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Saturday, February 13, 2010

DSLR Made Easy - Part 9 [Photoshop Elements Actions Simplified]

I've had a few inquiries about using actions for Photoshop Elements. If you have Photoshop, you may already be familiar with actions, but it's likely that if you are an Elements user, you didn't know actions could apply to you. I didn't know that either.

Then, in one of my Googling storms, I came across Rita's blog: CoffeeShop. Rita is FANTASTIC. She is beautiful, hilarious, and so, so generous. Almost every one of her actions, textures, and storyboards are FREE to download. I discovered, while browsing her site, that I didn't need full blown Photoshop to use actions.

I'm going to try to give a cut and dry explanation of how to download and use Rita's actions. I don't have photos to demonstrate, so I'll just try to use words. Then I'll hold my breath and hope it all makes sense.

Rita's blog has different sections for Actions/Presets and Storyboards etc. If you click on the Actions/Presets button, she has lists of actions - some are for Photoshop only [I think that's near the bottom, and it's stated clearly], there are a few at the bottom that are for Lightroom users, and then there's HUGE list that is for PS or PSE users [YAYYY for PSE users!!!].

If you click on the titles of the long list, you'll be brought to a blog post where she talks about the action - what it does, examples of the effects, and maybe tips on how to use them.

At the bottom of the page, there'll be a place where she says 'download the action set HERE' and you can click on that. A page will come up where you can download the file. That's the first step.

There are tutorials on how to install actions that helped me out. You can find some HERE. That link should bring you to a list on another blog, and you can select instructions based on the version of PS you have, and what type of operating system you have. It may seem overwhelming at first. But I'll try to simplify it - if I can.

First, from Rita's blog post about whatever action it is that you want to get, save the file to your desktop. I never used to do this because I hate a cluttered desktop but relax - you can erase it once you're finished.

So, from the page that let's you download the action file, a box will pop up that says something like Open/Save/Cancel. Click Save and save it to your desktop.

Next, you need to find a specific folder and in order to simplify the process of adding actions for the next 100+ times you add an action [after you see how great they are to use, you'll want every one Rita offers.] Here are the steps:

The installation path is:
-Start Menu
-OS (C:) (This could possibly be a different letter)
-Program Data (Program DATA is not the same as Program Files. If you don’t see Program -DATA, it’s probably hidden. Go to Start/Control Panel/Classic View/Folder Options/View and select Show Hidden Files & Folders)
-Photoshop Elements
-Photo Creations
-Photo Effects

Now, if you are like me, you can't find Program Data in the C: folder. I had to follow the Start/Control Panel/Classic View/Folder Options/View and select Show Hidden Files & Folders to find the Program Data. Once I did that, I found it, and found my way to the Photo Effects folder.

Now, when you find Photo Effects, right click on the folder and MAKE A SHORTCUT. Then, you'll want to drag the shortcut to your desktop. You can also cut it and paste it to your desktop. Whatever route you use, it doesn't matter. You just need to get a shortcut for the Photo Effects folder on your desktop. This will make EVERYTHING easier for you from now on.

OK - once you have made a Photo Effects shortcut, read on.

So you've saved an action file to your desktop. This will be a .zip file. You'll want to unzip it. I had to download an unzipper file to do this, but some computers do it automatically if you try to open it. If you can't open the .zip file, Google 'unzipping programs' or something and you'll have a list of unzipping programs, for free, to pick from.

When you're able to - unzip the action files and have them saved again to your desktop. You should now have a folder that you can open.

Each action set folder has a couple different things in it. I was totally confused by this at first. There is usually some type of file that you can read for explanations or tips, but I didn't pay much attention to that.

What you'll need to find is a file that has the letters .atn at the end, and one other file - depending on what version of PSE you have. There will be a Photoshop file - a PSD file; you need this if you are using Elements 4 or 5. If you are using 6 or newer, you will need the other thumbnail file. I believe it's a PNG file. You'll see some type of thumbnail, usually with the name of the action, like Soft Autumn Glow or something.

So, you'll want to select the .atn file and the PNG file [for 6/7/8 PSE users - if you are using versions 4/5, use the PSD file instead], and copy these two files.

Go to your Photo Effects shortcut folder on your desktop and paste these two in there.

Now, you can open PSE.

Once it's open and you're in the edit menu, you'll want to make sure that you are in the full edit mode. Underneath the word Full [in the layers palette on the right side of the screen], there's the word Effects. You'll want to expand this part so you can see the different thumbnail effects. Underneath the word Effects, there are four different symbols. The first [farthest left] is the filters tab, then layer styles, and photo effects. The one of the right is All.

Click on the third from the left - the Photo Effects menu. Then, there's a drop down menu to the right of those four little icons. Click on the little arrow and go to the bottom of the choices [faded photo, frame, misc. effects...] to the bottom choice - Show All.

This will display everything in your Photo Effects folder - including the action you copied and pasted to the Photo Effects folder.

Do you see it?

Then, to use them, you simply open a photo, and then once it's open, find the thumbnail icon and double click on it. If it's loaded properly, it should automatically start running the action on your photo!

Now, if you have PSE open and add more actions to the Photo Effects folder, I found that I had to close PSE and open it again for the new actions to load. Or else, you can click between like the filters icon and back to the Photo Effects icon to try to get it to recognize the new actions.

