Editing photos can be an interesting and engaging activity. But sometimes, you need to apply a set of relatively simple adjustments to a whole bunch of photos without much variation between the adjustments for each photo. This is time-consuming and error-prone if you do it manually. But fortunately, Photoshop has a powerful batch processing function.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to set up and use this function to speed up your work. I will illustrate the steps based on a process where I apply noise reduction to the individual source photos of an HDR image before I load them into the HDR software.
If you create an HDR image from an exposure series, noise can become a major issue since the HDR processing tends to amplify any noise that is present in the original photos. Especially, if they are shot hand-held with a high ISO setting, you need to reduce the noise early on in the whole process.
This means that you have to load each source photo into Photoshop, start your noise reduction plugin, make the necessary adjustments, close the plugin, save the image and close it. This is a lot of work if you have an exposure series of 5 or more photos and if you do all of this manually. The only important part of this process is the selection of adequate noise reduction parameters in the plugin itself.
I will show you how to set up and run a batch process such that the only thing you need to do manually is to choose the right noise reduction parameters and hit OK while everything else is done by Photoshop as a part of the automated batch.
- You need to record an action that contains all the adjustments you want to have applied to each photo. This action can then be played back by Photoshop to apply these same adjustments to other photos. You can record , change and manage your actions using the Actions panel. Open any action to inspect its steps and open a step of an action to see the parameters it will be executed with.
- You need to use this action in a batch process on a bunch of photos that are either opened in Photoshop or residing in a separate directory. The batch process will run the action once on each photo.
First, you need to create the action that you want to apply to all your photos. In order to prepare and start the recording, do the following:
- Load a photo into Photoshop. This photo will be a dummy that gives Photoshop something to work on while you are recoding your action. Our goal is not to actually enhance that photo but to record the steps that are required for that enhancement.
- Plan the adjustments you need and the order in which they should be applied. When you record the action, you are simply executing all of the adjustments manually while Photoshop keeps track of them. In a sense, this is a life recording session where you should stick to your schedule and avoid mistakes. Therefore, planning your steps before-hand is advisable.
- Bring up the Actions Panel (Window > Actions or Alt + F9).
- Click the Create new action button (5) at the bottom of the Actions panel.
- In the dialog box that appears, give your action a name and start the recoding by pressing the Record button in that dialog box.
From now on, Photoshop will record everything you do. Keep the Actions panel open to see the steps appear in the action as you execute them in the GUI. Now, simply execute all the actions that you planned in the right order. In our case, these would be the following (remember that a photo is already loaded):
- Unlock the Background layer. Photoshop locks the image layer when you load a photo. In order to change it, you need to double-click the layer and press OK in the dialog that appears. Now the layer is accessible for the following steps.
- Start your noise reduction plugin (in my case Topaz DeNoise) from the Filter menu.
- Make the adjustments in the plugin. The actual concrete settings you choose are not that important right now. When you apply the action later in a batch process, you can tell Photoshop that you would like to adjust these settings manually within the action. However, there may be certain things that you want to get right in this step. For example, if you have a preset in your plugin that you use as a basis for your adjustments most of the time, you should choose it now. This way, your plugin will start with that preset loaded every time, and you do not need to load it manually.
- Apply the settings to the dummy photo by hitting OK. The plugin will do its work and return to Photoshop afterwards.
- Save the photo under its original name (File > Save). This overwrites the original file with the processed one. If that is not what you want, you can also save the photo under a new name (File > Save as…). You can tell Photoshop later on how to substitute that name in a batch process. So the actual name you are using during the recoding does not matter. But for this tutorial, we assume that you simple overwrite the original file.
- Close the file (File > Close or Ctrl + W). This is important because it means that Photoshop will close every file it opens in a real batch process. Thus, no matter how many photos you process, there is always only one photo open. This keeps Photoshop from eating up all the memory you have.
- Stop the recording by pressing the Stop playing/recording button at the bottom of the Actions panel. Do not forget to do this. Otherwise, Photoshop will append everything you do afterwards to your action.
- In the Actions panel, find the “Topaz DeNoise” step and click on the small box to the left of it. A small window icon will appear in that box indicating that the respective step will be started by the action but the settings can then be changed manually. In our case, Photoshop will start Topaz DeNoise and then will give you the full control over all the settings. As soon as you hit OK in the plugin, Photoshop takes over again and runs the rest of the action. So, everything will run automatically except for the actual noise reduction settings that are chosen by you. You can also let Photoshop apply the same setting to each photo. In this case, simply skip this step and leave the box unchecked. Photoshop will then run through all the photos fully automatic without you having to do anything. Note however, that the results (especially when you do noise reduction) will not be very good if you do this.
When you have finished your action, you are ready for applying it to a set of photos in a batch process. Do the following to prepare that process:
- Put all the photos that you would like to process in the batch into one directory. There should by only these photos in that directory. It is best to copy them. Do not move them from their original location to prevent unintentional deletion or alteration in case your action does not work as expected.
- Bring up the Batch dialog box (File > Automate > Batch).
- Choose the action you have just recorded.
- Select Folder in the Source drop-down-box and choose the folder into which you have put the photos before.
- In the Destination drop-down box, choose None. Remember that we simply overwrite the old files. You can also choose to save the files in a specific Folder telling the Batch processor under which names you would like to have them saved. Finally, the Save and Close option simple overwrites the file and closes it. Remember that we did this manually in the action. So there is no need to select any specific Destination in our case.
- When you’re done with all the settings, simply hit OK to start the batch.
Photoshop will load the first photo and start Topaz DeNoise. As soon as the DeNoise window comes up, you have full control. Take your time and choose the settings as you like. When you hit OK, the plugin processes the photo and returns to Photoshop. The file will be saved and closed automatically and the next one will be loaded for you. Photoshop will go through all the files one by one in this way until all of them have been processed.
After the Batch
After the entire batch has run through, it is a good idea to check the results. An action is nothing else than a simple small program that you create. As such, it is prone to bugs (wrong steps, wrong order, wrong settings etc.). Checking the results and verifying that everything went fine prevents bugs from going through unnoticed.
If you discover that something went wrong, you can go back and change the action:
- Turn off all the steps in the action that follow the last correct step. This is done by unchecking the little check box at the far left of each step.
- Run the action on a dummy photo. The action will stop right before the first step that you unchecked. When you hit Record now, you can add new steps at that position.
- Add the correct steps and delete the wrong ones by dragging them onto the little trash bin at the bottom of the Actions panel.
In this way, you can revise an action and test it repeatedly until it really does what you want.
Summary and Take-Away Points
Oftentimes, photo editing entails a number of routine tasks that consume a lot of time when you do them manually. This tutorial has shown you how to use Photoshop’s action feature and the batch processing capabilities to have these tasks done for you automatically.
Create an action using the Actions panel and execute all the steps you need while you record the action. Then, use that action in a batch process on as many photos as you wish.
- Actions need to be tested to make sure that they actually do what you want.
- Pay attention as to whether Photoshop overwrites your photos while the batch is running. Copying your photos into a new directory is advisable.
- Select the steps in the action that you want to execute manually before you start the batch. This gives you fine-grained control.
- You can also turn off individual steps to create variations of an action.