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5 situations in which using a Photoshop action is safer than shooting in-camera

April 22, 2017

Photoshop actions can be a very useful way of “cheating” to create the image that you wanted in camera. If you can’t get it right in person, Photoshop actions can. They can allow you to change the feel and mood of a photograph, as well as inserting new backgrounds, new features, and even changing a person’s whole appearance. They can also potentially save you a lot of risk. Here are 5 situations in which you might want to consider avoiding shooting in camera in favour of using actions for safety reasons.

  1. Fireworks and sparklers

Sparklers in particular seem to be very popular at weddings. They can also be brought in to portrait sessions, as a way of bringing a literal spark to the image. If your clients are set on sparklers, that’s fine – but you might want to counsel them against doing it in person.

Sparklers are obviously very dangerous: they burn at a very high temperature and can easily burn a hand. They can even set things on fire by catching them. If you are standing in a group all holding sparklers, there’s a good chance that one of them will spark and light the others, even if you weren’t ready for yours to go off yet.

Not only that, but they can ruin the image. You only have a matter of seconds to get the shot after the sparklers start up, and if you miss it, it’s gone. Some varieties burn with a very smoky effect which will blur out and obscure the rest of your images. Some burn with different colour tones depending on the chemicals used, which leaves you with a big job on colour-correcting afterwards.

Fireworks can also cause problems with photoshoots. The biggest issue is that you can’t really control where they will go. They might be too high above your subject’s head, or too low behind them. They might even malfunction and not go off at all, or go off incorrectly and cause a medical emergency.

Using a Photoshop action to add sparklers and fireworks into your image after the fact removes all of these problems. It’s certainly the safest option in this case, no matter how many precautions you take.

  1. Railways

With Photoshop actions that allow you to more easily replace backgrounds or blend in multiple photographs, the sky is the limit. You can do so much with these options, and one of them is to shoot in a place that you normally wouldn’t be able to go.

Railways are, for some reason, a very popular location for photoshoots. They have a sense of rustic appeal, and also add some drama to the image. It’s fine to enjoy this mood, but finding it in person is really not advisable.

Most railways, even those which are abandoned and no longer in use, are on private land. This means that if you are walking on that land to take your photographs, you are actually trespassing. You could be arrested and charged for doing so – not a great way to end a shoot with a client.

Even if you aren’t caught, railways have their own set of problems. First is the fact that they might not be as abandoned as you thought. You should absolutely never shoot on live tracks – there have been instances of crew members being struck by trains and killed on film sets, for example. Modern tracks may also have an electric current running through them which could cause serious injury the moment that you come into contact with them.

Finally, even on a track which is disused, not policed, and falling to pieces, there are risks of injury. Loose and rusty nails, animals such as rats or snakes living around the track, and broken or rotting wooden slats which give way are all a serious risk.

  1. Live animals

Where do we even start on the dangers of shooting with live animals? They can panic and bite, scratch, or kick. They can chew or urinate on wiring and cause electric shocks. They can wander around the set and generally wreck your equipment. They can misbehave, refusing to look at the camera. If you are shooting with younger subjects, they may have an adverse reaction to an unfamiliar animal and end up crying or refusing to go near them.

There’s a lot of risk where animals are involved, and for the most part it’s completely pointless. Creators like Summerana have put together actions that place real images of live animals into your photographs easily and without any indicators that they were never there in the first place. It’s a great way to fake it without any of the risk.

  1. Adverse or extreme weather

If you are dealing with harsh weather conditions, then it’s best to put the camera away. There are all kinds of things that can happen to your camera in snow, rain, hail, and so on – with water damage being just one of the variables. And it’s not just your equipment that you have to worry about. You could also end up falling ill yourself, or finding that your client has come down with pneumonia. All this for a set of photographs in which they probably look like a drowned rat thanks to the effects of these real weather conditions.

There’s no reason to risk it, because you can get actions which create the impression of rain or snow without it having to be there. Just use an overlay and tweak it a bit until it looks realistic – it could take you all of 5 minutes. One of the best effects to go for is the impression of rain droplets on the lens. Although this couldn’t possibly be captured properly in-camera, it gives the viewer the idea of looking at the subject through rain. Snow is a lot easier to work with, as you can normally really see the individual drops coming down, unlike with rain – which is more likely just to look like fine lines.


When you can get the job done with Photoshop, there are some scenarios in which it is actually just plain silly to do it in person. Don’t take the risk of injury, broken equipment, arrest, or worse when you can finish the effect in post-production.

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