Fixthephoto asked me to review one of their Photoshop actions bundles – “Classic Portrait”. I hadn’t ever purchased bundles of actions before so didn’t have anything else to compare them with. So, it was interesting to see their product to get an idea of the kind of thing that is on offer. Some of Original Art Photography’s students use paid actions such as these, so I thought it might be useful for me to do a review about the benefits and pitfalls as well as learning more about how others work.
In case you are unfamiliar with Photoshop actions let me briefly explain what they are and why you might use them. A series of adjustments to an image can be saved as an “action”. Then, if you want to repeat those same adjustments you can simply click once on the action instead of having to go through each step separately. It is a bit like a preset in other programmes (such as Lightroom). It is designed to speed up the workflow and save you having to remember lots of steps.
I will break down the available actions according to the way they come grouped together in the bundle. Firstly I will look at the smaller sections. Then we shall move on to the larger collections of actions which will each come underneath a separately headed section. The actions available are listed along with what they do and my comments about how I found them in use. If you would like the shorter concise review then please skip to the summary at the bottom. All actions were tested using the latest update of Photoshop CC available in May 2019.
Vignettes – interesting way of doing it that I’d not tried before. Might be good to have option for Lightroom-style corner vignetting with an elliptical soft mask for example. Effect needs to be brushed on so relies on good brushwork and remembering to feather the effect with lower opacity
Temperature – easily adjustable. Comes with effect set to 50%
Exposure – bright/dark – quick way to brighten/darken the image overall with option to change opacity. Not much quicker than doing curve yourself
Sharpening – adjustable opacity but not adjustable sharpness – better to allow choice of radius?
Sharpening & resize – provided that you are happy with the level of sharpening applied this can be a quick way to prepare images for social media, etc. Good to have size options already set plus one where you can customise.
Auto Histogram – tonal adjustments not explained
Quick Lighten/Darken – basic, ok – not really needed if you understand adjustment layers & not sure if it would actually be quicker
Lower Saturation – Blends towards Green tinted mono not pure black and white
Sheer Haze – gives a haze effect by backing off the blacks
Subtle Dehaze/Cut the Haze – It seems that these two might be the wrong way round. The subtle one isn’t subtle! Essentially they introduce contrast similar to using the dehaze slider in Lightroom. I tested them after adding sheer haze and they bring the image close to the original but not bang on
Soft Spotlight – adds light from above. The name suggests you can place a spotlight a bit like a radial filter in Lightroom but this isn’t the case
Soft Vignette – darkens the bottom with a gradient. Many people often think of corners for vignette so it might be worth clarifying that this doesn’t do the corners, just the bottom
Brighten Shadows / Rescue Highlights – do exactly what they say. Quicker than going into Camera Raw and using sliders
Noise Reduction – given that the level of Noise Reduction needed for each image varies I’d prefer to be able to control the values here myself. You can change opacity but that isn’t quite the same thing
Mute Highlights – a more heavy-handed approach than rescue highlights if you need to back off the highlights more
Flatten Image – useful if you normally would go via menu to flatten. I prefer keyboard shortcut
Facial Enhancement – dodge and burn on a grey layer. Brings this up nice and quick. But, you need to understand how to dodge and burn to make use of it
Create Fill Flash / Create Shadows – brush over areas to lighten/darken – misleading calling it fill flash perhaps as flash doesn’t just brighten, you’d also get contrast changes with contours
Dreamy Glow – not working when tested
Bright Warm Foliage, Warm Foliage, Dark Warm, Warm Tone, Cold Tone – add a colour overlay to the image to give a basic colour grade
Dreamy Blur – adds a soft blur. Useful if you want to soften some areas to bring more attention to the subject
Colour Pop – increases saturation & warmth
Desaturation – reduces saturation
Sharpen – give you a masked out strong sharpening effect that you can brush in where you want and to the strength that you want
Remove Chromatic Abberations – didn’t test as my import settings automatically remove and Chromatic Aberrations when transferring files to the computer
Smooth Skin – this smooths the skin by reducing contrast. You need to be careful near edges as it is prone to halos. Brush where you want the effect & use opacity to control how strong it is
Iris Sparkle – boost iris – works – just keep low and add gradually as otherwise very strong
White Eyes – whitens the white of the eyes – needs more opacity than some effects as it is more subtle than iris sparkle, for example
Brighten Eyes – not working when tested
White teeth – this is effective. I’d recommend using medium opacity for a good effect. Counters the yellowing in teeth with blue
Dodge & Burn – not working when tested
Frequency Separation – I would say this is only useful if you already understand frequency separation. Allows you to choose blur. Separates frequencies ok. Fine if you know how to use it but probably confusing without a detailed tutorial. Defaults to texture layer turned off – not clear why and should probably mention turning it on and working on that too with clone stamp
Advanced Portrait Retouching – frequency separation plus added contrast layers
Rose Skin Brush/ Honey Skin Brush – adding warm colour. Needs to be done using a low opacity or faded back to low to keep it subtle and believable
Natural – lightens and lessens red tones – useful for slight sunburn?
