Today you’re going to learn how to rocket speed your retouching workflow with Photoshop actions.

You’ll also see how to spend twice less time on retouching with “shortcut” examples.

But wait, there’s more 🙂

I’ll ALSO show you how I was improving my photography retouching process over the last 5 years to understand how to use Photoshop actions in the right way.

And how you can achieve the same results in…7 days.

Really, just in that short amount of time – trust me.

And in this post I’ll walk you through the exact strategy, step-by-step.

Free PDF Checklist: Download a free checklist that will show you exactly how to execute the strategy from this post.

Here’s a link where you can download the PDF:

How I Struggled With Retouching In Photoshop For Almost 1.5 Years And How You SHOULD Avoid This

Do you like to spending a lot of time on repetative tasks in Photoshop? I don’t.

But it was not always like this.

Everything started back in 2009.

I begin to transform and expand my portrait photography career into wedding photography.

From that moment I’ve photographed a lot of love-story and wedding shots, around 30 per year.

Each shot produced me from 150-700 images (for love-story or portrait shot) up to 3000-5000 per wedding day.

So the amount of pictures I got on my hard drives was growing exponentially.

This is just a few drives back from 2016:

Hard drive disk

This Started To Drive Me Crazy, Because I Couldn’t Handle All That Processing In Time

Every week I needed to import all the pictures from my CF cards to computer, sometimes 2 or 3 times per week.

Than I was making backups of all those images to external HDD.

(This is very important step if you deal with commercial shots!)

When those 2 activities were done I began to sort my images.

For that purpose I used Photo Mechanic, which I highly recommend you – it’s pure gold for every photographer.

I imported all photographs from the shot into Photo Mechanic and started to cull (or select) right images for later retouching.

Next step was to make basic color correction and tune-up series of images inside Lightroom.

After culling in Photo Mechanic I ended up with somewhere between 15 (for portrait shots) and 150 (for weddings) images.

They were imported into Lightroom and it was the beginning of stacks and collections creation.

It is my rule of thumb till now over the last years.

Color schemes example

The Idea Is To Create Up To 3 Different Color Moods For A Particular Shot

In general for most of my shots now I use 2 color schemes and 1 black and white scheme.

These days I create B/W images only in Photoshop using actions (more on that later).

But back in 2009 I had a different approach which was not the best 🙂

I was learning and experimenting, and that route included “making mistakes” step.

So after I made basic color correction in Lightroom it was time to move on to the hardest part – Adobe Photoshop.

I say “hardest” because it really is.

Compared to Lightroom where you can synchronize settings and do basic adjustments really fast (even for a 150 images wedding shot) in Photoshop you need to work on every single image separately.

And it was the most time consuming part.

Just because I had no idea about Actions in Photoshop…

Post production process in action

You Wouldn’t Believe How Long Editing Process Can Take If You Do It This Way…

I made some time tracking back in those days to figure out of how much time one wedding shot takes from start to finish.

Here are the results:

Time spent on editing 3500 images

Here’s what I’ve done in process:

  • Import
  • Culling
  • Basic Color correction – Lightroom
  • Retouching – Photoshop
  • Advanced color correction and toning – Photoshop
  • Exporting – Photoshop

This Simple Discovery Changed Everything!

When all your images reach Photoshop, you need to use different tools, liquify, dodge and burn, make frequency separation (if we work with portraits), apply color toning, textures and lots of other techniques depending on how far you want to go with post-processing.

And every of that steps and techniques took time.

A lot of time.

Multiplied by hundreds images per week, thousands per month you begin to sleep less, and spend all your time with your “best friend”. You know who I’m talking about 🙂

Fall asleep after photoshop

Even if you’re not producing a lot of images and took photography more like a hobby I can bet that you wish to acomplish your retouching process faster everytime you do it.

Back in 2009 I had two questions that I was constantly thinking about :

  • “How can I perform my retouching faster?”
  • “Is there any way to automate all this steps?”

