star and create an Action of your own. You can create Actions for so many different things, from a simple sharpening Action, to a complex multi-step stylized Action.


For this demonstration I’m going to show you how to make a simple “soft light” layer to add a boost to your photos. Go ahead and open Photoshop and make this Action along with me. Once you see how the steps work, you can experiment with making more Actions for all the things that you find yourself doing over and over again. You will need to have a photo open when creating your Action, so choose a beautiful bride, or any photo you’d like.

Your Actions palette may be in button mode, or it may not. I like mine in button mode for normal use, but you have to change out of button mode to create Actions. Click on the top right corner in your Actions palette, and make sure that the check mark next to “Button Mode” is deselected.


Before you create an Action, you will want to make your own Action folder set, so that everything stays organized. Select “New Set” from your drop-down menu.


You can name your set anything you’d like. A great set to start with would be a simple “My Actions”, so you will know which ones you created. Later you can divide them into multiple categories if you’d like.


Right in the Actions palette is your very own set of Actions. You are now that much closer to Photoshop rock star status! Make sure your set is selected for the next step. If it’s highlighted, you’re ready to go.


Select “New Action” from the menu. We are going to create an Action inside your Action set.


Now you’re going to name your Action. It’s good to pick a name that lets you know exactly what it does, or describes the results of the Action well, so you won’t be wondering later. Since this Action will be a “Soft Light” layer, I just named it “Soft Light”.


If you’d like to, you can also choose a color for your Action, this only applies if you are in Button Mode. This helps with Action organization. You can make all of your Actions within your set the same color, so you can easily find different sets of Actions, or you could only choose a color for your frequently used actions, so they are quick to find. Now you’re ready to start recording. Just click record. Don’t worry, you can go as slow as you need to. It just records the process that you are going through, but doesn’t record the time it takes you to do it. It will play much faster than it takes you to record it.


We are going through the steps of making a Soft Light layer right now. It’s super simple, but it’s a great one to make for your very first Action. Just drag your background to the “create a new layer” icon (the square with a corner folded over), and it will make a duplicate of your background.


Make sure your “background copy” layer is selected, then click on the Blending Mode menu. (It will say “normal” on the button. It’s at the top left of your Layers Palette.) Find “Soft Light” and select that blending mode.


I like to name the layer when I make Actions, so that I can easily know what each layer does when I run the Action later. Just double click on the name of that background copy and type in a new name for that layer. I went with “Soft Light” because I’m very original and creative.

I also adjusted the opacity to around 50%, just because I know that on most photos I won’t want it 100% strong (adjust to your own taste and style). When you run the Action, you can always adjust the opacity to suit the individual photo, but I suggest you put the opacity at a level that you use most, because often that will save a step when you run it later.


Now we are done with our Action and we just need to press “stop” to end the recording. It is the square just to the left of the red recording button.


There’s your Action. Pretty exciting, isn’t it? You can try it out by making sure your Action is selected, and pushing “play” at the bottom of the actions palette. You’ll be amazed how quickly your “soft light” action goes through those steps. It doesn’t take long to do all those steps without an Action, but it’s almost instantaneous with one. Once you get a lot of your regular go-to steps turned into Actions, you’ll find that it takes a lot less time to edit each photo.


If you want to change back to button mode, it will really streamline things. All you have to do is click once on the Action. You don’t have to push play, or scroll a lot through open steps to find your Action. Give it a try.

Let me know how you did creating your first Action along with me. If you’re an Action-creating enthusiast, I’d love to hear what Actions you have made, and which Actions have been most helpful to your workflow.

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Melinda Smith
Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

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