10 Ways that Running Actions Can Make You a Photoshop Elements Master

What can running actions teach you about Photoshop Elements? Aside from taking you from this image:sooc

to this one?final

Actions can make you a master of layers, brushes and even intimidating layer masks.

You can find many actions compatible with Photoshop Elements. For this example, I’ll be using MCP’s Complete Workflow. The Complete Workflow is a great teaching tool because it uses a wide variety of common Photoshop features. I also used MCP’s Finish It to resize and sharpen these photos for the web, and to add watermarks and branding boxes. Full disclosure: I work at MCP as a Photoshop Elements consultant. I love these actions and use them just about every day. However, I do have a vested interest in their success! MCP has free actions available for download, if you’d like to try them.

  1. Just about everyone uses Levels, or should use Levels, on their images. But how do you know which way to move all the sliders when you add a levels adjustment layer? MCP’s Complete Workflow contains this tip:Levels TipsThe Levels window looked like this, before adjustment: Levels Before Adj and my adjusted window looked like this: Levels After AdjNotice the numbers under the “mountain.” I moved the middle slider to the left a bit to brighten the subject’s skin, and I brought in the right slider (for whites and brights) until it was just under where the “pixel mountain” begins to rise. My image now looked like this:after levels adj006
  2. How do I turn a layer off if I don’t want to use it at all? Click the eyeball on the left side of a layer to toggle that layer on or off.Layers before Paint
  3. How do I reduce the effect of a layer? For instance, in the following image, I turned on the Warm It Up layer. However, the image was much to warm. Too Warm009I reduced the opacity of the layer to 49% by using the opacity slider in the top right corner of the layers palette. The opacity of each layer is typed on all layers palette images in this post so that you can see my adjustments.
  4. What is a layer mask? A layer mask allows you to control where on an image to apply an effect. On the layer in the above Layers Palette above called “A Little More Kick,” I have hidden the “Kick” effect from all areas where I painted black. Wherever the layer mask is white, the effect is showing through loud and clear.
  5. What is a good way to remember what to do with layer masks? Say over and over to yourself, “White reveals, black conceals.
  6. How can I reduce the effect of a effect on a specific area without removing it altogether? Instead of painting in black on the layer mask, paint in gray by reducing the opacity of your paint brush. brush options bluebonnets Just remember to adjust the opacity on your brush options palette at the top of your workspace – it looks something like the image above. The layer “Paint on Pop” in the image below below has white areas where the Pop effect is showing through at full force. It has black areas where the effect is completely hidden. And it has gray areas where the effect was partially hidden by painting with a black brush at 50% opacity. Final Layers Palette
  7. How do I know when a layer mask is active for editing and painting? The layer mask thumbnail (the white or black box on the right of your layer) should have a white outline around it. This layer mask is ready for painting: layer mask ready If a layer mask doesn’t have the white outline, click on it. This layer mask is not ready for editing:layer mask not ready
  8. How do I know when enough is enough when using the High Pass sharpening method? This message from MCP’s Complete Workflow will help. (Don’t know what the High Pass Sharpening Method is? Oh, it’s a good one. Perhaps the subject of another tutorial?) How to Sharpen Using High Pass Method This is what you want to look for in the preview window: High Pass Sharpening Note that you can barely see outlines of the eye, and no color is visible.
  9. How do I add a vignette in PSE? With your top layer highlighted, type control+alt+shift+e to duplicate all layers. Select the rectangular marquee tool from the tool box, change the feathering to somewhere between 100 and 250, and draw a rectangle surrounding the majority of the center of your image – everything you don’t want vignetted. You can just barely see the outline of my selection in this screen shot:vignette selectionWhen the rectangle is selected, press the delete key to erase the inside of the image. Change the blending mode of that layer to multiply, and adjust the opacity to taste.
  10. What else can I do with blending modes? Experiment. If you aren’t happy with the color or strength of the vignette, for instance, change the blending mode to see how to various modes affect the appearance of your image. Pay attention to blend modes assigned to layers created by the action as well, and get a feel for which modes are used in which situations.

Running an action will set you up to learn advanced features of PSE without all the legwork. Give it a try and feel free to change the settings established by the action creator. You will definitely learn by playing, and will probably end up with a stunning photo as well!


  1. says

    Hi Erin, I have been wanting to use the background editing in Photoshop for a few days now. I took several classes before, but since I haven’t been using it, I have forgotten how to. This is a great refresher. Thanks!

  2. says

    Erin you did a great job teaching what could be very complicated! It is clear,concise and nicely illustarted. I have been working with some high school year book students and will share this with them in the fall so they can use it to retouch their yearbook photos.

  3. VIKRAM says

    Isn’t it such a great lesson Rebecca? I’m going to remember this story and constantly try and look at waiting differently.

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