Automating Color Correction With Photoshop Actions

Color chart

Color correcting a bunch of product images can be a total pain. Your product may look amazing in the studio and on camera, but then you sit down at the computer and... wait... 

Is that necklace supposed to be teal, or is it more of a sea foam? 
I’m describing this shoe as cocoa brown, but my screen is making it look more like coffee... 
What the heck are foods and beverages doing in my editing process anyway?!
 

Although it’s a pain, taking the time to correctly display your product’s colors is crucial for customer satisfaction. Learning the tricks for how to color correct quickly and accurately will ensure your products look as great online as they do in person, which will help reduce product returns. 

In this tutorial, I’m going to teach you how to use the super powers of Photoshop Actions to color correct your product images! 

If you’re new to Photoshop Actions, I suggest checking out our beginner’s guide here. If you’re already comfortable or feel like going along for the ride (I make it as easy as possible, I promise), read on! 

What you’ll need...

  1. Photoshop version CS2 or higher
  2. An image of a color correction chart
  3. A group of product 360 degree photos you want to edit

Got all three? Great! We’ll start by opening up Photoshop.

In order for all this to make sense, you’ll want to make sure you have the following palettes open (you can find them under the “Window” section of the main menu):

  1. Actions
  2. History
  3. Info
  4. Layers

Once these each have a check next to their name, we’re ready to get started!

Creating an Action to adjust Curves & Hue/Saturation

Our goal is to create an Action that can easily adjust our image’s Curves and Hue/Saturation. But since these adjustments may vary for different products, we’re going to start by creating an “empty” Action which can be fine tuned at any point, for any image.

1. To start, open up your color chart image. We’ll need this to eventually work with our Curves.

Quick tip: if you zoom into the image and look at the bottom row you’ll notice some pixels aren’t pure white, gray, or black. Some may even look a little green. Yikes! This is noise that comes from your camera. To ensure you don’t click on a discolored, noisy pixel, we’re going to apply a Gaussian Blur filter to eliminate the noise. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the radius to about 6.0 pixels and click OK. Zoom in again – no more noisy pixels!

 
Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur
Gaussian Blur with a radius of 6.0 pixels
 

2. Now we’re going to start creating our Action. 

a. Go to your Actions palette. Create a new Set by clicking the folder icon (a Set is a folder which contains your Actions). Name your Set whatever you’d like – I’ve named mine “Color Correction.”

b. Create a new Action by clicking on the icon that looks like a piece of paper with a fold (it’s located in the bottom right corner).

c. Name the Action anything you’d like. I've named mine “Curves/HueSat.” Click “OK.”

Action named "Curves/HueSat"

Photoshop will now start to record everything you do! But don’t worry, if you make a mistake I’ll show you how to go back and fix it. :)

d. We’re going to make a new adjustment layer for Curves. To do so, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves.

Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves

e. Click the box that says “Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask.” This means the adjustments we make on our Curves layer will apply only to the layer directly below it. In this case, our color chart layer. Click OK.

New Curves 1 layer

You’ll notice in your Layers palette there is now a new layer called "Curves 1." You’ll also notice a new palette window called Adjustments has popped up – if you’ve got both of these, you’re doing great!

Curves layer in layers palette

f. Now we’re going to make a new adjustment layer for Hue/Saturation. To do so, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Click the box for “Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask” and click OK. 

 
Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation
New Hue/Saturation 1 layer
 

You should now have another layer called “Hue/Saturation 1” on top of your Curves 1 layer.

Hue/Saturation layer in layers palette

g. Hit the “Stop Recording” button in your Actions palette (it’s the square on the bottom lefthand side).

Your Actions palette should now look like this:

Actions palette with two "Make adjustment layer" steps

We’ve now successfully created an Action to adjust our Curves and Hue/Saturation!

You might be saying, “But... wait. We didn’t make any changes! I thought we were going to be making color corrections?” Don’t worry! We just needed to set up the skeleton of our Action. Now we’re going to learn how to adjust (and re-adjust) your Action.

Adjusting Curves

1. Go back in your History palette and click on the step which reads “Gaussian Blur.” This step should now be highlighted blue, and the following steps (“Curves 1 Layer,” and “Hue/Saturation 1 Layer”) should have disappeared.

History palette with the "Gaussian Blur" step highlighted blue

2. In your Actions palette, click on the arrow next to the first “Make adjustment layer.” Look three lines down and you’ll see “Type: curves.” We want to adjust this part of the Action, so let’s double click on the text “Make adjustment layer.”

