My photo retouching workflow with the FilterGrade actions

I’ve written a bit about photography in the past, but not a whole lot if you consider the fact that I actually come from a photography background. I suppose there’s a part of modesty in there, but I also never considered myself to be a travel photographer – where I came from, there were strobes and make-up artists and fluff, all in the confines of a studio. I do however receive a lot of compliments and questions about my photography – which is nice – so today I thought I would address my workflow in regards to retouching my travel photos with the help of FilterGrade actions for my blog and my Instagram account.

photo retouching 1


First things first: you may be interested in reading what kind of photography equipment I travel with, and you can find all of this information right here. I shoot everything in RAW format (which means that some level of editing has to be done afterward as there is no in-camera editing done with this file format, as is the case with entry-level cameras or JPG file format). I do my retouching mostly in Photoshop (I have the Adobe Creative Suite CS5), and occasionally go into Lightroom for batch processing. I know my ways of retouching might seem either dated to some or over the top to others, but this is what works for me and how I like to do things, so stick that in your pipe.


photo retouching

The first step after I’m out on a shoot is to sort through the photos and do two backups on two separate external hard drives. I keep everything in folders labeled by name and location. I then use Adobe Bridge to do a preselection and delete a lot of the images (I shoot loads, and RAW files are huge!) I continue to do so until I have 10 to 20 images left to retouch. People always assume that retouching my images with Photoshop has to be extremely time-consuming, but as you can see, there are not a huge amount of photos I’m left with to retouch, and there’s this one nifty little secret of mine that makes everything faster: actions.


After I have done some basic retouching in Camera Raw (generally speaking: exposure, white balance, highlights and shadows, sharpening and clarity), I simply apply a few actions and tweak them a little by controlling their opacity, spending generally less than five minutes per photo. Actions are fantastic. I don’t know why so many people don’t know about them. They’re just a recording of – ahem – actions you perform in Photoshop that you can then play as automation. I make a lot of my own actions, especially for sharpening, resizing, and saving, but I’ve also been purchasing and testing out pre-made actions from several companies for years. You could see them a bit like Instagram filters, but with a whole lot more flexibility and control. My favorite actions of the moment are by a small company called FilterGrade.


photo retouching

I always aim to not overdo things when it comes to photo retouching and keep it as natural as possible, but I do like a bit of a faded matte effect to my photos and I’m trying to keep things as consistent as possible, so actions make a lot of sense since I can just repeat the same recipe every time. My favorite FilterGrade action bundles are The Matte Series and The Retro Series. I generally play around with a few Filtergrade actions at a time and tweak the opacity of either the whole layer group, or play with the individual layers from within that group. Don’t be scared to get in there and experiment, these are all meant to be played with. It’s the beauty of layers! When I’m happy with the result, I generally put everything into a new group and reduce the opacity to about 80-85% so as to go back to the original file a little. I’m always scared of overdoing things! That whole process shouldn’t take me longer than five minutes, I’d say.

And that’s it! After I’m done with the retouching process, I resize my images for the web and save to a different folder.

Do you use actions in your photo retouching workflow? Or do you do something entirely different than me? Let me know!

Disclaimer: I received compensation in exchange for writing this post. All opinions are my own – I really do love the FilterGrade actions! 😉

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