This is one for the advanced user - although, when mastered, you'll find it very easy to create your own actions.
What is an action?
An action is a series of pre-recorded events (often called 'macros' in computing) which you can 'play' to create advanced effects, or just for repetitive tasks that require a lot of the same work in Photoshop.
Imagine turning an image from colour to black and white? Or maybe sepia? Then, you may want to add a polished-wood picture frame around it? All great fun tasks and part of the invaluable learning process in mastering Photoshop. But why not record all the things you do to achieve these effects? That way, you can use them over and over again.
Similarly, you take a lot of photographs, but want to get them onto your computer, into Photoshop and do the same thing with them. Rotate them from portrait to landscape. Resize them to the same size. Routine work that could definitely benefit from creating an action.
Where can I see Actions in Photoshop?
Go to WINDOW...Actions (or press Alt + F9) and the Actions palette will appear. Yes, yours may well look different, but you'll see that you already have some ready-made actions waiting for you. Remember we mentioned changing an image into sepia? Well, there's already one there ('Sepia Toning (layer). Ditto the wooden frame. It may well be that, as your expertise in Photoshop increases, the ready-made actions aren't exactly what you want. Maybe the sepia toning could be tweaked (and while you're at it, add a bit of 'noise' to complete the 'vintage' look. Well, make your own action! As long as you give this new action a unique name, it will sit there in the Actions palette ready for you to use. Don't like your new action? At the bottom of the Actions palette there's the usual 'bin' icon. Highlight any Action by single-clicking on it, click the 'bin' icon, wait for the warning below, press OK and it's gone.
So, you've decided to record your first action. Remember, it you mess up, it can easily be deleted. You may find it easier to write down the sequence of events you want to take but there is no 'time limit' to recording your action. A bell won't go off if you're being a bit slow! All you need to remember is: Press the New Action button, give your new action a name, do your stuff and press the Stop button. That's it!
In this image, we haven't looked at one of the icons (Create new set) as it is an advanced feature and, by the time you've got the hang of Actions, you'll know what sets are, anyway.
So open up any image in Photoshop and decide what you want to do with it. To get you started, let's create an Action for a standard re-size job to, say 500 x 300 pixels. There for, you need a landscape-orientated image open.
Press the 'Create a New Action' button. The box below will appear. Give your new Action a meaningful name and press 'Record'.
When you have finished, press the 'Stop Playing/Recording' button and you're done.
Close down the image you have recorded this new Action on (without saving the changes). Open the image up again, single-click on the new 'Resize 500x300' action which will have appeared in the Actions palette and press the 'Play' button.
Downloading and getting new Actions into Photoshop
As well as creating your own actions, there are many, many free actions on the Web just waiting for you to download them. Remember, some are more suited to text effects (molten chrome, flames etc.) so don't expect to download them and use them on that nice picture of your granny. No. Perhaps a sepia one would be better.
So look for an Action you like the look of and press the 'Download' button. It's usually better to download this new action to your desktop (easier to find). Similarly, if it's a .zip file, unzip it to your desktop.
Now, in Photoshop, go to the Actions palette and press the tiny downward-pointing arrow in the top right of the palette.
A 'drop-down' menu will appear. Click on 'Load Actions'.
Now, browse to where you downloaded/unzipped your new Action to (Desktop), press OK and your new Action will appear in the Actions palette.
So, enjoy your new-found Action skills. Just typing in 'Photoshop Actions' in a search will bring up many, many resources (just make sure it's free!).
Or try the Adobe Photoshop Exchange. Enjoy!