Actions palette with first "Make adjustment layer" highlighted blue

a. You’ll notice the “Record” and “Play” buttons in the Actions palette are now selected. This means we are now rewriting this step of the Action. A dialogue box will pop up asking you to create a new layer. Make sure the name is correct and that the “Use Previous Layer...” box is checked, then click OK.

Recording the adjustments to the Curves 1 layer

You should now have a Curves palette open. This is where we’ll make our adjustments.

Curves palette with default settings

We’re going to start calibrating the red, green and blue channels within the Curves adjustment layer for the bottom row of our color chart (i.e. the white, gray, and black squares). If you hover your cursor over your white square and look at your Info palette, you’ll see the RGB values seem to be a bit off. For example, my white square reads my RGB as 224, 225, 219. This means my blue values aren’t what they need to be in relation to red and green.

RGB channels in Info palette

We’re going to adjust these numbers until they are within 2 numbers of one another (for example, 225, 224, 226 is perfectly fine). Doing this will calibrate Photoshop to true white, gray and black.

3. In the Curves palette, click the icon with the hand & arrows pointing up and down. In the drop down menu that reads RGB, select the Red channel (Mac shortcut: option + 3; PC shortcut: alt + 3).

a. We’re going to create reference points for our Curves levels. Put your cursor (it should appear as an eyedropper tool) anywhere near the middle of your white square. Hold down “Command” and click. You’ll notice a small point appear in your Curves.

Curves palette on Red channel

b. We want to do this for each RGB channel. Once you’ve set your point for Red, select Green from the drop down menu (Mac shortcut: option + 4; PC shortcut: alt + 4). Command click in your white square again. Do the same for Blue (Mac shortcut: option + 5; PC shortcut: alt + 5).

Take note of which of your values needs adjusting. Since my blue value is low, I’m going to stay in the Blue channel to start adjusting. Go to whichever channel is high or low for your square.

c. Using the up arrow on my keyboard, I’m going to increase my blue value until it is within 2 numbers of my red and green values. My RGB now reads 224, 225, 225. Now if I move my cursor around the white square and look at my Info palette, my RGB values are never more than 1-2 numbers off from one another!

I want to repeat this process for my gray and black squares as well. Don’t worry, you don’t need to do it for every gray square! Just use the darker middle gray square.

d. I’m now going to repeat what we just did with our white square. First, select the Red channel in the Curves palette. Then, hover over your gray square, and Command click anywhere in the middle. Do the same for Green and Blue. My blue is low again, so I’m going to use the up arrow to increase the number until it’s within 2 numbers of red and green.

Curves palette on blue channel

Repeat these steps for your black square. This time my Red was too high, so I used the down arrow to decrease the value.

If everything has gone according to plan, you should be able to hover your cursor over the three squares you’ve adjusted and see a nice 2 number difference range in your Info palette!

Now that we’ve told Photoshop how to calibrate true white, gray, and black, we want to adjust our color chart’s brightness/darkness.

1. To do so, select the “RGB” channel in your Curves palette.

Adjust Curves palette on RGB channel

2. Make sure the hand with the arrows is selected. Command click in the middle of your white square. We’re going to use this reference point to increase our brightness.

3. While looking at your Info palette, use the up arrow on your keyboard to increase your RGB values to around 240. Color charts may vary, but 240 tends to be the best for white brightness.

Info palette with Red at 225/240, Green 225/240, and Blue 220/241

4. Now we’re going to work with our blacks. Command click in your black square. Set your RGB values to about 40. This is what looks best for my chart, but play around with which value best fits your preferences!

 
Adjustments for black square in Curves palette
RGB values for black square
 

You should now have nice, bright whites, and dark blacks.

5. Click OK in your Curves palette. This will close the window and stop recording the Action.

6. Close your color chart image without saving.

Let’s double check that our Action recorded what we wanted. If you click on the arrow next to the first “Make adjustment layer,” you’ll see all the steps we just went through. This means your Action now has all these steps saved, so that next time you want to adjust the curves, all you have to do is click play! 

Finished recording for Curves adjustment layer

7. Quit Photoshop – this will cause Photoshop to permanently save your action. Note: throughout this tutorial I’m going to encourage, no, beg, you to quit Photoshop periodically. We’re going to be making a lot of edits, and it’d be a shame to lose them along the way if (...err, when) Photoshop crashes! 

