Portrait Pro 17
Photoshop has given beauty retouching a bad name, but can Portrait Professional make amends for this?
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.
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.
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
Don’t like your model’s hair colour? Then change it. You can choose from a variety of hair types