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Photoshop Action

Before I begin, I have to announce the final winner in our month-long weekly giveaways.  We had one more camera stashed away (please read There’s still time for one more give away…) and we have a winner!  Congrats to NancyP, lucky number 13, winner of a beautiful, new, red Kodak Easyshare camera!  Nancy, we will be in touch with you to find out where to send your prize!


A giveaway of a beautiful camera seques beautifully into a tutorial about photographs. I’m in love with the beautiful starkness of black & white photography.  I’m struggling enough to shoot in manual, I’m not ready to shoot in b&w.  I do, however, like playing with all of photoshops features to convert my color photo’s to b&w.

You can follow along with my tutorial, or just skip to bottom, download the action & let it do all my babbling for me.
Note: I made the action in Photoshop CS5.  It may or may not work with other versions, or with elements.  Please let me know if it works for you & what verion of photoshop or elements you are using.  I will update here as I hear from people.
UPDATE: The action also works in CS6 & CS4. It does not work in PS Elements.

My original photo was take at the Camel Farewell Memorial.  These are the burned out main supports of the barn from the horrible fire on January 31, 2013.  My first glimpse of these brought me to tears.  I though the feeling behind the photo would be much better expressed in stark black & white.


My first step was to add a simple Black & White mask, or adjustment layer.  You can do this one of two ways:

On the bottom of your layers palette, click on the black/white circle: Create new fill or adjustment layer –> choose Black & White

Or click: Layer–>New Adjustment Layer–>Black & White


For a little more drama, I added a little bit of curve to my curves.  Again, you can add the curves adjustment mask one of two ways:

Create new fill or adjustment layer –> choose Curves
Or click: Layer–>New Adjustment Layer–>Curves

I used the following settings:

Bottom curve:
Output: 49
Input: 59

Top curve:
Output: 154
Input: 140


I wanted to boost the contrast a little with levels. Again, you can add the levels adjustment mask one of two ways:

Create new fill or adjustment layer –> choose Levels
Or click: Layer–>New Adjustment Layer–>Levels

I changed the settings to Soft Light and Opacity to 50%


I next ran high pass for definition. Click  Filter–>Other–>High Pass I used 10px.
Note: This value is dependent on the size of your image. I am working with a 2848X4272 size image. The bigger the image, the bigger the number.


I am going for stark in my photo.  I want to ramp up the white.  I do this by adding a Selective Color adjustment mask one of two ways:

Create new fill or adjustment layer –> choose Selective Color
Or click: Layer–>New Adjustment Layer–>Selective Color

While on your Selective Color adjustment mask layer; click on your Adjustment Palette –> choose Whites under the colors dropdown menu –> Change Black to -38%


As my final step, I merged all my layers (right click in your Layers palette –> Merge Visible or Shift+Ctrl+E), created a duplicate layer (right click in your Layers palette–>Duplicate Layer), then ran Unsharp Mask.

Filter –>Sharpen–>Unsharp Mask
Amount: 234%
Radius: 0.7 pixels
Threshold: 3 levels

I did not adjust opacity of my Sharpen layer.  The free action leaves you the choice to adjust the Sharpen layer by sliding the Opacity slider.
Before merging for the final step, you can adjust each individual layer by using the opacity sliders, change the Blend Mode, or play with the options on each individual Adjustment palette.


You can download the FREE action to do the work for you here:

FREE B&W Action

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I often get asked how my photos turn out so wonderfully.  It is a true combination of ingredients; a good camera (Canon Rebel); photoshop; luck; 1,000 different shots; amazing actions.  I’m especially a huge fan of Jodi Friedman’s actions over at MCP Actions.

This photo appears in Wednesdays Studio Newsletter, under Personal Notes.  I’m going to do a quick walk-through of my steps to get from A-to-Z, using Jodi’s actions.  I am using both her free MCP Mini Fusion™ Free Photoshop Action and her MCP Summer Solstice™ Photoshop Actions (on sale for $50).

I also used my Rebel, my trigger-happy left finger, and Photoshop CS5.  NOTE: Jodi’s actions are also available for Photoshop Elements. Simply click on the action you want to buy; the product page will list an option for Photoshop or Elements.

