Review: Craig's Actions and Beauty Bar
By Stan Sholik
When my recent article “Two Paths to Retouching” went live in Professional Photographer magazine and online, photographers called, sent me e-mails and posted comments regarding other retouching software options. One of the most intriguing contacts came from Craig Minielly.
Minielly is a Vancouver-based photographer and author of Craig’s Actions. Craig asked me if I was familiar with his actions, because, using them, he was able to accomplish in less than five minutes what had taken me 22 minutes in Portrait Professional and 48 minutes in Adobe Photoshop CS5.
I hadn't tried them, so Craig sent me a link to download Craig’s Actions Toolkit and Craig’s Beauty Bar to test. Here’s what I found.
After I downloaded and opened the zip files I was confronted with a bunch of files and folders, so I went back to the Craig’s Actions website to the Tutorials ‘n Tips drop-down list in the menu bar to watch a video about installation. All you have to do to get started is find the actions (*.atn) files and double-clickon them. They then load automatically into the Actions palette of Photoshop CS2 to CS5 on both the Mac and Windows platforms.
I watched the tutorials to decrease the slope of my learning curve, and they are very well done with a nice sense of humor. They helped immensely in getting me started quickly.
I opened a copy of my original file and ran a number of actions that Craig thought I might use and some others that I was curious about. There are many actions to choose from, and some are duplicated in both the Toolkit and Beauty Bar sets. I settled on using BlemishBuster, which is found in both sets but with more options in Beauty Bar; ColorGenie Warm, Tinted Contacts Blue, and PowderPuff from the Toolkit; and Eye Color/Whites & Teeth, Lip Gloss and Lipstick from Beauty Bar.
I started with the BlemishBuster Strong from the Beauty Bar set. When you run any of the Craig’s Actions, the action flattens previous steps, sets up your Layers palette and blending modes, selects brushes, creates adjustment layers and masks if needed, and stops to instruct you how to proceed.
This screen capture shows the steps in the BlemishBuster Strong action from the blue highlight to the bottom of the Actions palette. However, the only thing I needed to do was to brush over first the dark blemishes, then the light blemishes and press the action Play button a couple of times. The action handles all the rest automatically. Image ©Stan Sholik
With the BlemishBuster action, I was instructed to select a brush size roughly the size of the blemish and work on the blemishes darker than the skin first. When this was done I pressed Play again in the Actions palette and worked on the blemishes lighter than the skin. As with the techniques I use in Photoshop, this allowed me to remove just the blemishes while leaving some of the model’s freckles.
That work completed, I moved on to the other actions in the Toolkit set. The order in which I ran the actions didn’t seem to make any difference as long as I removed the blemishes before proceeding with any other skin corrections.
Tinted Contacts Green allowed me to quickly enhance the model’s iris color. While it is set up for green eyes, the curves adjustment used gives you precise control over the color. What I was doing in this step was painting white on a mask to reveal the underlying adjustment. When I painted a little outside the iris, I just hit the X key to paint black on the mask to correct the error. All of this work is much easier using a Wacom tablet than with a mouse, of course.
The ColorGenie Warm action includes adjustment controls for Curves, Color balance and Hue/Saturation. If desired you can adjust each one individually. Image ©Stan Sholik
I used the ColorGenie Warm and PowderPuff actions to adjust the skin color and softening. Again, the action sets up the adjustments and let me control them by painting white onto the mask layer. As an additional control, I went into the masks palette when I was finished and softened the mask by 6 pixels to eliminate any brush strokes. And, because all of the actions are created on a new layer, you can adjust the opacity of the layer for further control, just as I do when I retouch in Photoshop.
Now it was off to the Beauty Bar actions. These work exactly the same way as the other sets. Truly, it takes far longer to describe than to actually run the action. In fact, I was able to complete the retouching in13 minutes. Not Craig’s time, but the fastest of the three methods.
The Eye Color/Whites & Teeth action groups all of the tools needed for these adjustments into one action. The adjustments are preset on layers as Curves or Hue/Saturation with a layer mask. By painting on the mask with white you reveal the adjustment. You have further control over the effect by opening the Curve or Hue/Saturation adjustment and revising the settings. Image ©Stan Sholik
I wasn’t impressed with the Lipstick action. It didn’t work nearly as well as my Photoshop technique. Image ©Stan Sholik
Of course, there are adjustments that Portrait Professional and Photoshop can perform that are beyond the scope of these two sets from Craig’s Actions. For example, there is no action to reshape the face, remove flyaway hair, or reshape the model’s shoulder.
The only issue I have with the actions is the inability to go back and make a further adjustment without rerunning the action. Because each action flattens the image, there is no layer stack like I have when I work in Photoshop. Each step in the Craig’s Actions workflow is saved as a snapshot, but that doesn’t give you the control that a layer stack does. You can, however, go back at any time and use Photoshop’s History brush to restore a previous state of the image and proceed again from there, so you do have some control.
This issue aside, there are many more actions in these two sets and others available from Craig’s Actions that can simplify and speed your workflow, as well as provide you with easily repeatable looks for your work.
All Action Tools are downloadable from the Craig’s Actions website, www.craigsactions.com. Cost of the Toolkit is $177 and Beauty Bar is $147.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. Along with his magazine articles, he is currently working on a new book about Nik HDR Efex Pro for Wiley Publications.
"Two Paths to Retouching," by Stan Sholik