Than one day by accident I found a short answer in this book:

Photoshop CS2 bible

It was a few paragraphs about actions and to use them.

After reading that I got a clear vision how to solve my problem and speed up my workflow.

How To Spend Less Time On Post Production And Retouching

You should automate all the steps that you use most often.

And the only possible way to achieve this is to use actions in Photoshop.

This is exactly what I did.

But it took me almost 1.5 years to figure that out.


You will say “thank you!” to me later, I promise 😉

Yes it will took some time and practice mastering them, but you will be more than happy with the results.

As you can see actions took not the first place in overall process I described earlier in infographic, not even the second.

But they took THE MOST IMPORTANT place.

Here’s why:

This Is How Photoshop Retouching Process Looks Like (Case Study)

No matter what kind of photography you are interested in overall retouching and color correction process is almost the same every time and can be easily applied to:

  • Portrait photography
  • Wedding photography
  • Love-story
  • Newborn photography
  • Architecture photography
  • Landscape photography
  • Food photography

And you can continue this list…

Keep in mind that post-processing goes step-by-step and you need to determine all of those steps for yourself and your workflow.

Here you can download a checklist of how I do it:

Photoshop retouching workflow


Exact Post-Processing Steps In Photoshop:

  • Crop your image to the right format
  • Straighten the horizon
  • Content-aware scale – here you can change proportions of your image
  • Liquify tool – better to use it in the beginning
  • Clean the skin and background with patch and stamp tool
  • Frequency separation – add this on skin + use soft brush with color of skin (3% opacity) to paint when needed
  • Dodge&burn – use it with big, middle and small strokes to achieve natural results. Brighten and darken different parts of the image to add dimension effect
  • Brighten eyes + add some sharpening, add extra contrast to eyebrows, brighten skin around eyes with big soft brush
  • Whiten teeth
  • Add tonal contrast by “Image-Apply Image”
  • Brighten overall highlights on skin
  • Color correction – levels, curves, color balance
  • Color toning – add color mood, remember about color harmonies
  • Light correction – local brush, vignetting, local background light
  • Local sharpening
  • Resize (if needed), save for print&web by different folders, save PSD and JPEG
  • Create before/after example (if needed)

The truth you should know about free Photoshop actions…

As you can see there is massive work to be done to perfect every single image.

And you need to repeat it again and again.

That’s why you need to improve your productivity with the help of actions.

When you used them for the last time?


Last month?


You are lucky if your answer was first or second point.

But if you are not familiar with actions it’s also fine – everyone started there, me too 🙂

Continue reading, rest of this article will be “pure gold” for you.

When I realized the power of actions I had no experience of creating my own.

And actually I tried to, but had a little luck, it all seemed too complicated for me.

That’s why I wrote 2 articles on creating actions and automations and also included video tutorials with real-life examples.

You can check them out here:

Back to my story – I went to google and make a quick research on free actions.

And found HUNDREDS of them!

I was so happy – it seemed that my struggling was finished.

But I was so wrong…

All the “free actions” had no practical use for me.

Because of:

  1. 90% of them had no explanations how to use them
  2. They had no real-life examples
  3. I had no idea WHEN exactly in this process to use them
  4. They had a lot of odd excessive steps
  5. There was no quick way to understand how the action was constructed and what technique it uses

To summarize that – all websites give you ton of free actions without master plan on how to use them…

…and most of that actions are not for everyday use.

That’s why I created all the actions I use till now by myself.

And I created that “Master plan” on my own, and today I’ll share it with you.

Keep on reading to see the implementation 😉

5 step formula how to use actions in Photoshop

Here is what I did:

While I was retouching my photographs I wrote down all the steps that I used the most.

It showed me clearly what I can “automate” and get rid of.

So I divided all post-processing into 5 sections for better understanding.

This lead me to the point, when I understood what actions I needed to create for myself.

