October 01, 2009 — An entire subculture exists that is creating image-enhancement actions for Photoshop users. Entering “Photoshop actions” into the Google search engine returns over 17 million returns. For those unfamiliar with actions, they are an automated sequence of Photoshop effects that, with a single mouse click, creates a final result combining all of the effects into a final image.
Many actions are free and, like iPhone apps, seem cool and worth installing at first glance. But like most iPhone apps, these actions languish in your Actions palette and are seldom used after the first look. They only add to the length of the dropdown menu, making it harder to find the actions that you really want to use. After all, how many times would a portrait or wedding photographer need to create an image that looks like it was reflected in a crystal ball or wrapped around a box?
Actions can be a real timesaver, however, if they automate Photoshop enhancements or tools that you use often, or when you need to apply the enhancements or tools to a batch of images. One of the earliest and most prolific innovators of Photoshop actions is wedding photographer Kevin Kubota. With one package of Production Tools and four packages of Artistic Tools, Kubota Image Tools provides photographers with more than 280 automated image enhancements.
Depending on the packages or paks you purchased, these enhancements could range from black-and-white conversions and toning, to softening and glow effects, to cross-processing, to skin smoothing, to adding a frame around the image.
Navigating through this wealth of actions in a dropdown menu would be a nightmare, so Kubota Image Tools has introduced DashBoard, a free application delivered with each of the five packages or combination Paks. With the organizational framework of DashBoard, finding and applying the desired enhancement to an image is a relatively easy and painless experience.
DashBoard installs automatically in Photoshop CS2 or higher along with the Kubota action set or Pak you purchase. DashBoard opens automatically when you open Photoshop. If you closed it during your last Photoshop session, you can open it from the File > Automate menu. There are two listings in the Automate menu, Kubota Image Tools Palette and Kubota Image Tools. You want the palette. The other listing is the modal version of Image Tools for batch processing or modifying and saving actions or sets of actions you create with your own personal settings.
The DashBoard palette main window is logically organized with some basic instructions at the top, some useful tools below that save your navigating through Photoshop menus in order to perform common tasks such as Save As, and the Image Tool package or Pak you purchased below this. There is a little quirkiness here. For example, you must have an image open in order to use the “open an image file” command, but overall the layout works well.
The Search box at the top of the palette is what makes DashBoard so valuable. If you know the name of the effect you want, entering the first few letters in the Search box will immediately call it to the box below.
But the enhancements have some decidedly odd names (“hot fudge with a cherry,” “Lord of the Rings Everyday,” “Fashion Passion,” etc.), you may not remember the effect you liked a few weeks ago. Fortunately, the palette has a couple of solutions.
If you are working on a portrait and need a skin enhancement, you can enter “skin” into the search box and all of the enhancements related to skin will appear in the lower box. A single click on the name in the box brings up a short description just below the Search box. Entering in “wedd” for “wedding” brings up a long list of possible actions, so the more specific you are with your search term, the better off you will be. Entering in “glow” to add a glow to a wedding image brings up a manageable list. Entering in “soft” brings up the “glow” list plus a few more.
The palette offers another way to search for enhancements besides keywords. To the right of the Search box is another box with a drop-down menu. Here the enhancements are grouped by effects, e.g., Color, B&W, Creative, Border, Correction, Sharpening along with the packages that are installed.
I found this search system the least useful. Not only are the search results displayed as long lists, there doesn’t seem to be any real organization to the lists. They don’t seem to be more than roughly alphabetical and they don’t seem to be grouped by the type of enhancement they deliver. This minor criticism aside, just having the groups available like this will prove useful for many users.
With an image open and finding the enhancement you want, you apply it with a double-click on the Apply button at the lower right of the palette. Image Tools runs the action, creating new Photoshop layers with layer masks for each step where needed. When appropriate to the action (e.g., softening), a message appears telling you that a brush has been loaded with black that you can use to paint back areas that you would like to remain sharp. You paint directly on the image since Image Tools has already selected the correct layer mask for you. And of course, you can adjust the opacity of each of the layers to further tweak the image. You can also stack 16 effects onto the original image.
Batch processing a folder of images or saving your personal modifications to an action or group of actions is a little more complicated. To do this, you must create an action using the modal version of the Kubota Image tools in the Automate menu along with the Kubota actions you desire. The Kubota Image Tools website, www.kubotaimagetools.com/tutorials.html, has an excellent online tutorial to walk you through this. There are also detailed tutorials there for loading and using DashBoard, creating keyboard shortcuts and more. And close to the bottom of the Actions page on the website is a downloadable PDF filled with photos showing the effect of each Image Tools action.
Portrait and wedding photographers looking for a way to quickly and easily enhance their images and even create a unique style and look should investigate Image Tools. The five packages are available online for $179 each. Several Paks, combining the most popular packages, are also available. You can even choose your own packages and create your own Pak, saving 11% on three or more packages. Kubota Image Tools with DashBoard is available for Windows and Mac with 32-bit Photoshop CS2 or better installed. Unfortunately, there are no trial versions available.
Another new product from Kubota Image tools is the Kubota RAW Workflow for Lightroom 2 DVD. It takes digital photographers step-by-step through proper organization, efficient editing and enhancing, and final image presentation. As a special bonus, it also includes over 90 Lightroom Presets (retail value $49) that Kevin has created to speed up workflow even more. The Kubota RAW Workflow for Lightroom 2 tutorial is available now for $99 as an interactive QuickTime Movie at www.kubotaimagetools.com. The upgrade price for customers who previously purchased the first Kubota RAW Workflow for Lightroom tutorial is $39. Anyone who purchased the original tutorial after July 29, 2008 may receive a free upgrade.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA specializing in still life and macro photography. His book, Professional Filter Techniques for Digital Photographers, is published by Amherst Media.