Working mostly in fine art portraits I’ve never felt the need to try a retouching program. I like to keep a natural look, using Photoshop only for any minor retouching needed. I had looked into a retouching program briefly, but after clicking on a few sites I never got further than looking at the before and after samples. I always preferred the natural before image to the over processed, plastic looking after images. I want my subjects to look like themselves, in their best light of course, but not like some barbie doll cyborg with lifeless eyes.
When our Digital Photography School editor offered a free download of Portrait-Pro 12 Studio Max to test out and possibly review I figured this was a perfect opportunity to see if this kind of thing is something that a cynic like me, I might actually find useful.
Editor’s note: we’ve been informed by the company that there are no versions 13 and 14 (they skipped those numbers) and the newest v15 was released Sept 17th, 2015 (after this review was published). So this review is not three versions outdated and while there are a few changes it is fundamentally the same product. You can see what is new in v15 here.
The download and install were super easy, off to a good start. There are instructional videos, tutorials, a forum, a support page, and a manual to download on the website. All good things, but I’m not one for instructions and just opened the program with a test image.
Portrait Pro did its thing and opened the before and its auto processed after image. It came up with an interesting eye situation and I thought, oh dear, this is not good.
Rather than succumb to instructions I tried another image. This one had the correct number of eyes, so I started playing around. The simple interface, and pop up instructions made it easy to just jump right in. I tested out the sliders and their effects, then went to town. It was pretty fun, with a bit of practice I eventually turned my blonde, brown-eyed, no make-up friend into a saucy red lipped, blue eyed, red head vixen with an uncanny resemblance to pop star Kylie Minogue.
I won’t show you the results, because the before shot was a not exactly flattering lighting test, when I say not flattering, a beautiful woman looked more like a potato than herself, and I would like to keep the friendship. I did show my friend both images and she really liked the after shot.
That had me thinking this program certainly has potential. I had only been mucking about and I turned an unusable portrait shot into something the subject of the portrait really liked.
Testing on a tough shot
So I decided to put the program through its paces with a poorly lit, overly grainy, weirdly white balanced shot of a dear friend who looks lovely no matter how terribly I might light her. Portrait Pro popped up with the auto version, it gave her quite the tan and sparkly, but kinda spooky eyes.
But this where the easy to use sliders come in. You can adjust how much the skin is smoothed, colored, alter lighting, or how much cyborg look you want in the eyes. I was pleased to see you could just use this program subtlety. I could do a fair bit of gentle retouching, even on this poorly photographed shot that I either would have been unable to, wouldn’t have been bothered to, or taken for ever to do in Photoshop.
Of course after that I couldn’t help myself with pushing it a bit further.
Testing on a saleable shot
I was pretty impressed that I could pull something out of a rejected shot with this program, but what about a shot I would use? Would it be subtle enough to be useful for my regular work? Turns out yes, the sliders make it possible to add very slight retouching, and still maintain the natural look of the portrait.
After playing with some faces, I thought all well and good but now the neck looks weird and the face and body don’t match, but turns out you can adjust those too. You can also batch process with the Studio Max version and work directly with Raw files.
I was pretty much sold on the program by this point, but I had a free version, would I actually pay for it? I was pretty surprised to see that it sells for around A$100, depending on which version you choose. For that price, I absolutely would buy it, even as a photographer who likes to keep programs to a minimum, and doesn’t like to fork out for new ones.
My only issues were finding the face alignment tool a bit tricky on some images, but then again, I still haven’t actually read the instructions. That was the only issue I had with the program itself, I took a slight offence with the promotional line “Slimmer subjects result in happier clients and more revenue“ in reference to the program’s ability to change face and body shape.
I’m sure that is true, but do we as photographers, really want to make money out of peoples insecurities? To edit distracting parts of a photograph and improve lighting flaws, sure, but to pander to the illusion of perfection created by modern media, not so much. I’d prefer my subjects to see themselves in their portrait as they are and still like what they see with the only retouching being to fix faults in my camera work, not in them. Portrait Pro can do both.
I have no doubt I will continue to use this program, both in my fine art and regular portraits. It will clearly save some editing time and in some cases does a better job that I would in Photoshop. I particularly liked the ability to adjust the lighting and skin tones. I’m even inclined to read the instructions and check out a few tutorials to really get to know the program. In fact I wish I had found it sooner.
I can’t compare Portrait Pro to any other retouching programs, but as someone who has been against them in general and preferred to stick to Photoshop, I’m converted. It’s simple and fun to use, you have a lot of control of the subtlety with the sliders and it produces great time saving results. It’s a thumbs up from me.
How do you feel about retouching? Would you use a program like this? Have you ever tried a program like this? Tell us about your experiences and results.