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We all know that actions can be a great way to speed up your workflow and give your images a style that may not be achievable through your own editing process. Here, we look at 15 Photoshop actions for portraits that come in under $10 each.
Actions and Style
Before we start, a word on actions. You can take one portrait (or three, in this article’s case) and create some very different end results just by using actions. We all aspire to have our own style, whether that’s making photographs, processing them, or both. Actions aren’t a substitute for your own style; they should, if used properly, compliment your vision.
There may be a particular look that you have in your head but don’t have the editing know-how to get that final image. This is one way actions are useful: they can provide the base processing help you attain a complex, stylised look, with enough flexibility for you to make changes and hone the image into what you see in your mind.
For me, the best actions are the ones that break down into many different parts or folders, that I can then tweak, brush on and off or hide altogether in order to get the result I want.
In this article, I’ve selected a range of actions that are good for use on portraits. Some of these require a little prep beforehand and some are simple colour washes, but I’ll demonstrate each one so that you can see the results.
I’ll be using three portraits; one with a lot of vibrant colour and style, one quite neutral and light; and the third with a darker background, skin tones and clothes.
Actions and How to Install Them
Actions are a series of commands that automatically run to achieve a certain goal. You can hear more about Photoshop Actions, in 60 seconds, from Harry Guinness. To use the pre-sets outlined in this article, some preparation is required. Harry Guiness explains how to install Photoshop actions in this tutorial.
- Photoshop ActionsAdobe Photoshop Actions, Explained in 60 SecondsHarry Guinness
- Photoshop ActionsGetting Started With Photoshop ActionsHarry Guinness
15 Photoshop Actions For Portraits Under $10
1. Urban Shift $4 – by Betoalanis
This is a cross process effect and is ready to run once you've installed it; no preparation required.
There's only one action here. The initial run was too warm for me, so I hid the 'add warmth' layer and raised the opacity of the gradient fill layer, which added more of the blue, cool colour. I also darkened it a little by dropping the opacity of the 'lighten' layer.
2. Realistic Drop Shadow $4 – by Art 101
As the name suggests, this action gives you a drop shadow effect. There are right and left options. The action comes with a help file and a video as it requires some work before running: a duplicate layer with the background removed and the subject in isolation.
Due to the nature of the action, it's only going to work properly on certain images and even then, will probably need refinement.
3. ReFocus – Tilt Shift + 14 Photo Filters $5 – by Artbees
This action is for stylised blurring. There are three options when run: filters, circle tilt shift and square tilt shift.
The action guides you along the way with what you need to do. The first step is to choose the area you want to keep in focus and then the second part needs starting manually once you've done that.
The filters can be used afterwards for colour adjustments if desired. I used Circle Tilt Shift here and added Dream Glow with a lowered opacity, to finish.
4. Vintage Summer PS Photo Actions $4 – by MikeMoloney
There are 5 options with this set and none require any prep beforehand. These are essentially colours laid over the top of your image, so there's very little option to adjust anything. What you see is pretty much what you get. I used Fade here, with a texture.
5.Professional Retouching Actions Kit $4 – by Oneeyelab
As my two example images are already edited, I chose a more natural image to demonstrate this set. The actions contain five options which focus on different parts of the face.
These need a very light touch or you'll end up with a doll-like plastic face. Some of the actions are masks and some are folders with several options broken down inside. There are no blush/colour in the cheeks options and nothing for edits to hair. It does include a couple of skin changes, eye 'pop' and teeth whitener.
55++ Vintage / Retro Effecs $5 – by Sodasong
There are, as you'd expect from the name, 55 options in here. I chose Glitch to demonstrate as it's quite funky and I've not seen much like this around before. This is at 70% opacity.
You can run packs of actions together so that you can turn each off and on to see how it looks. These include light leak options too, for a more subtle look.
7. Shimmer $6 - by Sevenstyles
This action requires some preparation, but it's worth it, I promise. You need to paint over your subject on a new layer called 'brush'. Once you hit run, it takes a long time, and I mean a long time!
The wait is worth it; the action is broken down into colour variations and then 'shimmer'; incredibly, each 'bit' is a separate layer so you can tweak until your heart's content.
This is Colour 1 with 'Add Saturation' hidden; the image had enough already.
8. Double Exposure $6 – by Eugene-design
Obviously you need two images for this or it wouldn't really be a double exposure. You have to open your portrait on top of your other image for the best result and make sure you’re clicked on the top image when you run the action.
I combined my portrait with a city. There several options and it's really hard to get right. I think a different type of portrait may work better; possible one in profile rather than face on.
9. Retro Painting Machine $5 – by Indieground
You get three options here, for three canvas sizes: 1000px, 2000px and 3000px.
I ran this on an image 3000px long and it took a while. Everything was already on 100%, which is a shame really as there's no room to boost certain features. The colours/tones are quite similar for the other options but you do get a slightly different effect. Running the image again might help to further stylise it.
10. Fashion $4 - by Jewel420
There are ten options with this pack and they're very quick to run. Essentially, these are colour gradients layered over your image, so there's a little variety in each option but little room to adjust.
11. Fearless2 $6 – by Sevenstyles
You'll need to install a brush that comes with the pack to use this action. It also requires a new layer called 'brush' with your subject brushed over.
There are three options, rain falling straight down and then rain from either the left or the right. This is the straight down version, with the face detail brushed back in over the mask.
12. Film Ultra Violet $4 - by TheColorizer
This is one action with one option, so there's no tweaking to be done here other than painting it out over a layer mask. This action essentially softens, smooths and warms your image.
13. FilmtasticPhotoshop Film Actions $5 - by MustaART
Here there are five options in a range of similar tones, from deep to faded; warm to cool. The image is brightened and maybe looks a tad softer.
14. 25 Bluez Black & White Photo Efftects $5 - by Ghorami
As you’d expect, 25 presets here all of which pop their layers into a folder for tweaking; something I always find useful.
This is Hazy BW with a couple of minor adjustments: less contrast and darker highlights.
15. Burning Vintage $6 - by Noahdesign
You'll note the texture here, which requires the pattern file to be loaded in. It also needs a background selection called ‘area’ as a separate layer.
On the whole, the actions listed here are very flexible. Some even come with a number of presets, which means you can get several looks from one pack. Particularly with the stylised ones; they often need preparation first, whether that’s a new layer or something else loading in, like a brush or texture. This can seem like a faff, but the results are worth it to get something really special and unique for your image.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be the only person using an action; that’s why it’s important to dig down where possible and customise the various options, so you get the look that’s right for you and that hopefully, nobody else will have replicated.