If you’re anything like me, you probably dread the amount of time you have to spend at the computer processing and working with photo files to create the desired effect and feeling in each image. This is especially true when it come to skin retouching, which can suck up tedious hours of intense and ridiculously exacting work. I’ve had many clients with less than perfect skin that needs some work. In fact, outside of professional models with high-priced makeup stylists, few people do have perfect skin. And like most readers, I’ve learned lots of tricks in Photoshop that can heal the skin, fix the spots, change the color, and soften the lines, and each one must be done separately. I’m not a professional retoucher, or even an expert Photoshop technician, but I do know what looks good and more important, what looks real. No Gaussian blur for me.
The great news is that with Portrait Professional from Anthropics Technology (www.portraitprofessional.com), a stand-alone software retouching program, I can save time, create fantastic images with wonderful skin tones, and reshape the structure of the face including width of the eyes, shape of the jaw, length of the neck, and even change eye color if the mood strikes me. My first impression of Portrait Professional is that this is a program that works extremely well and it’s fun and easy to use. Where has this program been? Actually, I just found out that it has been around since 2006, and that the current version is number 8. A few months ago, one of my students told me about it; a week later PHOTO Techniques called me and asked me to review it. And I’ve been having a blast. I used it right out of the box on several of the images from last issue’s digital lighting article.
The premise is very simple, although the program uses some complicated algorithms. When you open a photo, you choose Male or Female to set the default adjustments (which you can change later). The program then asks you to set points on-screen to outline the subject’s eyes, mouth, and nose (which are fine-tuned in the next step). This consists of moving and clicking on the edges of eyes, eyebrows, lips, nose, chin, and edges of face (Figure 1). Absolutely no specialized skill is required to do this.
What happens next is almost magical; after a few seconds for processing, the image appears with the skin cleaned up, eyes and teeth whitened, and most amazing of all, the shape of the face is re-sculpted in subtle ways (Figure 2). The basic default program choices are very good, and are not overdone. The program automatically can slim a wide face, shorten a high forehead, extend a stubby neck, and just slightly reshape a face into a more “pleasing” form (Figure 3).
The image still looks like the person—it isn’t some overdone idea of beauty—but just makes them look better. In many cases, no other adjustments are necessary. You can chose to either have both “before” and “after” images side by side, or just look at the “after” image, so it’s larger on the screen. A button on the top of the screen allows you to f lip between the two views as well. I f ind this incredibly handy because when you switch with this tab, you can immediately see what’s changed, and it’s easier to understand than the side-by-side view. You also have a zoom tool for examination of fine-detail.
There are several default settings to chose from: Drama and Glamour for both male and female, Glamour with No Sculpting, Face Slimming, and Improve Complexion. Next to that set of defaults are some specialty options such as turning eyes blue, brown, or green; removing wrinkles; adding saturation; sepia toning; lightening hair; reddening lips; and adding contrast. I’ve tried several of the presets and some work better than others. Drama increases contrast and seems to really smooth out the skin tone so it doesn’t look normal anymore. I tried it on both male and female and didn’t like the result with either (Figure 4).
However the Glamour Female default worked really well, and the only other touches I added were to change the eye color from green to blue (because I could), sharpen the eyes, remove one freckle on the model’s neck, and lighten the hair a tiny bit (Figure 5). As you can see, she is a gorgeous and natural girl, but the glamour default made beautiful skin tones without losing pores or the fine detail. It also made the face more heart-shaped, widened the eyes and whitened them a bit, too.
The presets are then fine-tuned using a set of seven controls: Face Sculpting, Skin, Eyes, Mouth, Hair, Skin Lightening, and Picture Controls. Each of these has a subset of sliders specific to itself. For example, using the Eyes control, you can remove red eye, whiten the eyes, change the eye color, darken the pupil, brighten the iris, and sharpen the eyes (Figure 6).
I love this feature because no matter what I do to the face, I always want the eyes to be crisp, and this feature works beautifully.
The options for modifying an image are extensive, and the photographer has the ability to fine-tune each aspect separately or with a Master slider in each of the seven areas. All slides are color coded and numbered to help guide your choices. As long as you are within the green section of the slides, you are still in the “normal” range, but if you venture into orange or red, then you have probably overcorrected. When you select the hair controls, the hair is colored magenta for viewing the selection area. You can then use brushes (which can be adjusted for size) to either add or subtract the area selected (Figure 7). There is a hair-tidying mode with option to alter shadow brightness and texture and smooth hair, but I didn’t see much effect with it. Beneath the skin controls is a touch-up brush that can adjust the radius and opacity; this works well by sampling the area around the selection so it provides texture and not a blank spot.
The seventh control is Picture Control, featuring sliders for exposure, contrast, fill light for shadows, saturation, and temperature. I did play with these options, but Photoshop does a better job at these adjustments. After opening the fixed images in Photoshop, I needed to make a few more adjustments with curves. Also, Photoshop offers you the best options for exacting blemish retouching. That said, Portrait Professional does a great job with everything else.
For Figure 8, I used the standard male default, which cleaned up the skin, and did some face sculpting. You can select the level of automatic spot removal that’s done on a scale of 1–10; I normally keep it around 5 or 6. Under the subset of sliders under skin controls is one that removes pores. I keep this on zero for most men and low for women because pores look real, and the “airbrushed” retouching effect just makes me think of old-fashioned 1950s and 1960s portraits that almost looked like cartoons.
In this image, I put pore removal to zero since he’s a rugged guy and this is a strong, low-key image. The default did a great job of reducing the red and taking out the bigger spots. I only needed to go in to remove or soften a couple more. I also reduced the size of his forehead and then lengthened his nose.
The default program shortened it a bit, so I restored it closer to the original. I widened and whitened his eyes a bit, and brightened the irises. Added just a little more plumpness to the lips. And that’s about all. It took me about 20 minutes to do it all, which included trying various sliders just to see what happened. In fact all the images I worked on took 20 minutes or less—much less time than I would normally spend retouching a portrait.
Portrait Professional provides great time savings and a well-done retouching option. I have used Kodak’s Digital Gem Airbrush Professional, which is a plug-in filter for Photoshop that has been another life saver when it comes to skin retouching. However, Portrait Professional offers much more than just the skin retouching, and I find the face sculpting to be an invaluable addition to my set of tools. There are two versions, Standard and Studio; the prices are about $80 for the standard and $120 for the Studio. The Studio version handles Raw f iles and supports 16-bit images, well worth the extra few dollars.
In closing, I’ll tell you that I love this program and will be using it on all of my portraits. It’s easy and fun to use, and gives me options that make my images better and my clients happier.