Add a Drop of Photoshop

By Gene McCullagh
December 3, 2010

Lightroom has a great feature called Presets. Presets allows you to set up certain parameters and save them. Once saved, the preset can be applied to thousands of images at a time. If built properly, multiple presets can be combined for different effects.

As powerful as presets are there are things they just cannot do. Ah, but Photoshop can help there! You see, Photoshop can also save things for later use. We call these saved sets of steps actions. If you aren't familiar with Photoshop actions here is the briefest of explanations. Whatever you can do in Photoshop (well, almost whatever) you can save in an action. That action can be played back on another image (or thousand images). The steps are dutifully executed as if you were performing them manually.

By now you must be thinking "So what! Actions are in Photoshop and we're talking about Lightroom." True. But Lightroom has a very elegant way of passing images along to Photoshop and then applying an action. Remember that Lightroom's full name is Photoshop Lightroom. The secret lies in Lightroom's Export Actions. So let's take a closer look at how to do this.

We start in Photoshop. You can use an existing action or create one. Creating actions is beyond the scope of this article but there are a number of excellent resources on the web. Actions have been in Photoshop now for quite a few versions.

I created an action imaginatively named Sample Action which performs the following simple steps:

  • Make a copy of the background layer
  • Apply the Craquelure effect filter to the copied layer
  • Change the blend mode of the copied layer to Overlay
  • Save the new file

A brilliant action! (LOL) But it will serve the purpose for illustrating this.

They next step is to find a way to separate the action from Photoshop so it can be invoked independently. The way to do this is to take the action and create a droplet. A droplet is an encapsulated action which will open Photoshop and run the action. Better yet, it is simple to create.

In Photoshop, go to the File menu, choose Automate, and then Create Droplet...

That will bring up the Create Droplet dialog where you can define the droplet.

There are a lot of settings in this dialog. The main items to address are (1) where to save the droplet and what to name it. For now choose your desktop since we will be moving the droplet later on. In the Play section (2) choose the set and the action. Actions can be grouped into sets so once you select the set the action dropdown will list all of the actions in that set. Lastly (3) choose the destination for the file after the action is done with it.

Once you click OK the droplet will be created and dropped on your desktop (or wherever you chose to create it).

Now let's let Lightroom know about this droplet. Click the Export button in the Library module to open the export dialog.

Make sure you are set to export to Hard Drive. Go to the last panel (Post-Processing) and pull down the After Export: dropdown. Choose the last entry - Go to Export Actions Folder Now. This will open Finder on a Mac or Explorer in Windows and reveal the location of Lightroom's export actions folder.

Simply drag the droplet you created off your desktop and drop it into the export actions folder.

Now Lightroom knows about the droplet. To use it on a group if images, select the images in the Library module and click the Export button. After you have set up the parameters in the other panels, go to the Post-Processing panel and pull down the After Export: dropdown. Here you will see the name of the droplet (in our example it's Craquelure). Click to choose it.

If you plan on using this setup often click the Add button at the bottom of the Preset panel and save this as an export preset.

Now for the fun part... click Export and lightroom will export the images you selected. Once the export is done Lightroom will hand off the exported files to the droplet. The droplet will open photoshop and run the action on each of the images. Here's an example of the before and after from our simple droplet that applies the craquelure effect filter.

Stunning! Brilliant! Please hold your applause!

This example is a very simple action. But think about how powerful this connection could be with very complicated actions you perform on a regular basis. By creating a droplet and letting Lightroom know about it you can really enhance your Lightroom/Photoshop workflow.

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