Recently I was approached by Sleeklens, a company that sells “professional workflows to photographers who are looking to cut down time editing their photos and get better results” via “actions”. Stating they liked my portraits, they asked if they could send me their portrait workflow product, Portrait Perfection Collection, (either in Lightroom or Photoshop) for free in return for testing and providing an honest review and a mention of where the product is available (see links).
I took a look at the Sleeklens website and immediately liked what I saw. Before and after examples were provided (one example of before and after shown above), and I knew I wanted to test these actions out. I chose the Photoshop set since I’ve been using Photoshop more and more. Photoshop can be overwhelming at first (which is why I hadn’t been using it much until this year) but one of the easiest ways to start using it is with actions. As soon as I got my actions, I installed them in Photoshop and got to work.
Since this is a set of portrait actions I choose an image from a recent portrait session I shot in Georgetown, DC.
The session took place early in the morning, the light was amazing and all the photos looked great SOOC (straight out of camera). But with any photo, a little tweaking can provide that little "pop" it needs and the Sleeklens video overview of these actions stated they are intended to “retouch subjects” and “enhance natural light and color.”
I chose this specific image (left) because it was relatively close up and focused on the subject’s face but also provided a little view of her torso to see how the actions were affecting physical features, clothing, and the background/foreground.
I’m pretty familiar with using Photoshop actions so I dove right in without watching the introduction video. I started by running one of the “all in one” actions. These are meant for easy, one click overall modifications of photos. I chose the “Teddy Bear” (shown below in comparison to SOOC) all in one action (the first one in the list) and immediately didn’t like it. It just wasn’t my style… at least not for this photo.
Since I didn't like this version I decided to delete the edit (which is essentially a layer containing a folder with individual edits), but quickly realized I couldn’t. I had just discovered the first drawback of this product. It flattens your image when applying all in one actions.
A note on image flattening: Here’s a great article on the advantages and disadvantages of flattening an image but to put it simply:
The disadvantage of flattening an image is that it makes it impossible to adjust the individual layers (or edits) in a photo, eliminating one of the benefits of Photoshop... the fact that you can modify particular aspects of your image and then return to make changes to these particular edits once you have applied more.
The advantage of flattening an image is that it reduces the file size.
For the above reasons, I make all my Photoshop edits and save a copy without flattening it, then I flatten it to export it for clients and discard the flattening before closing. If for some reason I need to make additional edits later, I can because the image I saved has not been flattened.
Below are a couple of other all in one actions I tested and the SOOC for comparison (I'm big on visual side-by-side comparisons).
I think I would have liked the “Bright and Subtle” all in one action if I lowered the opacity (intensity of edit) because my editing style tends to be a bit more bold and rich but again, because the image was flattened this was not an option.
Thinking I must have used the action incorrectly (this is not how actions from other companies work… and I own several) I turned to the Youtube video link they provided for guidance. The video started with a base action so I decided to use one of those instead. Base actions are as they say… a base that you can add additional actions to. I ran a base action and decided I wanted to compare it to a different base action so I hid the layer containing the first action and ran a different one. I immediately realized that using a second action flattens your image, therefore making it impossible to unhide your previous base action for comparison purposes... and as I said before I'm big on side-by side comparisons so this was definitely a drawback for me. I tried several different ways to use these actions without flattening but it was impossible.
Hoping that flattening only occurred for “all in one” and “base” actions (when attempting to compare multiple ones), I moved on to some individual actions. This set has actions for retouching such as glossy lips, brightening eyes, retouching skin, etc. The skin retouch was easy to use but I had issues getting the brighten eyes to work correctly. I found that I did like some of the other individual actions like the “light glow” and “Yogi Brown Vignette” and I’ll probably use these as supplements to actions I previously owned.
Above left: Sleeklens actions - "From Scratch" (100% opacity), "Darken" (20% opacity) and Yogi Brown Vignette (20% opacity)
Above right: SOOC
All in One Actions: It’s a shame that many of these actions automatically flatten your images because I feel while good, they would be way more beneficial if you could have more control over the layers, both in opacity and in deleting individual edits contained within the folder of the over all action. Other actions I currently own are far more helpful due to their flexibility of use. If you are just starting out with Photoshop these actions might be very attractive or if you love the look of these actions exactly as they are they might be perfect for you, but why limit yourself by not being able to modify the edits that are being placed on your images?
Base Actions: I might use some of the base actions but they would be more useful (at least when testing them out) if they did not flatten your image when you try to run a different base action and you could therefore compare these individual actions against each other.
Individual Actions: I will definitely use some of the individual actions (I love the brown vignette) and look forward to testing more of them out.
Final note: Sleeklens currently has these portrait actions available for $39. That's a great deal in comparison to the prices of many actions on the market so this might be worth the investment for many. They also offer many other Photoshop actions that look interesting including their Newborn Peakaboos Collection and various overlays... which I'd love to try, as well as free trial actions! Finally, they have a pretty useful blog worth checking out!