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*Updated May 18th, 2016* When I wrote this post a few years back, I used some free actions from the Pioneer Woman. After recently upgrading to Photoshop Elements 14, these no longer worked. Free actions are still availble around the web. Just do a quick Google search for them.

When it came to creating this post,my original intent was to present both sides as an either/or scenario.  Meaning that you should choose to use Photoshop actions or a Photoshop Plug in when it came to editing photos. Really both do the same thing, just in a different way. As I worked with both,I discovered that each one can supplement the other.So which one should you start with first?

I don’t consider myself a pro-photographer. I am quite the hobbyist. I shoot with a point and shoot digital camera and a variety of analog cameras. I post process using Photoshop Elements 12. I began using Photoshop Elements 10 and became comfortable with the program through a class on Big Picture Classes. Migrating to PSE 12 seemed natural. I chose not to upgrade to 13 for the time being. Yes,there are some wonderful improvements. However, I haven’t had it in my budget yet for the upgrade. I might consider it when 14 comes out. Rumor has it that they may release this September, though I have nothing to confirm that. If not, I would consider an upgrade to 13 with a Black Friday Special in November. We shall have to see. I have considered subscribing to the Adobe Creative Cloud for access to the full PhotoShop Program and Lightroom, however, at this time, it doesn’t fit into my budget. Continuing to work with Photoshop Elements makes the most sense to me.

I work with current photos and photos I took years ago. Most of the “older” photos were taken when my son was small and my skills were few. I have quite a few blown out shots, shots that are blurry, and shots that are too dark. Post processing them allows me to try to correct each photo’s faults. I often use filters or actions to hide the flaws or help set a mood for my scrapbook layouts. From time to time, I do work with vintage family photos. Some of which are damaged and require a little repair. Actions and plug ins allow me to easily tweak my photos to get the desired look. There isn’t a big difference between the two. With an action, you hit the play button and it applies a set of enhancements to the photo(see how that works here). You can sometimes tweak the results but this may involve you playing around with each of the layers. A plug in is a separate program which installs itself and works inside Photoshop. You can see how I edit my photos of scrapbook layouts in this video using the Totally Rad Labs Plug In. The Totally Rad Labs plug in allows you to see a preview of the changes to your photo before you apply it. Once you apply it, you can then make adjustments using simple slider bars to achieve your desired look.

I started off using actions for PhotoShop Elements. There are quite a variety of free actions available as well as some that you can purchase. The first sets I ever used were from the Pioneer Woman. I still use them today. Yes, they only mention up through Elements 8. I don’t have any issues with them in 12. You can also search the internet for other free options. The actions definitely gave me a little bit more of an edge when it came to editing my photos. However, I still wanted to do more and after I saw this video at Get It Scrapped in which Debbie Hodge edits photos with the Rad Lab plug in, I made the switch. In comparison, the plug in is so much easier to use. I was so happy with the Totally Rad Labs plug in that I became an affiliate. So what made me take a look back at actions? I received an email with a great discount code for a shop called BP4U selling some premium Photoshop actions. Some of those actions offered filters and editing options not available to me in the Rad Labs plug in. I bought the full collection of actions from BP4U at the sale price( at the time 90%off so you can see why I couldn’t resist trying them) and set about writing a comparison of the two.

The Results of Editing Photos with Actions and Plug Ins




The original photo was a little harsh. I wanted to soften it a bit. I attempted both separately. Once with with the BP4U actions and once with the Totally Rad Labs Plug in. Both softened the photo, though the Rad Labs version held the color and sharpness a bit more. I did run a few of the cosmetics actions which are not available in Rad Labs. These made it easy to even out my son’s skin tone. I liked both of the resulting photos. Really, it’s a matter of personal preference. As I edited the accompanying photos, I discovered that a few of them had a more yellow tint. No matter how I edited them, I couldn’t remove it. It was then that I chose to combine both the BP4U actions and the Totally Rad Lab Plug In. By combining both, I was able to better match all four photos for my layout.



The match wasn’t 100% perfect. You can see that the photo on the upper left was darkest. When it came time to scrapbook them, I kept the groupings separate so that the color of each wasn’t as evident. The moral of these photos: Don’t take photos with a flash while your child and you are playing in a fort made with a white blanket. The light will bounce and not produce the best pictures. Using the photo editing tools at my disposal certainly helped me set a better mood. The original photos were all so different and it would have been much more obvious had I not chosen to post process them.



Wild Sweet Child by Christy Strickler | Supplies Cardstock: Bazzil, Matte Presentation Paper by Epson; Glitter Glue: Stickles; Digital Kit: Wild Hearts by Traci Reed Designs; Other: Glossy Accents,Jewel

Having revisited Actions and comparing them to the Totally Rad Labs plug in, here are my thoughts:

  • You don’t have to have both. Though using them in conjunction makes for better editing options.
  • Some of the editing options such as photo sharpening were available in both platforms. However, each had something the other did not. For example:some had filters the were not available in the other program. I was able to edit skin tone with an action. Something that I can not do in Totally Rad Labs.
  • Both are relatively easy to apply to your photo if you are not tech savvy. Between the two, it is easier to make adjustments with the sliders in Totally Rad Labs. Totally Rad Labs also has an easy batch editing option in which you can apply your recent or favorite recipes to as many photos as you want. I like that I can see the filter’s effect on the photo before I apply it in Rad Labs. I have to run the action in order to see the effect, then remove it if I don’t care for it.
  • Don’t be afraid to play around with different recipes. By this, I mean that you can try to use multiple actions or Plug In filters.
  • Pick one that works best for your budget and then set a goal to acquire actions or plug ins that fit your needs. Try a few of the free options first to see what you might like. Make a list of the types of edits you use most. For example, I notice that I like filters that soften the photo a bit or add saturation to certain colors. Everyone has their own post processing style. I chose to start with actions because initially, I found more free options. However, the Totally Rad Labs plug in offered me more filters for the money. With the average price on some actions, I generally can only afford 1-2 sets.
  • Make sure that the actions or the plug in is compatible with the Photoshop Platform you use. There are many other options out there, but I chose these two because I can use them in Elements. Some will only work within the Photoshop Creative Cloud.

When you are editing photos, you should try to develop  your own personal style. You might notice that many of the Pro Photographers have distinct looks to their portfolio. As you edit, you will discover your likes and dislikes. Tools like Actions and Plug Ins certainly make the job easier. Don’t feel like you have to go out and acquire a whole bunch of them at once. After all, you didn’t buy all of your scrapbook supplies in one day, did you? Take time to learn the tools and build your action and plug in library.

Do you use actions or plug ins? What are your favorites?

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Please check around the web to find the right Photoshop actions to fit your needs. Should you decide to purchase and action or a Plug In, Consider using one of MSE’s affiliates or preferred shopping Venues.

tr_aff_300x250px_1For PhotoShop Elements users, try Totally Rad Labs. 






I am able to use the action from BP4U in Photoshop Elements 14. However, please check the software specifications to ensure they work with your photo editing platform.

BP4U Photoshop Actions

Buying an bundle of Photoshop actions might be a more affordable route for you. Check out just a few of the many options from Creative Market:


170 Bestselling Photoshop Actions






Photoshop actions for travel photos

Travel Photoshop Actions





Looking for the supplies in the layout I shared above?

treed-wildhearts-previewWild Hearts by Traci reed Designs





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