Finally I get this list of actions for Photoshop by categories (download for more detailed overview):

Top photoshop actions

This list is updated from-time to time when I need to add something new into single photo action, but most of them are in place for years already.

Top Photoshop Actions I Use Everyday

Ok, now let’s talk about all that steps for which I created actions.

I will provide a short description for all of them, so you can get a clear idea what every action in Photoshop is meant to be used.

Important to understand – most of actions are used locally.

Not globally.

This is really important, because if we prepared picture in Lightroom in most cases there is no need to apply let’s say basic actions to it globally again.

But we can (and I always do so) apply different effects just to a small part of image.

First I was thinking to name this sets like wedding photoshop actions or photoshop portrait actions, but then realized that it is easier to tag them just by kind of impact on photograph.

So finally they all fall down into 5 different categories:

Basic Actions

This section is completely for improving image after Camera Raw or Lightroom pre-processing.

Basic correction
  • Temperature – changes the color temperature. You can use it when there are 2 or more different light sources in the shot. This is often seen in movies and music videos when background has “cold tint”, and the main objects are “warm”
  • Exposure – this actions helps to fix over- and underexposed areas locally
  • Vibrance – I use this to add vibrance to vivid objects such as flowers, grass, leaves. Or to reduce it
  • Contrast – enhance or reduce contrast in different parts
  • Sunlight – emphasize sun in images, where it already has place
  • Warm Shine – makes the skin glowing and frequently used with previous action
  • Fog – this action is dedicated to add some fog or smoke to your image. It is very handy to part foreground from background
  • Vignetting – this one adds vignette
Basic skin retouching
  • Brighten Face – makes face brighter
  • Highlights & Shadows Recovery – this actions helps to recover lost details in highlights or shadows locally
  • Brighter highlights & Deeper Shadows (+Brush) – gives you the ability to paint on selected areas with a brush
  • Adding Contrast And Depth Just On Skin – this action works like magic adding more depth to skin
Final Basic Correction
  • Color Noise – adds color noise
  • Film Grain – imitation of real 35mm film grain
  • Sharpen + Clarity – local pre-sharpening

Artistic Actions

This actions are not used on every single photo, but I like to add them sometimes to achieve more artistic look and feel on photo.

  • Anaglyph & Glitch – set of actions to achieve a look of stereoscopic photograph in different colors, producing a stereo effect when the photograph is viewed through correspondingly colored filters
  • Particle dispersion – add particle dispersion to some parts of your image
  • Double Exposure – combines two images into one, producing “ghost images”
  • Cross-process – shifts different colors in RGB channels and produce a fairytale look and feel
  • Painting effect – creates painty look with one click
  • Light leaks – this action adds light leaks on top of image
  • Double light – you can achieve a look similar to photographs taken with two different light sources (warm&cold)
  • Remove White – this action removes all the white color from image. Very handy to cut dark objects like text from white background

Retouch Actions

These actions are used mostly for portraits, skin and faces of people.

  • Quick Retouch 5-in-1 – I use this portrait action when don’t need to do a high-end retouching. So the approach is pretty simple – it have 5 main steps to follow to improve portraits
  • Skin color – this can help to shift color of skin. Very handy after global Raw conversion in Lightroom. Fine-tune the skin
  • Skin (4 actions) – actions dedicated to make skin look better
  • Eyes – this can brighten eyes and/or change their color
  • Teeth whitening – simply whitens teeth
  • Blusher – yes, sometimes I add a bit blusher. It can be handy when model don’t use make-up
  • Frequency Separation – must have action in arsenal of every portrait photographer. One of my best photoshop actions for portraits and it will improve any portrait by making skin soft as silk and softening shadows
  • Dodge & Burn – number 2 in arsenal. This action is very universal for any kind photo, because you can use it to add extra dimension, soften skin, perfect vignetting and much more.

