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When it comes to portrait photography, there seem to be two predominant schools of thought. The first says that retouching is bad, that people should be presented as they are and retouching is a no-no. The second school of thought says that when people have their portrait taken, it should be an idealistic representation of the person, flattering the subject and minimizing any flaws.
The truth, however, probably lies somewhere in the middle. When people have their portrait taken, they want the photographer to make them look as good as possible. Most portraiture requires some level of retouching, and truth be told, retouching was in vogue long before the digital age. Digital photography, however, has brought with it some new tools. One of those tools is PortraitPro 15, from Anthropics Technology.
PortraitPro 15 is available as a standalone application, or as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. There are three different versions available; Standard, Studio, and Studio Max. PortraitPro Standard is the standalone version, which also has a few other limitations. PortraitPro Studio and Studio Max can both be used as plugins, and they also offer a variety of other options including RAW file support, color profile support, the ability to read and write TIFF and PNG files in 16-bit mode, and a batch dialog. The Studio Max version also offers a Full Batch Mode to greatly speed up your workflow. Compare all editions of PortraitPro 15 here.
Getting started in PortraitPro 15 is simple. If you’re using the standalone application, simply open the file you wish to work on. From Photoshop (if you’re using the Studio or Studio Max version), go to the Filters menu and Select Anthropics > Portrait Professional.
Once your image is open, PortraitPro 15 will detect the facial outline of the subject. It will sometimes detect gender and age, or it may ask if the subject is male or female or a young girl or boy under 12. You will then be shown a side-by-side comparison, with the image on the left showing the outlines of the face that the software will use for its retouching. These outlines can be adjusted to provide better accuracy, but the software does a pretty good job of selecting facial features on its own. On the right is a preview of what the subject will look like after the retouching is applied.
On the far right, you will see a navigator window that allows you to move around the image easily. Beneath that is a list of presets so you can easily apply a particular look to your subject. Beneath the presets is a group of “Portrait Improving Sliders”. These sliders include;
Each of these groups of sliders affects different aspects of the image and provide an incredible amount of control over the retouching process.
Some of these sliders, particularly Face Sculpting may seem a bit controversial. Like most digital photo editing tools, you can certainly go too far with its use. But, there are times when it has come in handy and improved the subject, such as when one eye may not be fully open. As with all things, moderation is the key to using these sliders.
Whether you choose to use the plugin version or the standalone version, the workflow is the same. From Photoshop you’ll select Portrait Professional from the Filters menu, and from Lightroom, you’ll select “Edit In”, which will open the current image in PortraitPro 15. If using the standalone version, simply go to File > Open.
PortraitPro 15 will try to automatically detect the age and gender of your subject and try to select their eyes, nose, and mouth. If it is unable to detect the gender and age, or any facial features, you will be prompted to do this. Selection, if needed, is easy. You’ll click the outer corner of the left eye, hit next, then click the outer corner of the right eye. Hit next again, and you’ll be prompted to click the tip of the nose. You’ll continue until the eyes, nose, and mouth are selected. PortraitPro will then find the top of the head and the jawline.
Once the selection is made, PortraitPro will automatically adjust your image using the Standard settings. From here, you are free to choose a different preset or start moving the sliders to better retouch your portrait.
The first slider I adjust is the Face Sculpt Controls. I will say that I’m not a huge fan of this adjustment so normally I just turn it off. There are times it can get too aggressive and will really alter the look of the subject’s face. You can minimize the amount of adjustment using the Master Fade slider to amend the overall look, or the individual sliders to only affect certain features. For instance, I will often set all the sliders to zero but then use the Eye Widening slider if the subject happens to have a sleepy eye. I do try and keep the digital plastic surgery to a minimum.
The next slider group is the Skin Smoothing Control. This set of sliders does a nice job of minimizing wrinkles and removing blemishes. You do need to be careful when you have a subject with freckles or beauty marks that you want to retain. Again, adjusting the individual sliders will help you find the right amount of smoothing without making things look too plastic, and the Touch Up Brush will allow you to remove strong blemishes without affecting the overall skin texture.
