Welcome to actions

There’s a great deal of art and science to making actions, and the more you make, the better you’ll get. I can’t possibly teach you all the tricks in one article.

I’m here to help you make your very first action. If you’re new to Photoshop, or have just upgraded from Elements to Photoshop, or have simply never understood the Actions Panel, this will set you on your way.

For the subject of this tutorial I’ve chosen Saving for Facebook. Almost everybody posts photos on Facebook from time to time, either for personal or professional purposes, so I hope this will be doubly helpful. Together, we’ll make an action that resizes, sharpens and saves your photo, ready for uploading.

(These steps will work in all versions of Photoshop. Sorry, Elements users, this one isn’t for you. You can run actions, but you can’t make ’em.)

Part 1: Get ready

Step 1: Make a Facebook folder

We need a folder to save our Facebook images, ready for uploading. Make a folder on your Desktop, or wherever, and name it “Facebook Images Ready” or something like that.

Step 2: Open an image

To record steps in an action, you have to perform them. And you can’t edit thin air, so to speak.

Open an image – any image, it doesn’t really matter.

Step 3: Duplicate the layer

For this to work, we need an image with layers in it. If your image doesn’t have any additional layers, just make one by duplicating your background layer, or whatever. We’re going to record a “Flatten” step in our action.

Part 2: Get the panel ready

If your Actions Panel isn’t open, choose it from the Window menu:

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If the panel is set to Button Mode, you need to turn that off via the panel submenu. Button mode is great for running actions, but not for making them:

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All actions need to exist inside Sets, just like all the files on your computer need to live inside folders. Choose “New Set” from the panel submenu …

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… and give the set a name:

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Part 3: Make the action

Now we’ve made the set, it’s time to make the action. Choose “New Action” from the panel submenu:

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Give your action a name, and make sure the set is correctly chosen:

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You can also assign an F key to the action if you’re a keyboard shortcut junkie like me, and once you start to accumulate lots of actions, you might find it helpful to colour-code them too. But neither of those two are terribly important at this stage.

When you press “Record”, your action will appear in the Actions Panel, and the little red Record button will be depressed and running:

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IMPORTANT: While that little red button is depressed, Photoshop is recording everything you do. If you need to open another image, or anything like that, press the square Stop button first, then press Record again when you’re ready.

Part 4: Record the steps

Step 1: Duplicate the image

This first step isn’t entirely necessary, but it guarantees that you’ll never save your small file over your big one. Anyone who’s ever done that will testify to the sinking feeling in your stomach when you realise that your big masterpiece has been replaced by a tiny unprintable version.

Choose Image > Duplicate.

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Immediately press Ok. Don’t change the file name in any way – that comes later.

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Step 2: Flatten the layers

Choose Layer > Flatten Image:

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Step 3: Resize

As I discussed in this article, the maximum image size for Facebook is now 720 pixels (wide or high).

Choose File > Automate > Fit Image …

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… and enter 720 in both fields, then press Ok:

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Let’s check your Actions Panel at this point. You should have recorded three steps so far, and it should be looking like this:

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With me so far? Let’s keep going …

Step 4: Sharpen

I almost always use Unsharp Mask. If you are not familiar with USM, I strongly encourage you to read my explanation here before too long.

Choose Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask:

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If you’re not too confident with USM yet, I advise these settings as a modest starting point for web sharpening – 200, 0.3, 1. Of course, every photo is a bit different, and we’ll discuss that later.

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Step 5: Save

Choose File > Save for Web & Devices:

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There’s a lot of stuff in the SFW interface that doesn’t matter too much for our purposes. Only these four things are important:

> Jpeg format
> A nice high quality – 70 to 80 is great
> Embed Color Profile
> Convert to sRGB

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When the Save dialog appears, navigate to the “Facebook Images Ready” folder that you made on your desktop back in Part 1.

Then immediately press Save. As before, don’t touch or alter the filename in any way.

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Step 6: Close

Choose File > Close:

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It will ask you if you want to save the changes. No, you don’t. This is just a duplicate of the original, remember – we don’t need to keep it.

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When you close the duplicate image, you’ll be left with the original full-size image on your screen.

Part 5: Stop recording

By now, your action should look like this:

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Press the square Stop button to cease recording.

Part 6: Insert pauses for user intervention

Ok, you’ve recorded your first action. Congratulations! But there’s a tiny bit more to do.

If we ran the action on a photo right now, it would simply run from start to finish, with the standard settings that we recorded. That’s not entirely desirable – there are a couple of points at which we’d like some control.

It’s easy – just click in the blank column to add little black boxes beside the steps at which you’d like to intervene. For this action, we’d like to pause at the Duplicate step to add a file name, and we’d like to pause at the Unsharp Mask step to precisely control our sharpening.

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Part 7: Take it for a test drive

Let’s try it out! Open another photo, choose the action, and press Play:

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Because we put a pause in the action at the Duplicate step, it will stop to allow you to name the file. By default it simply puts “copy” at the end of the existing file name. Here, I’ve replaced that with “-FB”:

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Next, it pauses at the Unsharp Mask step. For this photo, I’ve increased the Amount, and decreased the Threshold a little. Of course, I make these decisions on a photo-by-photo basis.

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That’s it! The small duplicate copy of the photo saves to the folder on your desktop, and closes. You’re left with the original full-size file, which you can close, edit, or admire at your leisure.

Notes:

If you don’t like my suggestion for making a “landing folder” on your desktop, then you can simply add a pause at the Export step in the action, and it will allow you to choose your destination for each image:

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If you don’t feel the need to rename your images for Facebook, then don’t bother with the pause on the Duplicate step. That’ll save you some time.

Once you’ve uploaded your images to Facebook, delete them. I mean, why bother keeping them? If, for some strange reason, you needed to upload them again in the future, you can just make them again from the full-size files. Don’t let your computer get cluttered with unnecessary files. (Read more)

Have fun!

I hope that worked for you, and you feel empowered to try recording other actions.

Don’t be discouraged if it takes you several attempts to record an action – I don’t think I’ve ever got one right the first time! Keep practicing, and you’ll feel more and more confident.

Once you become familiar with the actions panel, you’ll be able to edit your actions, and analyse other people’s actions, and learn plenty. I’ve written a bit more general info here which should help.