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Boost Color in Your Photos with Actions

Last updated Mar 14, 2003.

Most digital photos can benefit from a small boost in color saturation, but most people don't have the time to do this to every photo. The quick answer to better-looking photos is to use an Action to boost the saturation and let Photoshop do all the work for you. Just run this little saturation boost trick once (which, by the way, kicks total butt), and then it'll be ready for you to use whenever you want.

I read about the color boost trick that I'm going to show you here in Dan Margulis's book, Photoshop LAB Color. I absolutely loved the technique and began using it all the time. I found, however, that the steps were exactly the same every time I used it, so I decided to make an Action out of it.

If you're new to Actions in Photoshop, they're like little macros that let you record the adjustments that you're applying in Photoshop. You can replay Actions on other images with just the click of a button. Let's take a look:

Step One:

Open a photo that needs a little color saturation boost. The photo below is a perfect candidate because the color of the rocks in the background were much more brilliant when I took the shot than they appear now.

Step Two:

Let's start out by finding the Actions palette. This is the central location where all Actions that you create get stored in Photoshop. To get to it, go to the Window menu and choose Actions. You should see the Actions palette at this point.

Step Three:

Let's start by creating a new Action. Click the Create New Action button at the bottom of the palette. You'll see the New Action dialog open. Use this dialog to give your action a name (it helps if it's a descriptive one) and press the Record button.

Step Four:

Now for the good stuff. Forget about the Actions palette for now and just tuck it off to the side so you can still see it. We need to fix the photo. For starters, let's switch into the Lab color space, as that's where we're going to need to do the work here. Choose Image > Mode > Lab. You shouldn't really see anything change, but if you look in the Actions palette you’ll see that a new "Convert Mode" step has been recorded.

Step Five:

Next, let's duplicate the Background layer so we don't work on the original. Do this by selecting the background layer and pressing Control – J (Mac: Command – J). Again, you'll see that a new step has been added to your Action in the Actions palette indicating that Photoshop is indeed recording what you're doing.

Step Six:

Now we're going to use a dialog called Curves. Open the Curves dialog by choosing Image > Adjustments > Curves or just press Control – M (Mac: Command – M).

Step Seven:

The Curves dialog looks a little intimidating at first, but it’s really not. First, change the Lab channel at the top to "a." Next, Alt/Option click in the grid area to see the small grid instead of the default larger one. You can always Alt/Option click on it again to get it back. You won't see anything change in the Actions palette.

Step Eight:

Drag the small square at the bottom left over by two full squares. The trick here is that whatever you do to the bottom corner, you also do to the top corner. Drag the top right square over to the left by two full squares as well.

Step Nine:

The other trick with this technique is that whatever you do to the "a" channel you also do to the "b" channel. So, switch the channel to "b" and drag both of those points over two grid squares as well. When you're done, press OK.

Step Ten:

At this point, the color in your photo should look much more saturated. Now, this is what it looked like when I took the shot! You may find that it's a little too saturated, but this would be different for every photo, so we don't want to fix it just yet. I'll show you how in a moment.

Step Eleven:

The last thing we need to do is switch back to the RGB color space. Just choose Image > Mode > RGB. When the dialog pops up asking you if you'd like to flatten the image, press Don't Flatten.

Step Twelve:

Now that we're done working on the photo, we need to stop recording the Action. To do this, press the Stop Recording button at the bottom of the Actions palette.

Step Thirteen:

That's it! Your done recording your Action and you can run it on another photo. Just open a photo and press the Play button at the bottom of the Actions palette. You'll see that Photoshop performs all of the steps you just did on the new photo as well.

Step Fourteen:

One more thing: Remember back in Step 10 when I said that the photo may or may not look too saturated, but we didn't want to fix it. This is where a little personal interaction comes in. Since we recorded the Action and created a duplicate layer back in Step 3, we can adjust the opacity of that layer for all of the photos that we run this Action on. So, after you run the Action, if you find that the photo looks a little too saturated in color, just drop the opacity of the top duplicate layer to about 70-80 percent and that should do the trick.

I hope you realize just how cool Actions are. By using Actions, you're letting Photoshop do the work for you, which leaves more time for actually being creative.