Creating an action with a stop

Another means by which to pause an action is to insert a stop command. Unlike modal controls, stops are meant to allow you to perform tasks that can’t be recorded in an action, such as painting with the brush tools. When defining a stop, you can create a message of up to 254 characters to remind you, or anyone else running the action, of the task to be performed while the action is halted. Once the task is completed the action can be resumed from exactly where it left off.

I created this next action to help separate a subject from a distracting background. It includes a blur layer with a layer mask, a blending mode change and a Saturation and Vibrance adjustment layer with its own layer mask. I've included a stop within the action in order to create a customized layer mask before continuing with the rest of the automated steps.

To begin, open an image where you’d like the subject to stand out more prominently from the background. Then create a new action as described earlier and name it 'Distracting Backgrounds'. Here's what to do as Photoshop records your steps.

1. Duplicate the background layer. 2. Choose Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and set a blur. Often you want to retain a strong sense of the background but with less detail.
3. Add a layer mask to the background copy layer. 4. Use the Action panel's fly-out menu and click Insert Stop.
5. Type a message reminding you to set the foreground color swatch to black, choose the brush tool and paint to remove the blur from the subject. The Allow Continue box should remain unchecked. 6. Perform the tasks described in Step 5, but keep in mind that Photoshop cannot record brush strokes. After painting on a layer mask I enable the red rubylith view (\) which displays the mask itself so I can see if I've missed any areas and make adjustments as needed.
7. Change the blending mode to Multiply. 8. Add a Vibrance adjustment layer and reduce the Vibrance slider as desired. (You may want to add a modal control at this step so you can modify the amount of desaturation.)
9. Insert a stop. Enter a note reminding you to copy the layer mask from the Background copy layer onto the Vibrance layer. You can do this by holding the Option/Alt key while clicking and draging the background copy layer mask over the exisitng Vibrance layer mask. 10. A dialog will appear asking you to confirm the mask replacement. Click yes. End the recording.

When you run the action and it arrives at the stop command, the message you typed - stating what needs to be done - will appear.

When presented with the first dialog box we created, click Stop to pause the action and take the necessary steps. Then press the Play icon on the Actions panel to resume running the action.

Notice that in this particular action I inserted a second stop at the end. Obviously you won't need to resume running the action after completing the described tasks. Below you can compare the original image with the one after the action was performed.

The background in the original image is distracting. This action darkened and slightly blurred the background, making the subject more prominent.

Fine-tuning your actions

You can make actions as simple or as complex as they need to be. None of us are perfect, however, and its not uncommon to have to go back and adjust some portion of an action to get the results you were expecting. Luckily, actions are easy to edit.

If you need to add additional steps to an action, make sure the action step from where you wish to resume recording is highlighted, then click the fly-out menu and select Record Again. If you've inadvertently created a step you can select it and click the Delete icon. You can press Cmd/Ctrl to select multiple steps and delete them simultaneously.

Prepping images for editing

Another, perhaps less obvious use of actions is to automate the preparation work required for your creative adjustments. Look at the screenshot below. It's the result of an action I created by pressing the record button as I did the following:

  • Created two dodge and burn adjustment layers with the topmost layer's blending mode set to Multiply (and the layer below it set to Screen)
  • Filled both layer masks with black
  • Selected the brush tool
  • Set a brush opacity of 10%
  • Set the foreground color swatch to white

I can run this action with one click and be ready to start painting on the adjustment layers.

You can us an action to do all of the prep work and quickly set about making your adjustments.

If you perform edits that commonly involve the same setup of layers, masks, or other prep work, consider creating an action to speed up the process. You might be surprised at just how much time you save over the course of editing even a few images!

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