Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Sleeklens "Portrait Perfection" Photoshop Actions

Photoshop is a powerful tool for manipulating and improving images. There are hundreds of built in tools you can use to modify and create images in a virtually limitless way. Learning all of those tools can be a challenge. Once they are mastered, tools are often used in a prescribed pattern to repeat a process on an image and achieve a desired effect.

To make the process of repeating these tasks easier, Photoshop allows you to create "Actions".

Actions are simply a way to program a series of tasks in a sequence so that a designer does not have to remember each of them and perform them by hand. They can be created by anyone as easily as pushing a record and stop button and once built they can be used over and over again or even packaged and transferred to other users of Photoshop.

Many photographers and companies create actions and share or sell them to other photographers and designers to save them the time of creating them themselves.

Sleeklens is one of these companies. This Denmark based company founded in 2015 has created sets of actions for Photoshop and Lightroom to be used on landscapes, urban scenes, and fashion to name a few. They recently asked me to review their portrait actions for Photoshop they call "Portrait Perfection". These tools are useful for, you guessed it, portraits. What follows is a review of those actions.


Of course you must have Photoshop or Lightroom before you can use these tools which are add-ons to the Adobe program. Once purchased, you receive a download link for a compressed zip file that contains an ".atn" file which contains the actions. It is very easy to install them as you simply click on the file and it opens in Photoshop.

The Portrait Perfection collection includes many subsets of actions useful for creating different effects. Some may appear to make very subtle changes, while others require "painting" selected areas of your image where you want an effect applied. Some are quite useful while others feel more like Instagram filters. Most actions perform as advertised and some of the simpler ones like brighten or darken improve upon a built in tool like "Brightness". All will save you time obtaining an effect that would take several steps to create.

"Portrait Perfection" effects applied to an image.

The names of the actions help you know what an action is for, however there are names that are not so clear. It may take some experimenting to decide which action is best for your needs. Sleeklens has a YouTube Channel that provides help in understanding how to use these actions in your workflow. Once you get to know them you will likely find ones you like and will use frequently. You will also discover in many cases you will need to combine or "stack" different actions to create a final look you are working toward.

Some actions are destructive to your original image - they change the image you have loaded into Photoshop. So be sure you have another copy before using these actions and do not save an altered image over your original when you are done.

Other actions are non-destructive, allowing you to adjust the changes made or even remove them entirely, leaving you with your original image in tact.

It is possible to edit the actions and in some cases simply removing a "flatten" task at the end of an action will make it non-destructive. Why Sleeklens decided to make these actions destructive I cannot say, as it seems to me it would have been better not to. They do include comments which warn you of this and provide tips on how to use the actions.

There are also some actions which have a number of redundant steps which waste processing time. For example, hiding and then showing a layer. I can only imagine that the person creating the action was experimenting as they created it and never removed the redundant or useless steps once they were done. The end result is the same either way, but these steps are not necessary and take extra time as they process.

If you edit and make changes to these actions, be sure to save them as it is possibly for them to disappear from Photoshop. I have had this experience and it was not fun to have to recreate my actions over again! Of course if you do not modify them, then it is a simple matter of going back to the download and reloading them.

Editing choices, like photography itself, can be very subjective and what one person loves another might detest. You will need to experiment with different actions you will work with and combine them to give you the results you think are best.

Some of my favorite actions in this set are:

  • Temperature: while it seems to be a relatively simple task, adjusting color temperature in Photoshop can be a relatively difficult task. These two actions make it somewhat easier.
  • Fast Retouch: This action provides a set of simple tools to do common tasks when retouching portraits - softening skin, whitening teeth and eyes and giving color to the cheeks.
  • Light Glow: While the built in lighting effect does an interesting job of lighting an area of the image and the rendered lens flare can provide a light source and resulting lens effect, this light glow can give a nice soft added light flare.
  • Candy Store: Some very common effects are included in this set such as dodge and burn, a non-destructive and selectable sharpen and a more advanced portrait retouch.
  • Web Preparation: So often photos are being prepared for the web and these tools help to resize the images quickly and keep them sharp.

While it is possible to create all of these actions yourself once you understand the tools within Photoshop, you need to consider how much time it will take you. For the low fee charged by Sleeklens, you might just consider it worth paying to have them already created for you.

You can find the Portrait Perfection set here:

Sleeklens also offers a professional photo editing service:

For a complete catalogue of Photoshop actions, check here:

Monday, 15 August 2016

Oh no! I didn't take a photo of it, all I have is video!