PortraitPro offers some quick tips when you select the various sliders. In addition, you may notice that the application hasn’t quite selected all of the skin you want to be retouched, due to changes in tone. Or, conversely, that it has selected areas which you don’t want to be affected, such as clothing with colors close to the skin tone, or hair. You can adjust the skin selection by clicking View/Edit Skin Area and adding or subtracting from the skin selection using a brush, similar to applying a selection by using a layer mask in Photoshop.
The Skin Lighting slider controls can actually adjust the lighting on your subject. This is another set of sliders that are best used with care, but a judicious adjustment can help improve your image. Going too far with it, on the other hand, will result in images that have a definitive fake look to them. You have the ability to adjust shadows to the left or right, a kick light to the left or right, and even adjust the angle of your main light.
The Makeup Controls sliders allow you to add digital makeup to your subject. Everything including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow and eyeliner can be added or enhanced here. As with the Face Sculpting and Lighting Controls, you will want to be careful not to overdo things here. But again, I’ve had occasions where a little eyeliner or a change in lipstick color has helped the image.
By the same token, if you are taking a portrait as a starting point, you can create some incredibly different looks by changing the subject’s makeup. This makes it an excellent tool if you are creating a digital illustration from a photo.
The Eye Control sliders do a nice job of enhancing the subject’s eyes and bringing them out. Brightening the irises, sharpening the eyes, and whitening them are all done here. You can even change the eye color and add catch lights. The biggest mistake I’ve made (and seen others make) is going too far with the whitening, giving the eyes an unnatural glow. Eyes can be adjusted individually, so you have a lot of control over their look.
Mouth & Nose Controls are sliders to enhance the mouth and nose. Here you can adjust the saturation of the lips, their brightness, and contrast. You have the ability to make the same adjustments to the nose.
Hair Controls is a set of sliders that I like a lot. You have the ability to re-color hair, adjust the shine, reddening, and vibrance. In addition, as with the skin selection, you can adjust the hair selection. Especially cool is the Hair Tidying Mode, which allows you to smooth and soften the hair. It can give the hair an almost painted look, which is one I tend to like, but again, it is possible to go too far.
Skin Coloring Controls allow you to adjust skin color, add a glow, or a bit of a tan. In addition, you can add cheek coloring here and adjust the exposure on the face.
Finally, the Picture Controls slider allows overall adjustment of the color temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, and vibrancy. You can also crop here. If you’re using Photoshop or Lightroom, these adjustments are better handled there, after retouching. But if you’re using the standalone version, this is an excellent way to finish off your image.
Once you’ve finished with the face you’re working on, you click the Next button at top right, and either click “Return from Plugin”, or “Enhance Another Face”, if you have more than one subject in your photo.
PortraitPro 15 is an excellent application for quick and easy retouching of portraits. Blemish retouching, eye enhancing, and cleanup of hair is simple and can PortraitPro 15 can provide a nice finished look to a portrait. In addition, the ability to adjust lighting can give added pop and make a flatly lit portrait much more interesting. The same goes for the ability to add or enhance makeup. It’s easy to see the effects of the changes you make usingPortraitPro and compare them to the unretouched photo, so you can judge the edits as you work.
My biggest issue with PortraitPro 15 is that it’s easy to go too far with an adjustment and suddenly your image looks fake or digitized, almost like a 3D animation. Like most photo-enhancing filters, a little goes a long way and moderation is required. In the right hands, PortraitPro can be an awesome editing tool. In the wrong hands, it can return some ugly results. Additionally, PortraitPro appears to have some issues when one eye is covered by hair or a hat, or when the face is at a 3/4 angle to the camera. So in those situations, you’ll need to pay extra attention to your selections, and in the case where one eye is hidden, set all sliders for that eye to zero.
My other issue with PortraitPro is that it does seem to be a resource hog. As soon as I enter the plugin from Photoshop, the fan on my 2014 iMac (with the max amount of RAM) starts up and keeps going until I’m done. Some of the adjustments are slow, and on my machine, adjusting the outlines takes a moment as my computer catches up.
Overall, I love PortraitPro 15 and the ability it has to retouch portraits quickly and easily. While I prefer not to use all of the features all of the time, such as face sculpting or skin lighting, things such as skin smoothing and eye retouching really help give my portraits a finished look. The learning curve is not terribly high and it is fairly easy to tell when you’ve gone too far. It’s become an essential part of my portrait workflow.
See the three editions available on Amazon. The Studio version is a great value.