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How to Create a Photo Collage Effect Action in Photoshop

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Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to add a simple photo effect using actions in Adobe Photoshop. First, we'll edit the background and then place the object into a set of shapes. Each step will be recorded into actions which can be used in any photo.

In the end, I will also show you how to automate the actions further by using JavaScript.

There are many photo templates, such as this effect, available on Envato Market.

Looking for more Photoshop collage templates and actions? Check out these recommended resources:

1. Set the Background for the Action

Step 1

First, grab the photo that you want to edit. 

Open stock photoOpen stock photoOpen stock photo

Step 2

Let's start creating our action. We want to put it in a separate set for easier management. Open up the Actions panel (F9) and then click the New Set icon. Name the set and then click OK. We will place the action inside this set.

Add new action setAdd new action setAdd new action set

Step 3

Click the New Action icon and name it Mute Background. Click Record to start recording all our steps in Photoshop. From this point on, I urge you to keep an eye on the Actions panel. You don't want to have a messy action that is filled with unnecessary steps.

Add new actionAdd new actionAdd new action

Step 4

Click the Add Adjustment Layer icon and then select Levels.

Add Adjustment Layer LevelsAdd Adjustment Layer LevelsAdd Adjustment Layer Levels

Step 5

Drag the black arrow on the Output Levels parameter to the right. By doing this, the image fades out and gives us room to add a special effect to the photo.

Modify output level parameterModify output level parameterModify output level parameter

Notice that the two things that you've just done have been recorded on the Actions panel. The first action is complete. Hit the Stop icon on the lower part of the Actions panel to stop the recording process.

Stop the recordingStop the recordingStop the recording

2. Create the Frame

Step 1

Let's continue with the next step. We are going to add a rectangular shape to the photo and then bring back its original image. In the Actions panel, click the New Action icon to create a new action.

Add new actionAdd new actionAdd new action

Step 2

Select the Rectangle Tool. Use Shape mode with black as the Fill color.

Activate Rectangle ToolActivate Rectangle ToolActivate Rectangle Tool

Click and drag to draw a black rectangular shape.

Draw black rectangle shapeDraw black rectangle shapeDraw black rectangle shape

You should see that Make fill layer is added at the end of the current action.

Step is added into the actionStep is added into the actionStep is added into the action

Step 3

Double-click the layer shape and then set Blend Mode: Screen and Knockout: Deep. When Knockout is set to Deep, the layer will allow us to see through all the layers and reveal the Background layer.

Set Blend Mode and KnockoutSet Blend Mode and KnockoutSet Blend Mode and Knockout
Background layer is revealedBackground layer is revealedBackground layer is revealed

Step 4

Without clicking the OK button, continue adding a Stroke. In this tutorial, we'll use white for the stroke color and set its size to 20 px. If you're using a smaller image, you may need to use a smaller stroke size.

Add StrokeAdd StrokeAdd Stroke
The resultThe resultThe result

Step 5

We'll continue adding Drop Shadow to the layer shape. You can click and drag inside the canvas to easily modify the shadow setting. Once you are satisfied with the result, hit the OK button.

Add Drop ShadowAdd Drop ShadowAdd Drop Shadow
The resultThe resultThe result

All the things you've just done—changing the blend mode and adding layer styles—have been recorded as a single step in the action.

New step is added to the actionNew step is added to the actionNew step is added to the action

Step 6

Hit Control-T to transform the active layer shape. Click and drag outside the shape to rotate the shape. Click and drag inside the shape to change its position. This will also be recorded as a single step at the end of the action.

Transform active layerTransform active layerTransform active layer

Step 7

The second action is now complete. Hit the Stop icon to stop the recording.

Stop the recordingStop the recordingStop the recording

Step 8

For a faster workflow, let's add a shortcut to each action. Double click the Mute Background action that we made earlier and set Function Key: F2.

Add shortcut into each actionAdd shortcut into each actionAdd shortcut into each action

Step 9

Add another shortcut to the other action. In this case, I use F3.

Add shortcut into each actionAdd shortcut into each actionAdd shortcut into each action

3. Apply the Actions

Step 1

Let's run the actions that we have just made on the photo. First, we need to reset the photo to its original state. Click File > Revert or hit F12.

Revert fileRevert fileRevert file

Step 2

In the Actions panel, select the first action, Mute Background, and then click the Play icon. Since we have added the shortcut F2 to this action, we can just hit F2 to run it.

Play first actionPlay first actionPlay first action

The image is now muted.

The resultThe resultThe result

Step 3

Play the next action to reveal the shape. Select the action and then hit the Play icon. We could also use its shortcut, in this case F3.

