Batch editing in Photoshop – a flawed premise?

One of Photoshop’s capabilities is batch-editing … that is, running an action on a lot of photos at once. You can record your action, then use the Batch function to apply it to a whole set of files very quickly.

At face value, this seems like an efficient thing to do, right? Adding speedy automation has to be great for your workflow … doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, in most cases, no. In fact, this approach might reveal serious problems with your workflow. Let me explain …

The ideal workflow goes like this:

  1. Make "global" adjustments to the photo in Raw. This may or may not include white balance, exposure, etc, etc, to the whole photo.
  2. Make various "local" adjustments in Photoshop. This might include cloning and other pixel modifications, and/or tonal and colour adjustments to various parts of the photo using layers and masks. At the end of this process, the result is a nice clean-processed image.
  3. Finally, add artistic effects to the photo, if desired.

Steps 1 and 3 are where batch processing can be performed. No matter which raw software you use, it has excellent functions for applying your adjustments to whole sets of images, very quickly, where the lighting was the same. If you’re not harnessing the power of batch-processing in raw, I urge you to embrace it right away.

And at the end of the workflow, you can definitely set up a batch process in Photoshop to apply your artistic actions to multiple photos at once. Again, it’s a very good idea to do so, if you can.

But batch-processing is impossible at Step 2. The whole point of Step 2 is that it is unique for every photo. No two layer masks will ever be the same from photo to photo. No pimple is ever going to be in the same place for you to batch-clone it out. Step 2 is entirely manual.

What if there are any global adjustments that you consistently make in Photoshop? Eg …

  • "I always brighten my photos a bit with Curves"
  • "I always run a defog action"
  • etc

… then slap yourself upside the head. HARD. There are no global functions that should habitually performed in Photoshop as part of the clean editing workflow. ALL of the global functions can and must be done in raw. Photoshop is for local work, period.

So I need you to take a good hard look at your raw processing. That’s where you can save yourself time and effort by working smarter, not in Photoshop.


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.