I am sometimes guilty of this photo faux pas......

Most photographers, at one time or another have at least TRIED this little trick. 

Most of us, once we SEMI figure out how to use Photoshop.... stumble upon this dirty little photo secret... and I must say, it feels like Christmas! for a while, at least...

What am I referring to, of course, is pre-made Photoshop actions.

Oh pre-made actions, the fast track to 'thinking' you're a great photographer.....

Don't get me wrong, I loved using these actions just as much as the next budding photo student..... only, it seems the more you learn how to do things yourself in photoshop, the more ridiculous your over-filtered action edited photos start to look. 

 

Let's take a little journey back a couple years, when I was just becoming familiar with the basics of retouching.....

Healing brush, paint brush, clone stamp, dodge, burn, curves, levels, hue, saturation, vibrance, Liquify (oh liquify.... thats a whoooole other embarassing story in itself....) It's a lot to learn, not only HOW to use, but more importantly WHEN to use.  Enter bundled action sets.

I first learned of these via Facebook, the Florabella Collection fan page popped up in my newsfeed. The photos looked stunning, and when I found out how simple it was to do, I couldn't help but purchase the 'Classic Collection', at well over $100- I couldn't wait to get some use out of these actions! And boy did I- to a pretty frightening degree. In hindsight, I  realize that when you have the blinders on, you convince yourself just about anything looks good. Look at that contrast, Look at that POP! Oh, maybe a little vignette here, a vintage wash there, hell- lets throw a peach haze over the whole darn thing!! Actions are quick. Actions are easy. Actions are for lazy people who don't want to spend the time to learn how to use photoshop like a pro.... after all- pros are the ones who MAKE the actions, and sell them to dummies like me, right!

I wasn't the only one, a lot of fellow students I knew used Nik action sets, as well as Florabella... and I see countless others advertised online daily. 

Here's the thing... When you use those preset actions, it's obvious. Oftentimes, painfully obvious.

I'm guilty of oversmoothing the skin (Dear newborns... I'm so sorry.) 

I'm guilty of slapping on a preset and calling it a day.

I've also been guilty of using a lensflare effect when there is CLEARLY no light behind my subject.... only once, as I recall.... but still...... :|

I'm also guilty of, in my opinion- the very worst offense, OVERSHARPENING THE EYES. Oh my. Some of my images right now even have this unfortunate universal brand of the unskilled fauxtog. (Note to self, do more kid/baby shoots so I can replace these glass eyed dolls on my site with living breathing children ASAP!) For the love of all that is good in the world, can we please stop the over-sharpened eye thing, it's so creepy, and totally unprofessional.

 

Here's the thing, actions are okay- for a little bit. They're fun and inspiring, (especially when photoshop is still a big scary beast) But if you ever want to be taken seriously as a photographer, you need to let them go.

 

A good friend of mine, Mike from Smashbase ((WARNING - NSFW)) taught me how to retouch skin using the frequency separation method, and I'd have to say- the action he gave me (to create the high and low frequency layers ONLY) is the only action I find myself still using on a daily basis. I'll have another post on that soon...

All in all, I find the images of mine I like most are images I HAVE NOT used these snazzy little actions on. Actions are like instagram filters, they can make a pile of dog shit look interesting.... but that doesn't mean it looks good.

In conclusion- Unless you deliberately want to lump yourself in with the Mom-tog masses- Lose the actions.  I shudder at the thought of the creamy, blurred out faces of the countless liquid eyed children I've seen.... and I don't want to be that  'photographer'. I'm not getting a degree only to be lured into the fauxtog abyss forever... And I suggest you set your sights a little higher too. Fads may seem like a good idea at the time, ('90s selective coloring, anyone??) but I guarantee you, once this fad dies out, you'll find yourself left in the dust with no real PS skills to fall back on.

So, where to start - I suggest checking out Youtube for some real editing tutorials. 

Michael Woloszynowicz from Vibrant Shot has a few HERE to get you started, and there are so many more available online.

A tutorial for the Frequency Separation method HERE.

An time lapse using an interesting painting method of frequency seperation HERE.

An interesting time lapse HERE.

And an awesome time lapse HERE.

(I love watching retouching time-lapses, can you tell?)

What are some of your favorite techniques and tutorials?? Please share in the comments below! :)