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What Are Presets And Actions

by Steph Doran (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     
Image taken by Knight725

If you find that you spend too much time editing your photos, or would like a way to speed up the process, then presets and actions are about to become your new best friends. Presets and actions make your workflow faster, by automating some of the post-production process. While both presets and actions offer similar solutions, they are not the same thing. Let’s take a look at the difference between the two, and find out how they can help you to get the results that you want, but faster!


A ‘preset’ is a recipe for photographic adjustments, and is only found in Adobe Lightroom. It offers pre-determined settings for each adjustment slider (Exposure, Contrast, White Balance, etc), and allows you to make these adjustments to any photograph with just one click. Presets are fast and easy to use, and you can see exactly what the resulting changes will look like straight away.

Using presets is a brilliant way to save time on retouching, especially if you are processing a large number of files. When using presets, all you have to do is scroll through your preset library, and look in the preview window until you see a preset that you like. Once you have found one, just click on it to apply it to your image. You can also move the adjustment sliders around to tweak the results, enabling you to achieve the exact outcome that you want. The downside of presets is that they do not have an opacity slider, so you are unable to control the intensity of the preset.

To make your own preset, all you have to do is pick a setting or value for each adjustment slider, and save that particular set of values. You can then apply your favourite or regular adjustments to any photos that you take.

It is important to note that presets generally work best with RAW files, as there is more information in the file for the preset to work with. If you aren’t shooting in RAW yet, it might be a good idea to investigate this type of file format before getting tied up in presets.

Image by Roman Peregontsev


An ‘action’ is also a recipe for photographic adjustments, but it can only be used in Adobe Photoshop. Unlike presets, actions are not just a set of determined numbers, but rather a list of steps and adjustments that are executed in a particular order. When you click on an action, Photoshop plays each ‘step,’ until all the steps have been completed. Actions can be quite simple, but can also get very long and complicated, depending on how many steps are included in the action.

Actions can take a little longer to apply, depending on how many steps are involved, and unlike presets, you can’t see what the final result will look like until the action is complete.

Image by Ari Hallami

The benefit of actions is that they are usually completed in layers, so each individual adjustment or change can be altered to suit the individual photograph. This means that you can fine tune the adjustments that were made, or even reduce the intensity of the action by lowering the opacity. Because of these layers, you can also use masks to apply the action to only a portion or section of the image.

To make an action, all you have to do is ‘record’ yourself making adjustments to an image in Photoshop. You can then save your steps as an action, and when you apply that action to other images, Photoshop will run through the exact same adjustments that you made when you recorded it. The only thing that actions can’t record well are brush layers (for example, if you were using the brush tool to paint in to a layer mask, or using the dodge and burn tool.) Because every image is different, brushing adjustments will almost never be identical, and so they are not useful when recording actions.

Where To Get Actions

Presets and actions are both fantastic tools to use in your everyday workflow. You can write your own recipes, which will be very useful if you find yourself making the same kind of adjustments often. But of course, there are so many resources online, and an abundance of Presets and Actions for you to download and install. Many of these are free, but others cost money. Recently, many photographers have started offering their own actions and presets for others to download and use. This is a great way to emulate the look or feel of your favourite photographers’ work. Why not try out some presets or actions on your next photo session?

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