I'll be the first to admit, I suck at editing photos.
I'm impatient, slow to learn new techniques and generally an old fashioned curmudgeon when it comes to editing photos. I don't like to go too crazy in Photoshop on an image, partially because it's kind of boring to sit around on a computer, but also because I spent a bunch of money on camera filters to get things right in camera (And then watched them bounce 100 feet down a cliff face. Thanks Mt. Yamnuska) So when Sleeklens recently got in touch with me and offered to send over a sample of their Adventure Landscape photoshop actions to review for them, I was a bit hesitant to say "yes." However, I am a HUGE fan of free things, and so I found myself with a new toy to play with and a review to write.
I've never used Photoshop actions before and I was a bit relieved when Sleeklens also provided some foolproof youtube instructions on how to get started along with their loot. I watched a few seconds to get the basic idea because I'm impatient and then with barely enough knowledge to be dangerous, hunkered down to dig out some photos to edit.
I chose a recent image from Marble Canyon to play with, having edited my own version the day before and coming up with the photo below, I wanted to see how these Sleeklens actions compared to my normal workflow. I wasn't expecting much, but I was basing my entire opinion of the workflow on their brand name Sleeklens. The name kind of rolls off the tongue, it sounds smooth, and cool and maybe a little bit like a guy who uses too much pomade in his hair. I was intrigued, slightly uncomfortable and I may have accidentally agreed to a second date. I don't know....
What have I gotten myself into?
Above: My own edit, the old fashioned way with luminosity masks the way Ansel Adams intended!
I chose a similar photo and brought it in to Photoshop for basic raw adjustments as I normally would do:
Oh yeah. To hell with highlights, give me some more of that clarity slider baby.
And then took some time to deal with my dust spots.
A lot of time.
This isn't even the worst image I have for dust either.
Who the hell shoots at F16? Fricken idiots, that's who...
This dust business is out of control.
What the hell.
Finally, I added a few Photoshop actions to finish the image up. You can see the ones I used on the right side of the screen cap, below, although I found myself bringing the opacity of each action way way down. The basic adjustments the actions are set to are, in my opinion, overpowered. I prefer to keep things at least semi realistic and it was easy to get completely out of control. I hope I managed to keep the final image within believable range.
I did really enjoy choosing the "Enhance" actions, likely because of my odd internal monologue repeating "Enhance" in a robot voice any time I clicked the play button and then giggling madly to myself when it actually worked.
Final image: Sleeklens workflow. Enhanced.
I will admit, the weather in my area certainly has played a part in how thoroughly I have been "researching" these new Photoshop actions, a foot of new snow and temperatures hovering just above -30C have me happily committed to my desk for the foreseeable future. Had this review been written in the summertime, I likely would have played around with them for a photo or two and then hastily declared the actions to be not for me, not for my workflow and left it at that. Many of the actions are over the top. They're gaudy if you don't take advantage of masking them in properly or substantially lowering the opacity of the layer. Often, I found them to be generally inappropriate for the image. But like anything in Photoshop, the advantages come along with an adjustment and learning period. I know, whoever thought I would be learning at my age?. But with time to kill, I had some time to learn how to use them, and found that once you can find out where they fit in to your own process, they are quite useful. You just need to set aside the time to learn when and where to use them.
I decided I would see just how far I was willing to push things and it quickly escalated
Start off slow, I'm only enhancing what was already there. Maybelline style.
Maybe I'll push it a bit further, see if anyone will notice....
Fuck it. Let's create a golden hour at mid afternoon because we can. (The original photo was vastly different, taken in mid day light and converted to black and white)
That's when my inner Jeff Goldblum shut me down.
Just because I can, doesn't mean I should.
As it turns out, you can do quite a bit with this little set of Sleeklens Photoshop actions. Given my grumpy old lady stance on editing photos, I don't think they're the be all and end all of photo editing, but that's totally fine. It's good practice to start with a solid image worth putting time into, and not rely on Photoshop to go on a recovery mission. The images I edited that I thought sucked to begin with, still sucked after throwing some Sleeklens actions at them. Garbage in, garbage out.
I would like to see these actions improved upon in the future with more options for using layers and layer masks, I like to have a safety net to fall back on when I'm editing and a lot of the processes tend to have you working on the background layer which makes me cringe and hit undo a lot. Even as they are now I'll likely be adding them to my arsenal of "Photoshop things that I know how to do" in the future, it's nice to have a new little tool in the kit, and they are useful tools if you take the time to learn how to use them.