Glossy Lips – not working when tested
Colour Correction – instructions a little confusing – told to choose colour before it is possible. When colour choice comes up you can’t see the image to choose a suitable tone. Fiddly, only likely to be useful if you have learned this as part of your workflow already
Reduce Red/Yellow/Green/Cyan/Blue/Magenta – reduce the particular colour and saturation Hue Saturation sliders are probably easier
Reduce Orange – action not working at time of testing
Basically all add a colour grade of some kind and tweak the contrast
Contrast Colour – adds contrast and saturation globally – remove by masking out
Vivid Colour – very similar
Clean Contrast/Warm Effect/Light Warm – Saturation & Colour adjustments, some with lightening/darkening
Yellow Filter – adds overall yellow plus contrast adjustments
Freeze – blue filter plus contrast
Matte – lifts blacks
B&W – converts to black and white plus adds some contrast
Retro – adds a sepia gradient map
Deep Colour – Contrast
Summer Love – yellowy warm tone added using curves
Romantic Dance – adds pink, yellow and some brightness
Velvet – Matte (brings up blacks) plus violet
Dreamy Effect – Blue and contrast adjustment
As you can see from the extensive list above, there are a large number of actions included in this bundle. They also vary in complexity. Some can be used very quickly and easily with little knowledge needed. Others benefit from a higher level of Photoshop ability to get the most out of them. For those new or relatively new to Photoshop the actions could be used as a way of learning how things work. If you delve into the actions to see what they are doing then you can slowly build your understanding of Photoshop. They enable you to achieve various effects without needing to understand how it is done. But, in my view, it would be best to use them as a learning aid as well as to save time.
Fixthephoto were a little unclear in their advertising who this pack was aimed at. They then clarified with me that this is for novice to intermediate users rather than advanced. For most of the actions this makes sense. However, Frequency Separation in particular requires a greater understanding and along with dodge and burn can easily be over-done by inexperienced users. They did subsequently create a basic tutorial to show some of the actions in use, which I think should be provided to anyone purchasing the pack. For those who don’t learn intuitively and are perhaps fearful of trying out things they don’t understand a demonstration video is an important asset. It might also be helpful for some to help them decide whether to make the purchase.
Most of the actions will save you time over creating the effects manually. There are a few where I don’t think this is the case, but in the main their main purpose for many people is clearly going to be saving time. If you are a busy person or working as a professional photographer saving time is important and valuable. However, I don’t think many professionals would find this pack particularly useful unless they are not used to Photoshop already.
It is a little concerning that some of the actions seem to have been created poorly as they didn’t run correctly when tested. It could be due to an older version of Photoshop being used, perhaps. If so, the actions may need to be updated periodically for users. Actions take up very little space, so nobody should experience difficulties downloading and using them on their computer. I would advise more demo videos be created for potential end users so that they can see how the actions are used to create a finished result. Otherwise, people might feel frustrated if they can’t replicate it easily themselves.
One important thing to remember when using these actions is to close the folder before adding another action. Otherwise, the actions get muddled together in one folder and don’t work properly. Some actions work fine unless you use them after another one when they can get muddled. This suggests that the actions weren’t recorded with the most failsafe method. For example, after using “Cut the haze” I had difficulties with various actions afterwards.
Fixthephoto have provided a varied toolbox for those wanting to be creative with their portrait photos. Some may find the time they save valuable and others might like to use them as a learning aid. Overall, I was disappointed that things weren’t completely polished and more user-friendly. I would suggest trying out some free actions to see if you get on with them before considering making a purchase. Personally, I would recommend learning how to use Photoshop manually and then create your own actions for the things you use most.