Color Actions

Actions to create color mood on your photos, they are used to colorize and tone

  • Sepia & vintage photoshop actions – replicates the old polaroid look of vintage images
  • Pastel colors – adds soft pastel toning
  • Color fall – “indian summer” look – transform green vivid colors into autumn colors
  • Change color – helps you to replace colors on image
  • Creative color toning – adds toning effects on top of your photograph

Export Actions

  • Sharpen+ (Method 1) – action for final sharpening of your image
  • Sharpen+ (Method 2) – advanced sharpen technique action to export and prepare image for print
  • Sharpening + Resize – adds sharpness to images and then resizes them for web. You can choose different image sizes for your needs
  • Changing Color Space – simply converts image to sRGB color space with one click and leave all your layers untouched (no flattering)
  • Batch Export – automated action to save stack of images to desired folder and file format

Here you can see some comparison chart of time spent without actions and with them:

Workflow comparison with Photoshop Actions

What To Do Next – Implementation Of New Skills

Now you think “Ok, cool, I know what actions are most valuable, but where can I get them”?

Well, actually you have such option, but I have a few suggestions before you do it:

  1. You should try to create your own actions first. Here’s the deal – every photographer has own workflow, so you can better understand what and how you need to include in every action you will use.
  2. You should understand which actions are best fit for your kind of your photos and in what order to apply them.

So I recommend that you finish reading this article and download some valuable stuff I prepared for you.

If You Practice This – You Will Be “Master” Of Photoshop

According to different research studies avoiding to do work the easy way and in time can lead to procrastination which is clearly described in this article on wikipedia>>>

how long is forever - aloce in wonderland quote

Pay attention to the management part!

That’s why I prepared some great practice exercise for you:

  • Step #1: Realize how many pictures you retouch every month.

You can do it really fast – just open you export folder and make a quick count.

  • Step #2: Determine what step of this process tooks lion’s share of your time:

In most cases it is Photoshop part, but you better know the numbers for yourself.

You can use a free and handy tool named TOGGL to track your time.

Just turn on the timer for every process and later it will show you the numbers.

  • Step #3: Try to retouch one small photoshoot (10-15 images) without actions. Track time.
  • Step #4: Retouch similar exact shot (10-15 images) with the help of just a few basic actions. Track time.
  • Step #5: Feel the difference 🙂

Track time
You can use your own actions or some of these for this experiment  >>>

Let Me Show How To Use Photoshop Actions And Explain Few Practical Steps You’ll Need To Understand

This FAQ section is addition to the previous articles on creating your own actions:

Part 1 >>>
Part 2 >>>

Q: I downloaded a tiny file with .atn extension, how do I install Photoshop actions?
A: That’s right – it’s action file. You need to double click it to install in Photoshop, or “load” it straight from actions palette. To open palette press “Alt + F9” or go to “Window” – “Actions”.

Q: Is it possible to use actions in non-English version of Adobe Photoshop?
A: Yes, it is possible. But for correct work it’s better to use English interface. Go to “Edit-Preferences-Interface” and switch your language settings.

Q: Why some actions stop with error “Unable to ….” Or “Layer not found”?

A: Just switch to English language.

Q: What version of Adobe Photoshop is compatible with this actions?
A: Almost every action will work in Adobe Photohop CC, Photohop CC 2014, Photohop CC 2015, Photoshop CC 2017, or newer. In earlier versions some actions could malfunction, so update your Creative Cloud subscription to the latest version to be sure 🙂

Q: Where is Photoshop actions folder located and where are Photoshop actions stored?
A: You can find folder with actions here: “C:/Program Files/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CC 2017/Presets/Actions”

Next Step

You’ve just seen my post processing workflow with Photoshop actions “in action”…

Now it’s time to put these techniques into practice.

The first step?

Click the image below to get access to my free actions, PDF checklist and bonus content for this article.

Get some practice and feel free to ask your question or leave comment below:

Free Bonus Content:

Learn How To Use Actions In Photoshop