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How to install Photoshop actions?

by Natalia

What are Photoshop actions?

Photoshop actions are a tool that saves all photographers and photo editors. They can be defined as sets of commands that Photoshop will execute once you click on the chosen action. However, don’t think of actions as a photography-only tool as you’ll find many more professionals, including designers and digital artists, using actions to help their creative processes.

Explained in other words, an action is a sequence of steps that will apply specific adjustments to a photo all at once. Instead of, for example, adjusting the saturation, brightness, sharpness, and contrast separately the next time you take a picture, you can simply pick an action and… voila! Your image is edited.

Why are Photoshop actions useful?

Photoshop actions are great to save a lot of time, especially in photography. Imagine that you are a photographer who just did a wedding shoot. And you agreed to deliver 50 edited photos by the end of this week. Of course, all of them should present a similar, wedding-like style. You could achieve that style by adding certain tones, light effects, etc.

Let’s say that the edit takes you at least 2 minutes per photograph. That’s together 100 minutes. In other words, that’s something between 1.5-2 hours of somewhat boring work on top of all the skin retouches and photo selection process. If you used a Photoshop action, the 100 minutes would decrease to probably something around 5 minutes only! What we are trying to say is that Photoshop actions are great for completing repetitive tasks.

What actions can I install?

In the case of Photoshop brushes (we wrote about them here), you had three options to choose from: using a pre-installed brush, downloading a new one or creating one by yourself. The situation with Photoshop actions is very similar. The only difference is that the software doesn’t have any pre-installed actions to work with. Creating one by yourself isn’t difficult but we will leave that for another time.

Today we will explain to you how to download and install a Photoshop action from an outside source as well as how to start using it. First, however, let us explain the different actions you can find. There aren’t any specific definable categories like in the case of Photoshop brushes as each action is very specific on its own. Nevertheless, there are a few ways you can divide them:

  • Vintage and retro effect actions
  • HDR effect actions
  • Film and cinema effect actions
  • Matte effect actions
  • Sketching and pencil effect actions
  • Black and white effect actions
  • Skin retouching effect actions
  • Color effect actions
  • And many more!

The way of categorizing Photoshop actions depends very much on the author of the article or the action itself. So, don’t worry if the action you need is called something completely unrelated to what you’re working on.

Where to find actions to install?

Like any other Photoshop tool, actions can be found online. There are plenty of websites to browse through. Simply type ‘photoshop actions’ or ‘wedding photoshop actions’ or ‘free HDR photoshop actions’ or whatever else into Google and you will get a never-ending list of websites with both free and paid-for options to choose from.

If you like the style of specific photographers, have a look at their websites. It’s possible that they share the Photoshop actions used for their edits. Many of them do it for promotional reasons, in return for a mention or a link.

As for the free options available online, be aware that it will take you some time to find the right action. The choice is overwhelming and the quality sometimes a bit disappointing, mostly because it’s very easy to create an action and share it online. But the prolonged time spent researching may save you hours the next time you edit photos so make yourself comfortable and start Googling.

How to install Photoshop actions?

Installing an action into your Photoshop is extremely simple. Once you choose the action you want to use, download it from the website and head to the download folder on your computer. There, you’ll find a zip file. Open it. Inside, there’ll be another file with an .ATN extension.

The next step is simply dragging that .ATN file into your Photoshop. Alternatively, you could go to your action panel dropdown, select Load Actions, pick the action panel from your computer files and… that’s it. Your action is now loaded. All you need to do now is click on it to apply it to your photo.

Photoshop actions recommendations

Since there are so many actions available, it can be both time-consuming and overwhelming to dive into that Photoshop tool world all alone. Lucky for you, we prepared a list of 4 Photoshop actions recommendations. They’re all free so go download them and enjoy the effects fun!

#1 Cinematic photo effect actions


12 effects playing with a color grading of different movie genres: horror, fantasy, western, family, thriller, romantic, film noir, war, adventure, sci-fi, action, and superhero. It’s a fantastic bundle of actions to quickly change the aesthetics. Have an image of a building? The ambiance, and hence the entire photograph, will change dramatically between a ‘romantic’ and ‘war’ action.

Download it here.

#2 Polaroid Generator V3


Ever wanted a Polaroid picture but didn’t get to use such a camera? Or had one but couldn’t be bothered to carry it around and buy the expensive films? With the Polaroid Generator Photoshop action, you don’t need a physical camera, nor the film. With the effort of one simple click, this action will create a Polaroid effect for you.

Download it here.

#3 Toy Cam V1.0


This Photoshop action will help you turn digital photographs into ones looking as if they were taken with an analog toy camera. Since it’s time-consuming and sort of risky to take and develop actual film, Toy Cam is a great tool to do it quickly and apply it to an unlimited number of photos.

Download it here.

#4 Photoshop Blossom Actions


Photoshop Blossom Actions is a set of 11 actions that create a lovely, romantic effect with a vintage feeling attached to it. Just like with many other actions, you can adjust the opacity in each layer or remove a chosen layer, up to your preference. We recommend every Photoshop action beginner to have a look at the layers of the actions they use to learn the separate adjustments behind every final special effect.

Download it here.

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