Here is my original SOTC (straight out of the camera) shot:

I almost always run Jodi’s MCP Mini Fusion™ Free Photoshop Action first.  I’ve found it works best on summer, natural light photo’s.  It is not quite as magic on indoor or gloomy outdoor pics.  That said, my pictures with the most love are the ones using this action & only this action.  Best part?  It’s free!

I did increase the Hazy layer as well activating (click the eye symbol to turn on, or show) the Pink Cadillac & Cool Blue Sea tone layers. I find using these layers, that her actions create, helps brighten my photo’s and bring to life bits of photo hidden in the shadows.

It being winter & gloomy, I need more to brighten my photo. I duplicated (available in Jodi’s MCP Summer Solstice™ Photoshop Actions as an MCP Season Extra: Seeing Double) and then clicked Pancake to quickly flatten my  image.  The MCP Season extra’s are workflow tools that help you work smarter & faster in photoshop.  A must when you edit a lot of images!

Once I had a new copy of my image, I ran my favorite enhancement actions (again from Jodi’s MCP Summer Solstice™ Photoshop Actions): Ellie’s Magic Trick (my absolute favorite action for pulling out details); Splash of Light; Hemispheres (Contrasts); Fill Flash (also helps lighten the photo);Clarif-Eye (critical to bring out eyes).

Most of these create layers & all I have to do is adjust the Opacity to create the look I want.  Occasionally an action creates a mask that I can “paint” on using a soft, white brush so that it only affects a portion of my photo.  In this case, I painted around Dane’s eyes on the mask created by Clarif-Eye to bring his eyes out of the shadows.

I again ran Seeing Double; and Pancake.  This time I made minor adjustments by running Auto Enhance to adjust my curves & levels.  As well as Clearly to add a little clarity just to the Dane part of the photo.  I want him front & center of the photo. Finally I ran Illuminate to brighten the background. I did this by erasing only the background on the mask.

I again ran Seeing Double; and Pancake.  This time I cropped Dane so he’s on the left third of the photo and more the star. I also ran Fill Flash to even out my shadows more. Finally I ran Ups and Downs to paint on contrast on only the Dane portion of the photo.  I really want him to stand out more than the background.  Sometimes, with how blond & pale Dane is, he really blends in with the background.

On my final steps I again run Seeing Double; and Pancake.  Jodi includes a section called Finishing Effects and I use this to finalize the photo. I run Tiny  Sharp to resize for the web (I use this for blogging, facebook & the newsletter) and sharpen my photo just a touch by adjusting the Opacity on the mask Jodi’s action creates.  This is the final step Dane needed to come alive.

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I’ve been watching some gorgeous pictures come by on my facebook. I have friends who are photographers and they just have a way with the camera that makes me drool. I’m especially fond of the light in their photos. Their subjects radiate with light and warmth, without losing any of the clarity. My goal in life is not to be a photographer, but I do really, really want awesome shots of my kids too.

I got a little distracted this week trolling the photography blogs (WOW there are some amazing photographers out there). While I completely appreciate their eye & patience, I know I will never have the patience to scout location, learn to pose people, and truly understand light like they do. I need help. And I need fast help. I feel my life goes a million miles an hour, I am a mom first & foremost. I need shortcuts.

I found the perfect shortcut for my immediate need to create light in my photos. First I read this blog post, nice, short & clear, on posing subjects out of direct light but near it. Then I went and downloaded Jodi Friedmans’ (MCP Actions) free Mini Fusion Actions.(you have to click “like” on facebook for these. Totally worth it).

Jodi’s Mini Fusion Actions transform your photo in one click. And allows you control over each change in a series of layer masks that are truly amazing. I’m especially fond of the “Increase Opacity to Brighten” layer mask. That alone satisfied my desire for light, and a crisp, clear face. I’m now trying to justify every paid action in her store. I want.

Before and After

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Free Photo Fixers

by Toiny Westberry 30 December 2010

As my first post I’m being double-y lazy here.  This is a copy from a blurb in theStudio Newsletter.  I thought it a good place to start when I wrote it, and I think it’s still a good start to our photography section… off we go! Being lazy today, but hopefully full of good information […]

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