Recently I was invited to shoot a wedding, but instead of shooting photos, I was asked to shoot video. Taking photos and taking video are actually very similar. In both you try to tell a story through the images - in video you just get to do that with motion and sound. But I digress...

I found myself at a peculiar spot, shooting a beautiful scene (above) and found myself wishing that I had a DSLR to take that image instead of just the video camera.

Well with high definition video cameras, it is actually possible to get a reasonable image by snipping it from the Video! (Literally)

There are several ways to do this - the easiest being to use video software that will let you pause and export a frame of video. This will provide you with a full resolution image. However, if you do not have software that will do this, then a simple screen shot will also do the trick.

Windows comes with a handy little program called "Snipping Tool". Simply click start and type in "Snipping" and you should see it come up. When the program starts, (I'm told you can use Command-Shift-4 on a Mac).

Play the video in your video player. Expand the video to full screen if possible so you will capture the highest resolution possible, then pause the video where you want to capture the image.

Try not to stop the video in the middle of a blurred frame unless that is the desired effect. Sliding forward or backward a few frames will help you to find that perfect image.

Bring the Snipping tool to the front by using alt-tab or selecting it on your task bar - don't worry if it covers the video; it will disappear when you take the snip.

Snapped from a video of a screen at Universal Studios Florida
Select "New" and "Rectangular Snip", then simply drag your mouse over the video frame to snap the portion of the image you want. You can then mark up the image with a pen if you wish, email it, copy it to the clipboard, or save it for other purposes.

Of course it should go without saying that you should only snip a frame from your own video - you should not snip frames from copyrighted works.

If you have a photo editor (windows does a nice job of correcting minor issues in photos as well), you can tweak the image to enhance it further and save it again.

As other screens will show the image perfectly well, you're now ready to post your image to social media. If you snapped the image for a full HD video (1920x1080), the resolution is almost 2Mpx, which is better than most first generation digital cameras. You can easily print a 4x6 print from this image - though I wouldn't go blowing it up to full poster size.

If you like to create photo books, you can even use these snipped images in your books to display sans-computer or TV.


Saturday, 23 July 2016

Family Photos - I have nothing to wear!

What should we all wear for our family photo session? It sounds like a tough question - here are a few simple tips to help you out.

Should we all wear something similar? 

That depends. Sometimes this can be unifying for a family, but when overdone, it can look cheesy. If you’re looking for something more natural, you might want to stick with “casual dress” and wear what you are comfortable in. 

Everyone wearing something similar (but not the same) is a good idea though – for instance, all jeans, all dress clothes or all bike shorts and bicycles. Imagine if you had each person wearing one of those - the photo would not look so good! Too many different styles and colors can be confusing in an image.

These are digital memories and what you are wearing should represent who you are at this time.

What colors should my kids wear? 

You will probably want your kids to look smart, but try and put them in clothes that have muted colors and they feel comfortable in.  If the clothes are itchy they will get tired of the session quickly and it will be much harder to capture smiles. 

If you have more than one child – think about whether their clothes will complement each other.

What kind of clothing should adults wear? 

Long pants are best and if a lady wears a skirt, below the knee may be best as you will likely be sitting for at least part of the session. Keep clothing relatively simple – muted colors, similar  but not the same top and bottom (either dark, or light). 

Definitely Avoid bright colors, busy patterns and logos as these will distract from the main subject – you!

Here are some suggestions for different situations:

  • Studio backdrop / White set - white t-shirts and blue jeans, light colors with beige pants - each family member in same color hue example: light blues to darker blues, browns to beige.
  • Studio backdrop / Tuscan Wall or Beige backdrop - medium to darker colors, khakis and creams or fall colors work well for these sets
  • On Location - earth tones (just look at nature), greens, browns, burgundy, any fall colors look fantastic!

Bare feet are OK for the white set and medium to dark shoes for the other sets, (make sure to wear dark socks with your shoes - unless you want your socks to be the focus of the images). Keep jewelry simple and to a minimum.

Wear your hair as you would normally with the clothes you choose. If you’re getting haircuts, do so at least 2 weeks prior to your portrait session – it will look more natural.

Will you figure out how to pose us or should we suggest what we would like?

The simple answer to this is “yes”.

Most photographers are very happy to accommodate and work on poses you prefer if you have something in mind. Putting our minds together to come up with the best places and poses always works better than just one person coming up with an idea, and I really enjoy this collaborative process.

However, if you have no idea what you would like, your photographer will have lots of poses and places in mind. Don’t worry. They will work with you on the spot to create great images depending on your family, the available light and the surroundings.