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Learning to use Photoshop can be overwhelming to some people. There are so many functions and so many tools that it can seem like you will never really understand how to use it. You search online for videos and tutorials, but even then, depending on your version of Photoshop you still may feel lost.
When photographers discover actions for Photoshop it’s sometimes like hitting the photography jackpot. They speed up your workflow. You can get more done. You can achieve different effects with them, but sometimes other photographers will tell you that it’s basically cheating in Photoshop.
Are you cheating yourself or your client when you use actions?
Most actions require a bit of tweaking when you use them to get the effect that you want. It’s very rare that once actions are played that they are perfect. This way a photographer can adjust them to get the look they desire for their images. When photographers use actions that require the tweaking of their images, they are learning more than just using the slider, they are learning how parts of Photoshop works. They are learning about blending modes, adjustments, curves, etc.
Photography is about finding your art and doing it your own way. Using an action does not compromise the vision of your art. You still make the decisions about how the end product looks. There are some people who will disagree and say that actions are cheating because you don’t have to learn to manually adjust everything by hand. You can get clean dishes by using a dishwasher or washing them by hand, is one way cheating? You still achieve clean dishes. Isn’t that the goal?
Some photographers use different actions combined with hand editing. They have learned Photoshop over time and figured out what works for their editing needs. You can even make your own actions by combining the actions you use the most and your own hand editing. It takes a little practice to get the technique down, but once you do you will speed up your own workflow go even faster. I have incorporated actions and hand editing and now when I do a photo shoot I typically know what type of look I am going to want for the final images. Whether I achieve those looks by hand editing or by actions or a combination doesn’t matter to my client. They just want beautiful images. You can even use actions multiple times or use different actions in a combination to achieve your desired look.
So, you decide that you want to look into actions, but then you Google them and are overwhelmed by the options that are out there. What’s next? How to choose? Well, this depends on the look you want for your images. Look at the images that are posted using the actions and see if they reflect your style and your images. There are some free actions out there, but most you have to purchase. Some are relatively inexpensive and there are some that are very expensive. For some people it’s very hard to commit to buying expensive actions without testing some first. There are some action developers that post some free sample actions for you to use so that you get an idea of how their actions work.
Whether your purchase your actions or use free actions the only thing you need to be sure of is that they are working with your overall images and that they are reflecting your style. As you learn Photoshop you may start creating your own actions that help your workflow and truly reflects your style and your artistic vision, or you may stick with what is working. Only you can decide what works best for your business, your images, and your clients.