Por­trait Pro 17

Pho­to­shop has given beauty re­touch­ing a bad name, but can Por­trait Pro­fes­sional make amends for this?

Amateur Photographer - - 7days - Rick McArthur finds out

Beauty por­traits are given a help­ing hand with this new re­touch­ing soft­ware

Por­traits are not the eas­i­est thing to get right. You have to ar­range the light­ing, find the best and most flat­ter­ing an­gles for your sub­jects and some­times they’ll just be hav­ing a ‘bad face’ day, with awk­ward spots, pim­ples, wrin­kles or tan­ning dis­as­ters that look im­pos­si­ble to fix.

If you’re shoot­ing in a stu­dio with full con­trol over the light­ing and back­ground, the ser­vices of a make-up artist and plenty of time for ex­per­i­ment­ing, there’s a good ar­gu­ment for say­ing you should get it right in- cam­era.

Very of­ten, though, you have to grab shots quickly at wed­dings, events or so­cial gath­er­ings, and if you’re the of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher you have no ex­cuse for dud re­sults. It’s the same when you’re tak­ing in­for­mal por­traits. Whether you’re tak­ing part in a por­trait work­shop or cap­tur­ing pho­tos of friends on a road trip, there’s not much time to get the pic­ture with­out break­ing the flow of the ac­tiv­ity.

In such sit­u­a­tions, por­trai­ture be­comes tricky – when you can’t al­ways con­trol the light, there’s lit­tle choice of back­grounds, and you’re deal­ing with in­ex­pe­ri­enced sub­jects who don’t know how to pose for the cam­era.

This is where Por­trait Pro­fes­sional comes in. If we lived in a per­fect world, your model, make-up, light­ing and back­ground would also be per­fect and you wouldn’t need a re­touch­ing soft­ware. But in the real world, that hardly ever hap­pens, and yet your sub­jects ex­pect you to make them look great. At the same time they still want to be recog­nis­ably ‘them’, and with­out any ob­vi­ous fa­cial or soft-fo­cus trick­ery. And here is where Por­trait Pro­fes­sional does such a ter­rific job. It uses a dozen sub­tle ad­just­ments, each barely vis­i­ble, to pro­duce a truly trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect – yet does it in such a way that you might be the only one who knows ex­actly what was done.

Fea­tures

Por­trait Pro’s en­hance­ments are based around its fa­cial-fea­ture- recog­ni­tion sys­tem. This en­ables it to iden­tify eyes, nose, mouth, fore­head, hair and even the out­line of the face. From here, it can en­hance each fea­ture in­di­vid­u­ally, of­ten by barely per­cep­ti­ble amounts, to pro­duce an en­hanced por­trait that’s clearly

the same per­son in the same sit­u­a­tion and in the same light­ing, but just look­ing ‘bet­ter’.

This process might in­volve sub­tle ‘face sculpt­ing’, such as nar­row­ing a jaw, widen­ing the eyes, slim­ming the nose, per­haps adding the hint of a smile. It sounds like the stuff of Pho­to­shop night­mares, but it’s done rather well.

This face sculpt­ing is not manda­tory. If you want to pre­serve the ge­om­e­try of your sub­ject’s face and con­cen­trate solely on skin smooth­ing and other cos­metic en­hance­ments, you can.

In fact, the Face Sculpt sec­tion in the tools panel is only one of nine sep­a­rate sec­tions. The oth­ers are Skin Smooth­ing, Skin Light­ing and Col­or­ing, Makeup, Eye, Mouth & Nose, Hair, Pic­ture and Back­ground.

The finer de­tail

Each of th­ese sec­tions ex­pands to re­veal an ar­ray of de­tailed ad­just­ment tools. Typ­i­cally, there’s a Mas­ter Fade slider which con­trols that sec­tion’s whole ef­fect, and a hi­er­ar­chy of ‘sub-slid­ers’ that let you drill down to the small­est level of de­tail.

For ex­am­ple, in the Eye sec­tion, apart from a host of other set­tings, you can add dif­fer­ent­coloured con­tact lenses to change the eye colour, change the bright­ness and even add your own catch­lights us­ing a va­ri­ety of win­dow and stu­dio-light­ing mod­i­fier shapes. Oh, and each eye can be ad­justed in­di­vid­u­ally.

The scope and de­tail of the ad­just­ments avail­able could eas­ily prove over­pow­er­ing. Por­traitPro’s ‘nested’ slid­ers are one so­lu­tion to this, but there’s an even sim­pler one – pre­sets. You can im­prove any por­trait with­out hav­ing to touch a slider, sim­ply by se­lect­ing the Pre­sets panel in­stead and choos­ing the look you want.

Th­ese pre­sets are them­selves or­gan­ised into cat­e­gories. The Global cat­e­gory uses all the avail­able tools to achieve a par­tic­u­lar look, but there are Face Sculpt, Skin Smooth­ing, Light­ing & Skin Col­or­ing, Makeup, Eyes, Mouth & Nose & Hair cat­e­gories, where the pre­sets just use th­ese spe­cific tools. This means you can cu­mu­la­tively add pre­sets from th­ese dif­fer­ent sec­tions. There’s a fi­nal Pic­ture cat­e­gory that adds strik­ing colour, black & white, vi­gnette and ton­ing ef­fects to your por­trait.

