What’s the Difference Between Actions and Presets?

What’s the Difference Between Actions and Presets?

Actions and presets are incredibly useful ways of speeding up your workflow when processing photos. Instead of individually re-creating your settings for each photo in Photoshop or Lightroom, you can essentially copy and paste all your preferred adjustments. Let’s check out the differences between the two.

What Is an Action?

Actions are used within Adobe Photoshop. They’re a series of adjustment layers used on a JPG file that are usually placed within a group. As a note, many actions will not work in Photoshop Elements because the advanced layers are not available in the program.

What Is a Preset?

Presets are used within Adobe Lightroom. They can work both on RAW or JPG files. Instead of layers of adjustments, they are saved settings that can later be adjusted individually.

Pros and Cons

The choice between using presets or actions comes down to the kind of work you'll primarily be doing. If you're a wedding or event photographer and have to go through hundreds to thousands of photos, using presets in Lightroom will be much faster than running actions in Photoshop. If you're working on fewer photos though, using actions in Photoshop allows you much more flexibility. Within Photoshop, you have the ability to mask out areas you don't want affected by the action. Actions also enable you to go into the layers and make adjustments, to change the opacity, and to combine multiple actions on a single photo.

Emily Teague Los Angeles Photo Fashion Editorial Image

Final image edited with actions with parts masked off

For photographers starting out with post-processing, getting started with actions and presets will save a considerable amount of time. Let us know in the comments section below if you create your own presets and actions or what the favorites you've purchased are.

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Rob Davis's picture

Actions can work on any type of image file in Photoshop, not just JPEG's. Hopefully you're doing edits using some type of lossless file like 16-bit TIFF.

Lightroom presets also work with TIFF files. If you take an image from Lightroom to Photoshop for editing, the result will be a TIFF file.

Jonathan Klempa's picture

I know this is totally off topic, but could you tell me how you got the blue/teal color in the first image? The way the blue is not too strong and stays away from the skin tones is so cool. I would really appreciate any information you could give me, Emily.

Dana Cole's picture

Great article Emily 😀

Sarah Milton's picture

Good overview

Matthias Dengler's picture

Well, actions are in my opinion nothing to give a picture a color look or anything like that.
I work as a retoucher and the whole purposes of actions for me is, to bind the most used adjustments in Photoshop to a shortcut on the keyboard.

F1 - Curves
SHIFT F1 - Luminosity Curves
F2 - Hue/Saturation
F3 - Levels
F4 - Selective color
F5 - Dodge & Burn layer
F6 - Frequency Seperation
F7 - Surface Blur Sharpening

and on a German keyboard I use

CMD+ö - Gaussian blur
CMD+ä - Color range