If you can't apply the action to your photo, then you may not have copied and pasted the correct two files into the Photo Effects folder.

I hope that helps!

Using the action sets are another story... Rita and the other woman who often writes up tutorials on how to use her action sets. You need to have a basic understanding of layer masks, which is complicated at first, but get simpler when explained by Rita - click Here and Here to read about layer masks and how to use them.

Rita's actions usually have several layers that are turned off [the eye isn't selected in the layers palette] when they're first loaded. I can then turn them on and off as I please. I can adjust the opacity, which is the main way to control the effect. It's all about playing around with the opacity and the method of blending to achieve the desired look. Rita does a great job of explaining it in each explanation of her tutorials.

Also, she has several action sets that have different layers to do different things. She has one action set called Perfect Portrait. This has layers that will whiten teeth, brighten skin, whiten the whites of the eyes, define the eyes, make the colors pop etc etc etc. You can read about that action set HERE and read a tutorial on how to use it [be prepared for a bit of reading, but it's SOOOO helpful!] HERE.

Read through the different blog posts about Rita's actions. I learned SO. Much. I learned a lot about PSE that I didn't know before. Erin, the one who wrote the Perfect Portrait tutorial mentions some of the wonderful keyboard shortcuts for PSE [and probably PS too]. I am still in desperate need of learning and memorizing those. I learned X,D,B, and K now.

I hope that this helps some of you! If you run into troubles, you can comment here, or else feel free to email me at lauraradniecki@hotmail.com. I'm not an expert at all, but I might be able to help you sort out what might be the troubles in loading or running Rita's action sets.

Once you get the hang of downloading them and then installing them into your PSE program, you have so many creative options at your fingertips!!!

Oh, and once you copy and paste the two needed files to the Photo Effects shortcut folder, and load the action into PSE, check to make sure it runs. Run it on a test file. Then, if it works, you can delete the zipped file and the unzipped file from your desktop. As long as the copies remain in the Photo Effects folder that is now short-cutted to your desktop, the action will continue to run!

Happy experimenting! Please, contact me if anything in this tutorial is more confusing than helpful, and if you run into any problems. Like I said, I just dove into this world of PSE actions last week, so I'm still new to it all. Oh, and if you use PS, you can use these action sets too. To be completely honest, I'm not sure if you would need to copy the PSD file or the PNG file, along with the .atn file to your Photo Effects, but I'm sure you'd find the answer somewhere in Rita or Erin's explanations.

If you made it to the end of this lengthy explanation - Congrats! Now go play!!

<3 Laura


  1. Thank you Laura...I've only known you a few days but already I am thinking you are quite wonderful. THANK YOU for all your time, effort, and for sharing. I'll let you know how it goes...

  2. WHEW...that was a real workout for this peasized brain Laura! But I got through it and downloaded , one successfully and the other not. I am not sure if it was the ATN or the PNG which didn't download properly (I downloaded Coffeeshop Perfect Portrait). It just said that it wasn't compatible with the Photoshop I was using. I did bog down right at the point of trying to figure out if I had a computer that would automatically unzip the files or not. I am not very familiar with working with computers this way..that is way to deep inside of them for my knowledge!! But I decided to go ahead and just download a 'unzipper' and saw what the difference was when I did. After that, I was home free. So other than the one file not working, I think I can figure it out. Thanks and once again...you are the best. I would never have gotten this far without your help.

  3. Judy - The error message you got is what I got too when I didn't download the correct files. At first, I didn't know if I needed the PSD file or the PNG file, along with the .atn. So, I copied and pasted all three to my Photo Effects folder. When I did this, two of the same icons showed up when I opened Elements. Basically, it had loaded the action twice, once the .atn and the PSD and once the .atn and the PNG. If I tried to run the one with the PSD, it would give me the same error message you got. If I tried the one with the PNG, it worked fine. What might have happened is an error in the copying/pasting. I'd suggest trying to copy/paste again. When I accidentally uploaded two of the same actions, I just figured out which one wouldn't work and deleted that.

    Yeah, the zipping is kind of a crazy thing. My husband's computer has the ability to extract the files, built into the computer. Mine, for some reason, doesn't and I needed to download the file to upzip it. Now that you've done it all once, hopefully it'll come easier the next time!

    Did you get to play around with the one action that did work?

  4. Thanks Laura for EVERYTHING. You've opened up a whole new world to me and I am SOOO excited. I played with the Coffeeshop Perfect Portrait action tonite and oh man....I am thrilled beyond words. It is so worth the blood, sweat and tears to finally get there!!!! and once again, I can't thank you enuf. I feel like I've conquered the world tonite :-)))

  5. Laura-- I finally tried this out. I used the Perfect Portrait action and WOW! It worked wonders on my photos! :) Thanks so much!

  6. Jess - Isn't it wonderful!?! I am just so happy that I came across Rita's blog - it has just added so much 'ammo' to my photography arsenal. And for FREE! She's fantastic!

    The download/install process is kind of a hassle, but in the end, totally worth it. Since my computer crashed, I had to reinstall them all. Just finished yesterday actually. Again - so worth it!!!


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