Skip to main content

Actions in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 4 of 7

Create a Contour Map Action

Ben Willmore

Actions in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

4. Create a Contour Map Action

Lesson Info

Create a Contour Map Action

This is a technique that I never want to perform manually. And I would only do through an action because it takes a lot of steps. This is creating a contour map. If you've ever seen an architectural drawing of a piece of land, where it's the contours, which describes the various elevations in a land with a line, it looks a lot like this, well, I'm creating something like that based on brightness levels, where each one of these lines describes where, like, 10% gray would be found in the image, and then another line might be where 20% gray is, and so on. And so this is how there might be a complex of technique that you would only do if you're willing to apply actions, so let's take a look at it. I'm gonna start off with the original color photograph. And the filter I'm gonna end up using to get the effect is Filter, I think it's Stylize, and then Trace Contour. Trace Contour means trace around where there's a particular shade of gray. And in here, there's a choice called Level, and you c...

an move it around. It varies from zero to 255. It will draw the lines. Well, those lines are usually in color if you have a color picture. And if you want just one line instead of multiple colored ones, what you need to do is just convert your image to black and white first. So let's look at how we might be able apply that multiple times and get an interesting look. So I'm gonna go to my Actions panel, I'm gonna create a new action, and I'm gonna call this Contours. I'm gonna hit Record. And the first thing I wanna do is duplicate this layer, so I'm gonna type Command + J, Control + J in Windows to get a duplicate. I then wanna pull the color out of that duplicate. I'll do it by Image, Adjustments, Desaturate. Then I wanna simplify this because if I have it truly traced where there's a particular shade of gray in our picture right now, most of the time, those areas are really complex, little details. Well, if I simplify the image, it's gonna be a smoother end result. One filter that can help me simplify an image is called Median. That's Filter, Noise, Median. And the higher I bring it up, the more smooth this end result will be. So it's a matter of figuring out what setting still lets you recognize what's in the picture. And let's kind of go for the highest setting where you can recognize things because the higher the setting, the smoother the end result will look. Now that's the image I'm gonna use multiple times when running the Trace Contour filter. So what I'm gonna do right now is change the name of that layer because I wanna be able to easily switch to that layer even if we have a whole bunch of layers in this document by just clicking on it. I don't wanna have to use that one keyboard shortcut we used earlier. So I'm gonna double click on the layer and I'm just gonna give it a name that you would never find in another document. I might call it action so I know that it's part of an action. I'll call it ACTION target layer, number one, or something. I doubt I'm gonna open a document that's gonna have a layer called ACTION target layer 1. I'm just trying to put in a unique name and therefore, it's not gonna matter if I click on that later with my mouse and in the Actions panel, it records the name 'cause I made up the name and I tried to make sure it would be unique. Or just put a random string of digits that's long enough and you probably won't find that in other documents. Now I'm gonna have to be using that particular information multiple times, so I'm gonna type Command + J to duplicate it so I don't mess up the original. And then we'll come in here and apply the Trace Contour filter. And I'm gonna start off with it turned down to a relatively low setting like this. I'm gonna click OK. And then I want to make the layer that's underneath active. Well, I named that layer specifically for this action with a unique name I don't think is gonna be found in other documents, so I can just click on it. And it doesn't matter that here in the Layers panel, it has the name of the layer. Well, as long as that layer name is unique, then that should still work. I'm gonna type Command + J and I'm going to apply the filter again. And I'm just gonna turn it up a little bit. And I'll click OK. And then I'm gonna repeat that process. I'm going to, and in fact, there is one other step I should do and that is I should set each one of these to Multiply mode because Multiply mode would have it combine with what's underneath, but I'll do that later. I'm gonna click in the layer that's underneath, Command + J to duplicate, and I'm just gonna repeat that process over and over and over again. Moving this up a little bit further each time. Then click in the layer that's underneath, Command + J to duplicate, and apply the filter again. Switch to the layer that's underneath, Command + J to duplicate. And I just repeat it over and over again. And that's why I never wanna do this manually or I should say, I only wanna do this manually once, and this is one of those techniques I'd always record as an action because it's a pain in the butt to do it every time. And I'm just repeating the steps. Okay, we'll call that good enough. Now, what I need to do is get all of those layers that were just created up above, I need to get 'em all selected. Now, those should always have the same names because they're based on that unique name that I signed below, so I could just hold on the Shift key and click on those, or I could use my keyboard. Remember that doing, I believe it was Option and the bracket keys would select the layer that is above, and if you have the Shift key, it will add it to what's already selected. So I can type that a few times, there are many different choices we have available there. With all of them selected, I'm gonna change their blending mode to a choice called Multiply, which will allow them to combine together. And then we don't need them as separate layers, so I'll go to the Layer menu and just choose Merge Layers. That will combine together the layers that are currently selected. All right, then what I would like to do is to get the color of the original or the lines we're currently seeing to be the color of the original picture. So I no longer need this grayscale version, it's already served its purpose, it was the source material for each time I applied that action, er not the action, the filter, and I don't need it anymore. It has a unique name that I made as part of the action, so I can just click on it and drag it to the trash. And it's okay that the name of the layer's in there. Next, what I wanna do is turn this layer into a selection. The way I turn something into a selection if I wanna do it based on its brightness is I switch to the Channels panel. And if you don't have the Channels panel open on your screen, you can find it right up here. And if you go into the Channels panel and move your mouse onto the top most channel, the little picture of it, you can hold down the Command key and click on it. That's Control on Windows. That will load the brightness of that image as a selection. It ends up loading all of the areas that are white which is the exact opposite of what I need, so I'll go to the Select menu and choose Inverse. Now we have a selection of all those little black lines and all I'm gonna do is throw away this layer because its only purpose was to create the selection we currently have. So now, if I drag it to the trash, we're gonna end up on the layer that contains our original picture, and I'm gonna add a layer mask. When I add a layer mask, only the areas that I have selected are going to remain visible, so the rest of the picture will go away. And now, what we have is all the lines that those filters created are filled with the original color of the picture. Finally, I wanna fill in the checkerboard with white, so I'll go to the bottom of my Layers panel, click on the Adjustment Layer icon and choose Solid Color. I'm going to choose white. And then I'm gonna move that layer underneath. And I could probably click on it with my mouse to move it underneath, but if I want to be better at it, I could use my keyboard shortcuts, and that would be Command, Control on Windows, left bracket, would move it down. Remember, Option changes which one's active, Command actually moves a layer. So now I have my end result and in my Actions panel, I can finally hit Stop. And now we can test it. Let's revert the image. Let's find the top of that action. Let's hit Play. And you can see our end result. That's an example of a technique where I would never apply that technique without recording an action to create it, but now, I can apply that anytime I want to in a matter of seconds. And there are many techniques that are that way that just end up being complex techniques that make it so actions become essential.

Class Description


  • Automate a wide variety of multi-step techniques
  • Apply an Action to hundreds of images using the Batch command
  • Use subroutines to incorporate a set of steps into multiple actions
  • Utilize Conditionals to change the course of an action based on the unique characteristic of a layer
  • Troubleshoot existing actions


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)


Danna Chiasson

Good stuff ... learned some valuable tips ... thanks !