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The Actions XChange

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One of the important features that Adobe Systems added to Photoshop 4.0 was Actions and its availability is continued with the current version of the program. Photoshop Actions are "macros" or lists of instructions that enable users to save a sequence of image-editing steps, then apply them in exactly the same way to other files in the future. An action can be applied to an entire photograph, a selected part of an image, or to many different files in a batch operation. You can run or "play" an action with certain steps disabled or have the script display selected dialog boxes allowing you to interactively adjust settings. More and more graphics- oriented software is being made actions aware. Extensis, for example, produced an update to its Intelli-hance plug-in to make it actions aware. The latest version of Intelli-hance Pro lets you use actions to batch process the plug-in's enhancements of groups of images in a single step--without ever leaving Photoshop.

Some sample actions are provided by Adobe on their Photoshop CD-ROM and can be found in the "Goodies" folder. Another source is the Adobe Applications Forum on Compuserve, but on the World Wide Web, the best place to go for Photoshop Actions is Actions XChange at: www.actionxchange.com.

Take Action. After bypassing a few opening, introductory screens, you quickly get to the main section of Action XChange, which is where all of the web site's currently available 965 actions are found. On this web page, Webmaster Joe Cheng has thoughtfully divided all of the available actions into five major sections.

· Text Effects. This section contains 700 actions that will not only create great looking special text effects but can also be used to produce buttons with shadows and other graphic effects for your web sites. Some of the actions found here include: Waterfall, Blade (from the movie of the same name), and the script-like Zoe.
· Photo Effects. This will be the first place most Shutterbug readers will head. In this section, you'll find 119 actions that can be used to modify, improve, and add creative edges or tints to an image. Some of the actions here include: Egg, Painterly Glass, and Shadow Lifter, which lightens dark images or shadowed portions of digital photographs.
· Textures. The 59 actions found in this part of the site can be used to produce many different kinds of texture effects, from the mundane to the psychedelic.
· Actlets. Here are a group of 25 short cuts that are designed to be incorporated into your keyboard's function keys to make their execution even faster.
· Miscellaneous. This is the "kitch-en sink" part of Actions XChange. If it doesn't fit in one of the other four sections, it will be found here.

If you don't know where to start in the action-filled candy store, check out the "Newest Actions" section which currently lists such useful actions as Old Newspaper and Cheap Comic. A "Most Popular" section lists the 10 most popular actions, including Burning Pieces and Photo FX. If almost 1000 actions are not enough for you, go to the Links section which offers 11 other action-oriented sites including the Windows-oriented Kewlpack Software (www.kewlpack.com). Another site worth a look is James Yardley's beautifully designed Action Vault (http://actions.i-us. com).

Things To Keep In Mind. One of Photoshop Actions most useful attributes is that they can be saved and shared with others. Actions are cross-platform and use an ATN file type. If you create an action on your Mac OS computer, anyone using the Win-dows version of Photoshop can load and apply your original action. One of the main attractions of actions is that they are convenient. Since the actions palette is scrollable, you should keep all of your favorite actions stored there ready for use.

Since most actions take less than 10K of hard disk space, don't be worried about download time. Mac OS users can use a program such as Aladdin System's StuffIt to decompress these Zip files. You can download a freeware drag and drop copy of StuffIt Expander 5.1.3 from Aladdin's web site at: www.aladdinsys.com. Windows users who don't already have a copy of PK Zip (or Unix, for that matter), should visit PKWare's web site at: www.pkunzip.com. When downloading ATN files from the Actions XChange or anywhere else on the Internet, Mac OS users may encounter a "plug-in error" message. If that happens, just click "Save to Disk" (Netscape Navigator) or "Save As" (Internet Explorer) in the error's dialog box.

The Webmaster requests that you register with the site but not registering will not affect your ability to download actions and I have not experienced any increase in spam (unsolicited e-mail) since registering. What I have received are occasional bulletins from Cheng about what's new at Actions XChange. If you ever plan on uploading any actions, you will need to be registered and become a member. When you register, your on-screen menu expands to include member preferences, direct access to actions you've uploaded, and the ability to upload. My guess is that part of this arrangement is for security purposes, although I've never heard of any virus-related actions.

In Other Web News. Calumet announced a web site for professional digital photographers at: www.calumetdigital.com. The site features information on a wide range of digital imaging products from companies such as Better Light, Kodak, and MegaVision and includes output devices, computer systems, and accessories.

GearTrack is a shareware Win-dows program that allows photographers to catalog photo equipment by serial number, model, brand, descriptions, notes, print insurance, and inventory reports, and include images of the equipment. The shareware fee for GearTrack is only $10 and can be downloaded from www.spectracomputing.com/geartrack.html.

If you are interested in infrared photography, visit www.mat.uc.pt/~rps/photos/FAQ_IR.html#EXP. This is a Frequently Asked Ques-tions (FAQ) site devoted to answering 19 of the most common questions that people have about IR photography.

If you think you or your company's web site should be featured in an upcoming column, please send e-mail to: editorial@shutterbug.net.

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