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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
I really enjoy post production. There's something that happens in the editing and correction and printing. I, I feel like that's just where so much of image making happens. I, I really like that part of the photographic process. However, it's often very tedious and repetitive and repeats itself, over and over, again and again. Saying the same thing. But, you get the idea. Anyway, there is, if you are a Mac user, a technology you can use that can help speed up some of the just tedious part of post production. In this week's Practicing Photographer we're going to look at automator, a, an application and technology that's built into the Mac OS that you can exploit as a Photoshop user if you add on an extra little piece of software.
So first a little history. In the gosh, mid 90s, Apple added a technology to the Mac OS called AppleScript. It's a little scripting language that sits below pretty much everything else you'd do on the OS. If you go into utilities folder in your application folder you'll find something called AppleScript Editor and there's a little interpretive programming language you can use to script applications that are scriptable. Photoshop is a scriptable application. In, I don't know, maybe about ten years ago, Apple added a layer on top of AppleScript called Automator.
Apple Script is a real little programming language. You have to learn it, and it can take a while. Automator was meant to be a front end to AppleScript, a way for non-programmers to easily get access to some automation tools. Automator also sits in your Applications folder. You may not ever have known it was there. And with it, you can automate all sorts of things on your Mac. By default, you can not automate Photoshop. To do that you need to add something called automater actions to your OS. I wrote a bunch of Photoshop automater actions that you can get from robotphotoshop.com.
If you come here you'll find right at the top, learn more and download, this takes you to a page where you can get a set of Automator actions, that is, little plugs ins that will let you drive Photoshop from Automator. Let's see. And right now I've got them for CS6, CC, CS5.55 and 4. I've got older versions that go all the way back to the original Creative Suite, which is when AppleScript was first, AppleScript Support and Automator Support was first added to Photoshop. So you just download these. There are two sets. There's a free set that gives you a basic level of functionality.
And then there's a $20 set that gives you a whole bunch of other stuff. The package comes with an installer. You run it. It puts the stuff in the place it needs to be, so that it will work with Automator. As I said, Automator sits in your Applications folder and if I go in Automator to create a new document, I'm asked to choose a type. One of the things that's cool about Automator is that you can trigger one of its automations in a lot of different ways. You can attach it to a folder, so if you drop something in a folder, it automatically gets passed to that script. You can create a little stand alone application or you can simply run it within the Automator window itself.
An Automator script is called a workflow. And don't worry, there's no actual scripting involved. So I'm going to tell it I want to create a new workflow. Over here are a bunch of applications that I have actions installed for. So I can use Automator to script everything from Safari to the QuickTime player to iTunes. I can script the dictionary. I don't know what I, I've got it automatically looking up words for me. And if I've installed my actions, I will have an entry for Adobe Photoshop. If you are not seeing your Automator actions organized this way, it might be because you need to go to the View menu and tell it to arrange actions by application rather than category.
So I'm going to click on Photoshop here. And you can see I just got this huge list of Photoshop commands. First thing is I need some images to process. I have made a folder of images. Pull it over here. So these are just some raw files shot with a Canon camera. I'm going to drop those into this Automator work flow. And the first thing that happens is it makes a little action here that says, Get Specified Finder Items. So it's saying, get these items, and pass them on to the next item in the work flow. Right now there is no other item, so I'm just going to add some. I'm going to go up here and grab a Photoshop open command.
So that will open it. Let's say that I am preparing these for posting on a web site or something. So I just want to do some basic things. I would like to do an auto levels adjustment on them. I would like to resize them and I would like to convert them to JPEG files. So the first thing I need to do is open them. Then I'll go up here and do Auto levels. If I just double click on this, it gets added to the end of the workflow. Then I'm going to do a fit image, and I'm going to tell it that I want these to fit within an 800 by 800 pixel box. Fit image is different than a normal image size.
It's going to say no matter what the orientation of the image, it's going to fit it into that size. So this could be a mix of portrait and landscape images, I'll still have resulting images that I'll fit within the size correctly. Finally, with all that done I want to render out some JPEG files. Every Photoshop workflow, begins with an open action, and ends with a render action. Here I can tell it what I want to do. I can either just say Save, which will save over original files. Or I can spit out lots of different formats. I can say, save me some JPEG files into this folder.
I can give it naming options, I could tell it JPEG parameters. I could even then go and say, oh, and I also want TIFF files saved in another location. So I can save out multiple formats automatically. When I'm done, I just hit the Run button. That will launch Photoshop, pass the images to it, and start doing all these operations on them. Now, at this point, you may be thinking, you're doing a whole lot of work just to do what I can do own my own with the Actions palette in Photoshop. And that's true, a lot of this you can do with Actions. But with Automator, I get a few extra things.
Let's see where it's at here. So Photoshop is staying in the background. If I want, I can tell it to bring Photoshop to the front when it's done. I'm just going to, zip over here to Photoshop. I don't see anything open here. Because it, opened my documents, processed them and saved them. So let's go out to that folder that I created, which is here for the web. And we see that there are five little JPEG files that have all been resized. Auto levels and converted to JPEG. So, Automator took care of that for me. Again, nothing I've done here I, is nothing that I couldn't do with Photoshop's built in actions.
What Automator gets me though, is some stuff that I cannot do in Photoshop. First of all, I can control other applications with Automator. So let's say what I wanted to do was generate these JPEGs and then upload them to an FTP site. Panic's Transmit, a very good FTP client for the Mac is controllable. You can control it by Automator. So I could install actions for Transmit and then I would just have an FTP, an FTP action that I could drag at the end of my work flow. And things would automatically be pushed onto there. End design is automatorable.
I could add actions that would automatically take these pictures and put them into an end design document. I can build very complex multi application workflows. I can do some other things that I cannot do with normal actions. I can use a little bit of logic, which is something that I can't do normally in Photoshop. And the way that works is through Filter Actions. So if you come down here, you see Filter by Aspect Ratio, Bit Depth Color Mode, EXIF, File Type, IPTC, Orientation. So I could grab a whole big mess of images and say get those, and then Filter By Orientation For Landscape Images.
That would pull only the landscape images from that match. I can then do specific things to them, size them to a particular size, do other operations, then say, now go get all the other images, those will be the portrait ones. I can then do something different to those. Similarly, I could filter by aspect ratio. Do something to images that are three to two, something else to images that are four to three, and so on, and so forth. So I've got some logic operations that I don't get with Photoshop's built in actions. Finally, I can interface with Photoshop's built in actions, by using the Do Action command.
This lets me trigger any action that's currently installed in Photoshop. So in addition to everything that I can do within Automator itself, I can then use Automator to trigger Photoshop actions. So again the big advantage here, is I've got multi application scriptability, and I've got the ability to add a little bit of intelligence. What I use these filters for sometimes is let's say I'm preparing images for a book, I know that I want my color images converted to CMYK. I want the grayscale images output in a slightly different way.
I can build a complex workflow that really facilitates the complex needs of a print publishing pipeline. So, again, this is Automator, a built-in technology for the Mac. I'm sorry if you're a Windows user. There's no way to create this because you need this AppleScript layer in your operating system for this to work. But for Automator to work with Photoshop, you need to go grab those extra little add ons which you can do at Robothpotoshop.com.
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