Totally Rad Actions RULE!

Elevate Your Portraits to Art with Photoshop Actions

This post is for those of you who would like to elevate your portraits out of the mundane and into the sublime. You would like to make art, but are possibly either a tad intimidated by Photoshop or simply don’t have a million hours to devote to learning it.

In my opinion, Adobe Photoshop is quite possibly the most phenomenal software ever created. Yet even I will admit the learning curve can be so steep you actually have to lean back to take it all in. I am quite proficient at Photoshop, capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. However, I figure if someone else has already invented the wheel, why not just buy it from them? I mean, working with all that rubber is hot and sticky. What do wheels and rubber have to do with photography and Photoshop, you wonder? Not a darned thing, unless you substitute the word ‘actions’ for wheel. Now you begin to see what I’m talking about, no? No.

Totally Rad Photoshop Actions

Okay, let’s try it from this angle. What are actions? More specifically, what are Photoshop actions, and why should you care? Bascially, actions are just a set of recorded steps in Photoshop. Yep. You can actually record things in Photoshop, just like recording something on a cassette tape, a CD or a DVD. You could even try this yourselves at home folks. But why bother when there’s a whole slew of folks out there who have logged countless THOUSANDS of hours sitting in front of their computers figuring out and combining all sorts of things. And they’ve compiled and packaged those things for sale. And these are called Photoshop Actions.

I have purchased actions from several different sources and use them regularly. One of my very favorites is Doug Boutwell’s Totally Rad Actions.

For this little tutorial, I will ‘deconstruct’ my opening image.  First, the RAW image, straight out of the camera and a companion image with some Lightroom adjustments.

Totally Rad Photoshop Actions

As you can see, the RAW image is well exposed, but flat.  I have a ‘standard’ set of adjustments I use in Lightroom before exporting images to Photoshop.  I adjusted Clarity to +25, Vibrance to +50 and then I adjusted the Noise Reduction to 100 for Luminance. Last, I sharpen the image slightly.

Totally Rad Photoshop Actions

In the image above, I have added the Rusty Cage action that comes in Boutwell’s Totally Rad Actions.  It is definitely starting to look interesting.  But I think I’d like to push it a little more.

Totally Rad Photoshop Actions

In this image above, I have added the Grunge Rock action.  One of the great things about any of these actions, is you can adjust the opacity of the layer yourself.  As you can see here, the opacity of the Grunge Rock layer is set to 70%.

I also made an adjustment to the eyes, enhancing and whitening them using the Eye Bump layer of the Pro Retouch action.  I have not included the before and after of that adjustment due to it being unnoticeable at this size.

The final piece of the puzzle is cropping.  I really wanted to emphasize the drama in this portrait, and therefore cropped out all distracting elements, to focus attention on the face and eyes.  My customer was so thrilled with my artistically interpreted version of this image that she ordered a very large wall portrait printed on canvas.  Click here to view this piece much larger.

Still unconvinced about the effectiveness of a good set of Photoshop actions to transform an image?  Click the image below to view one of my most remarked upon, popular images.

Totally Rad Photoshop Actions

If you would like to read more, check out these articles:

Review: Totally Rad's RadLab software makes photo editing simple and easy.

Check out these articles and reviews on other Totally Rad products:

Review: New Lightroom Presets From Totally Rad Really Deliver

Review: Totally Rad Lightroom Black & White Presets Produce Glorious Images

Review: New Totally Rad Lightroom ‘Effects’ Presets Add Visual Interest to Photographs

Review: Totally Rad Lightroom Presets Total Package

Totally Rad Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets

How to Elevate Your Snapshots With Adobe Lightroom Presets

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  1. Hi Deborah:

    This picture looks great! I don’t have Lightroom. I just have Photoshop CS3 and I was wondering if there is a way to do the Lightroom part in Photoshop (“I adjusted Clarity to +25, Vibrance to +50 and then I adjusted the Noise Reduction to 100 for both Luminance and Color. Last, I sharpen the image slightly.


  2. deborahwolfe says

    Hi Dani. When I want a bit of sharpening in Photoshop, I tend to use the Unsharp Mask. You will find that under Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. CS3 also has a Vibrance adjustment under Image>Adjustments>Vibrance. Noise reduction is found under Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise. Thanks for stopping by.