In the tools panel, there’s a third tab called Snap­shots, and this is new in Por­traitPro 17. When you’re mak­ing all th­ese de­tailed ad­just­ments, some­times you can lose your way and start mak­ing the pic­ture worse in­stead of bet­ter. Or you might want to check back with an ear­lier im­age state to make sure you’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

Sav­ing a Snap­shot couldn’t be sim­pler. You click the save but­ton, give your new Snap­shot a name, and it’s saved as a thumb­nail ren­di­tion in the Snap­shot panel.

There’s one more fea­ture in Por­traitPro 17 that we haven’t looked at yet. It’s new in this ver­sion, and it’s the Back­ground sec­tion at the bot­tom of the Con­trols panel. Here, you can re­place the cur­rent back­ground with another one – ei­ther one you’ve shot your­self or one pro­vided with the soft­ware. Por­traitPro will at­tempt to mask the back­ground au­to­mat­i­cally, but there are a range of man­ual mask­ing tools, too, for en­hanc­ing and re­fin­ing this mask.

What it’s like to use

For a pro­gram with such enor­mous depth and con­trol, Por­trait Pro­fes­sional is re­mark­ably sim­ple to use. If you don’t want to get in­volved in all the tech­ni­cal­i­ties, you can stand back, click a few sim­ple op­tions and get an im­me­di­ate im­prove­ment.

It all starts with the fa­cial-fea­tures-recog­ni­tion phase. The out­lines won’t al­ways be spot on, but this might not af­fect the re­sult too much. And if you sus­pect it has, it’s an easy mat­ter to drag the con­trol nodes into a more ac­cu­rate align­ment with your sub­ject’s fea­tures.

So far so easy, and it re­ally doesn’t get much more dif­fi­cult. Over in the tools

panel you can se­lect the Pre­sets panel and browse through cat­e­gories of ‘looks’, each of which ren­ders a thumb­nail of the im­age you’re work­ing on. When you see one you like, you can click on it to ap­ply those set­tings.

There is a crossover point where your ad­just­ments stop look­ing ‘in­vis­i­ble’ and the skin smooth­ing and skin tone en­hance­ments start to look more pro­cessed, but the pre­sets never go as far as that dread­ful ‘porce­lain doll’ look that might have given soft­ware like this a bad name in the past.

Over­do­ing things

It’s also quite dif­fi­cult to cre­ate ‘bad’ por­trait en­hance­ments us­ing the man­ual con­trols. The face-sculpt­ing con­trols are prob­a­bly most sus­cep­ti­ble to mis­use, but the slid­ers pro­duce rel­a­tively small changes even across the full range of their ad­just­ment.

Even at full strength, the Eye Widen­ing slider doesn’t pro­duce the su­per­sized an­ime look you might dread, and at the small­est set­ting your sub­ject’s eyes still look quite nat­u­ral. The Plump Lips slider can per­haps be pushed just a lit­tle too far, but the point is that all the ad­just­ments are con­trol­lable and pro­gres­sive and stop short of un­nat­u­ral dis­tor­tion.

Por­traitPro can also en­hance hair colours and even swap out back­grounds, but this is where the out­come is less cer­tain. If your sub­ject’s hair has a strong out­line and tonal con­trast against their skin and back­ground, Por­trait Pro­fes­sional’s auto-mask­ing tools can do a great job. Of­ten, though, this is not the case, and here the soft­ware will strug­gle in the same way that even Pho­to­shop would. You may have to re­sort to painstak­ing ad­just­ments with the man­ual mask­ing tools, and this is where things can be­come time­con­sum­ing and a lit­tle less sat­is­fac­tory.

It’s the same when swap­ping out back­grounds. Plain, con­trast­ing back­grounds shouldn’t be too hard to swap out, but fussy back­grounds with a sim­i­lar tone and colour to your sub­ject’s hair and cloth­ing will be a lot more dif­fi­cult. You may some­times need to give up and ac­cept that it can’t be done.

It’s not ex­actly a fail­ing of this soft­ware, but one of the in­tractable prob­lems of im­age edit­ing: ex­tract­ing com­plex, sim­i­lar-toned ob­jects in pixel-based im­ages.

Por­trait Pro is ca­pa­ble of iden­ti­fy­ing faces and fea­tures in art-pro­file view

Por­trait Pro marks out fea­tures au­to­mat­i­cally but you can ad­just th­ese if they don’t quite align

In stage 1, ev­ery­thing is ad­justed but face sculpt­ing. In stage 2, we’ve added face sculpt­ing via the Stan­dard pre­set. It looks great, but is this still the same girl? Be­fore

Here, our model’s eyes are wider and we’ve added blue con­tact lenses, mas­cara, eye­liner and eye shadow

Stage one

Stage two

Don’t like your model’s hair colour? Then change it. You can choose from a va­ri­ety of hair types

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