So far so good? We’ve just told our “Curves/HueSat” Action how we want it to adjust an image’s curves. Now let’s tell it how to adjust the Hue and Saturation. 

Adjusting Hue/Saturation

1. Open up your actual product image in Photoshop. I’m going to be using this shot of a vibrant Suomy motorcycle helmet.

 
Suomy motorcycle helmet opened in Photoshop
 

2. In your Actions palette, double click on the second “Make adjustment layer.” This should be your Hue/Sat layer, but to be safe, you can click on the arrow and make sure the “Type” section reads “hue/saturation.”

Actions palette with hue/saturation adjustment layer highlighted blue

a. Once again, the “Record” and “Play” buttons should now be selected. A dialogue box will pop up asking you to create a new layer called “Hue/Saturation 1.” Make sure the “Use Previous Layer...” box is checked, then click OK.

Recording for Hue/Saturation 1 layer

b. A Hue/Saturation palette window should pop up. Now we can start adjusting individual colors in our image.

Hue/Saturation window with default settings

Quick tip: Make sure you’re in a room where the lighting is neutral, like sunlight, to make sure your edits best match your product!

3. In the Hue/Saturation palette, click on the icon with the hand & arrows pointing left and right. Now click on a color in your product you’d like to start working with. I'm going to start with red.

a. Using the slider, adjust the hue until it best matches your product.

b. Next we’re going to adjust the lightness (not saturation just yet!). Change the lightness until it matches your product.

Quick Tip: I like to make my lightness a little darker than the actual product and then bump up the saturation; this often makes the colors look more true.

c. Once you’ve adjusted the hue and lightness, adjust the saturation as needed.

This is an example of my adjusted Reds:

Hue/Saturation window with adjustments to Reds

If anything doesn’t look quite right, you can go back and fine tune each individual adjustment.

For each new color, simply make sure the hand icon is still selected, make your adjustments, and repeat. This technique allows us to adjust each color individually without affecting the others!

Once you’re done adjusting all your colors, click OK. Your Action will automatically stop recording. To see all the adjustments you just made, go to the Actions palette and click the arrow next to the second “Make adjustment layer.” You’ll see a whole list of Hue/Sat adjustments.

Actions palette after adjustments to hue/sat layer

4. Close your product image without saving.

5. Quit Photoshop to ensure your Action is saved. 

Perfecting our Curves/HueSat Action

With me so far? We’ve made a lot of adjustments to our "Curves/HueSat" Action, and I applaud you for sticking with me! But before we go any further, let’s take a minute to double check all our hard work. 

Sometimes the adjustments you make based on your color chart aren’t quite right for your specific product. Maybe you want your whites to be brighter, or maybe that sea foam green is still giving you trouble. In this section, we’re going to work on perfecting our Action so it makes the best possible adjustments for your individual product.

1. First, we’re going to play our Action, so open up your product image.  

2. In the Actions palette, click on your Action called “Curves/HueSat.” 

Curves/HueSat Action highlighted in Actions palette

3. Click the “Play” button (the sideways triangle) located at the bottom of the palette.

4. Photoshop will now run the Action on your product image. 

So, how’s it lookin’?

If you like what you see, close your image without saving and skip to the next section. But if you want to make a few edits, read on! 

The white in my helmet isn’t as bright as I’d like it to be, so I’m going to go back into my Curves adjustment layer and brighten it up. This tweaking process is the same for the Curves or Hue/Sat layer, so follow along with whichever you’d like to fix.

1. Go back in the History palette and click on the step which reads “Open.”  

History palette with "Open" step selected and highlighted blue

2. In the Actions palette, double click on whichever “Make adjustment layer” you’d like to edit. I’m going to double click on the first, as I want to adjust my Curves. 

3. The “New Layer” dialogue box should pop up. If it’s correctly named and the “Use Previous Layer...” box is checked, click OK.  

"Make adjustment layer" for Curves highlighted in Actions palette

4. Start making your adjustments. Since I want to make my whites brighter, I’m going to use my cursor to drag the right section of my Curves level upward. I’m also going to drag down the left side to darken my blacks and make the overall contrast more dramatic. 

Curves adjustment window on RGB channel

5. Once you’ve made your edits, click OK. These new edits should now be added to your Action! 

Repeat Steps 1-5 until your Action edits your image to your exact preferences. When you’re done, close your image without saving. Quit Photoshop.

Using color correcting Actions on multiple images

So now we’ve got a “Curves/HueSat” Action that will work great on individual photos, but I assume you’re going to want to use this new Action on a whole bunch of product photos all at once. 