Play second actionPlay second actionPlay second action

Step 4

To add another shape, we need to replay the action. Currently, the shape will automatically be rotated at the same angle and placed in the same position. Obviously, we don't want that. We want to be able to transform it manually. Click the Modal control icon for the Transform current layer step so that Photoshop will wait for user input.

Wait for user inputWait for user inputWait for user input

Step 5

Now, replay the action. Click on the Play icon. Photoshop will pause the transform command and wait for your input. Move or rotate the shape and then hit Enter to continue the action.

Transform selected layerTransform selected layerTransform selected layer

Step 6

Replay the action by clicking the Play icon or using its shortcut, F3 in this case.

Replay the actionReplay the actionReplay the action

This is my result after adding other shapes using the same action. We are done with the action, and you can simply use it to add an effect to your photo. But we will continue this tutorial for more advanced customization. Please read on if you want to be able to modify the action or apply it faster using scripting. If you are satisfied with the below result, you can stop reading here.

Final resultFinal resultFinal result

4. Modify the Action

Step 1

We can apply the same effect to another photo using the same action. You just need to hit F2 to mute the background and then F3 a few times to add some shapes.

Run the first actionRun the first actionRun the first action
The background is mutedThe background is mutedThe background is muted

Step 2

You can skip a step inside the action by clicking on its Included icon. If there is no Included icon in front of it, the step will not be carried out. Here, we are skipping the Transform current layer step.

Skipping stepSkipping stepSkipping step

Step 3

Let's say we want to use a different color on the shape's stroke. We need to edit the step by selecting it and then click Record Again. You can also double click the step to do this.

Record the step againRecord the step againRecord the step again

Step 4

A Layer Style dialog box will open. In the Stroke section, change the Color to black.

Change stroke colorChange stroke colorChange stroke color
Select black colorSelect black colorSelect black color

Step 5

Make sure to set its Blend Mode to Screen and Knockout to Deep. Otherwise, Photoshop will use the default settings, Normal and None. Click the OK button to accept the settings and automatically stop the recording.

Set layers blend mode to Screen and Knockout to DeepSet layers blend mode to Screen and Knockout to DeepSet layers blend mode to Screen and Knockout to Deep

Step 6

If needed, you can also slow down the playback to review each step. Click Playback Options and then select Step by Step.

Slow down action playback by setting it to Step by StepSlow down action playback by setting it to Step by StepSlow down action playback by setting it to Step by Step

Step 7

Play the action to see the result. As you can see below, our shape now has a black stroke.

Rotate the shapeRotate the shapeRotate the shape
Final resultFinal resultFinal result

5. Loop the Action Using JavaScript

Step 1

You might notice that in this photo effect, we repeat the second action manually. In programming language, we call that a loop. We can actually automate this process using scripting in Photoshop. Yes, Photoshop has scripting too. Open up any text editor and then add the following line of code.

This line will instruct Photoshop to play an action named Mute Background inside the My Actions set.

To run the other action, add this line of code.

Run action using scriptRun action using scriptRun action using script

Step 2

Save the text as a JavaScript file with extension *.jsx. In Photoshop, click File > Scripts > Browse and then select the file to test the script.

Save as a jsx fileSave as a jsx fileSave as a jsx file

Step 3

Let's add the loop to the second action by replacing the second line with the following lines of code.

These lines will ask Photoshop to keep on playing the action Add Photo Shape from the action set My Actions.

Add loop to the scriptAdd loop to the scriptAdd loop to the script

Step 4

Photoshop will keep on playing the action because the repeat variable is always true. Next, we need to ask the user whether they want to repeat the action or not. Add the following line of code inside the while loop.

Add confirmation dialog boxAdd confirmation dialog boxAdd confirmation dialog box

Step 5

We are done. Let's run it. Click File > Scripts > Browse. In the Load dialog box, select the script we have just made.

Run the scriptRun the scriptRun the script
Load JavaScript fileLoad JavaScript fileLoad JavaScript file

Step 6

Both actions will start. After transforming the shape, a dialog box will pop up asking whether the user wants to continue adding another shape or stop right there. If the user answers yes, another shape will be created.

First shapeFirst shapeFirst shape
Yes I want to add another shapeYes I want to add another shapeYes I want to add another shape
Transform the shapeTransform the shapeTransform the shape
More shapesMore shapesMore shapes

Step 7

If the user selects No, the action will stop.

I dont want to add another shapeI dont want to add another shapeI dont want to add another shape
Final resultFinal resultFinal result

Conclusion

We are done. I believe you have learned a lot from this tutorial. You have just learned how to automate your work process using Photoshop actions. You have also grasped the basic idea of scripting in Photoshop. I hope you can use these techniques to help you work faster. Thank you for reading.

Final effect of photograph with actions appliedFinal effect of photograph with actions appliedFinal effect of photograph with actions applied

Looking for more Photoshop collage templates and actions? Check out these recommended resources:

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