Wouldn’t it be awesome if Photoshop could do the work of color adjusting, saving, and closing your images for you, all at a super fast speed? 

Lucky for you, it’s totally doable! In the next section of this tutorial, I’m going to help you create a few more Actions to quickly save a batch of adjusted images.

Stay Organized: create folders for your product images

Organization comes first. We don’t want all our images scattered all over our desktop! You’re going to want a folder for all your images to go into.

1. Somewhere on your computer, create a new folder. This is where your finished images will always go, so be sure to put in a place where you’re not going to move or delete it – ever. If you delete this folder, it’ll be like you removed your mailbox without telling the mailman – your poor Action won’t know where your images should go!

a. Inside that folder, create two more folders. Call the first one PSD (this is where your PSD files will go for archiving). Call the second one SFW (this stands for “Save For Web” and is where your web ready JPG images will go).

"PSD" and "SFW" folders within the "Suomy Apex Tornado" folder on the desktop

Now we’re ready to create a new Action to save and close your images.

Creating an Action for saving and closing

1. First, open your product image in Photoshop.  

2. Select your “Color Correction” Set. Create a new Action. In this case we’ll call it “Save & Close.” Click OK, and Photoshop will now start recording. 

Save & Close action highlighted blue and recording

3. Save your image as a PSD file inside the PSD folder you just created (File > Save As). Do not rename the image! Otherwise your Action will change the name of every image we apply it to in the future. 

 
File > Save as...
Image saved as "6.psd"
 

4. Next, save your image as a JPG inside the SFW folder (File > Save for Web & Devices). If your image is large, a dialogue box saying your image exceeds the correct size will pop up. Just click “Yes.” Set the quality anywhere between 80 and 100% (I usually set mine to 90%). 

 
File > Save for Web & Devices...
Exceeded file size for Save for Web & Devices warning
 

5. Close your image, and don’t save. Hit the “Stop Recording” button. 

Close step of Action

Got it? OK, we’ve just created the Action for saving and closing our images. Now let’s combine that Action with our “Curves/HueSat” Action!

Combining our new Actions: Adjust, Save, and Close, all in one!

1. Open your original product image again (last time I’ll make you do this, I promise!). 

2. Create a new Action called “Adjust Colors, Save, Close.” Photoshop is now recording. 

 
New Action named "Adjust Colors, Save, Close"

3. While your Photoshop Action is recording, Click on the Action you made called “Curves/HueSat” (the Action should be highlighted blue). Click “Play.” 

"Curves/HueSat" Action playing within "Adjust Colors, Save, Close" Action

4. Click on the new Action you made called “Save & Close.” Click “Play.” Don’t worry if your image suddenly disappears – our Action told Photoshop to close it! 

"Save & Close" Action playing within "Adjust Colors, Save, Close" Action

5. Now click “Stop Recording.”

6. Quit Photoshop to save the action. 

Almost done! Let’s apply our snazzy color correcting, saving, and closing powers to a bunch of product images all at once.

Applying our new Action to a batch of images

1. Open Photoshop. Click on the Action called “Adjust Colors, Save, Close.”  

2. Go to File > Automate > Batch. 

File > Automate > Batch

3. Under Source select “Folder.” Click the “Choose...” button to select the folder with the images you want to color correct. I recommended creating a new folder for each product you do a 360 for.

Source: Folder, click "Choose..." button

a. Once the folder is selected, click “Choose,” and then click OK.

Don’t freak out when Photoshop suddenly starts acting on its own! Photoshop is now adjusting the colors, saving in both PSD and JPG formats, and closing all your images for you :) Pretty nifty, right? 

Quick tip: Be careful not to click any of the Photoshop images while the action is running – doing so will cause the action to stop prematurely. 

That’s it!

You should now have all your edited PSD files in your PSD folder, and all your web ready JPGs in your SFW folder!

Here's a before & after comparison of the edits I made to the helmet using my Action:

 
Helmet before adjustments
Helmet after adjustments
 

We’ve just created an Action which will streamline the way you color correct and organize your product images. Congratulations on sticking it out – the time you’ve spent following my instructions now will save you ample time in the future!

Get stuck on any steps? That's my fault, not yours. Comment below and I'll do my best to walk you through the process successfully.

Also, feel free to share any of your quick color correcting tips! This is how we do it at Imajize, but we’re eager to learn how other photographers work with their images as well!

Thanks for reading, and good luck editing!