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Pro Review: Portrait Professional v9.0

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By Cheryl Pearson

Many photographers spend countless hours learning the latest tricks and techniques for retouching images using Photoshop. Accomplishing the desired effect can be tedious and time consuming. Then we work to perfect the techniques so that retouching won't slow down our workflow.

But what if you didn’t have to work so hard? What if one application did all this retouching for us with just a few simple steps? Anthropics Technology’s Portrait Professional v9.0 software attempts to create what we need, and even goes one step further. Not only does this program retouch the photograph, it slightly restructures the face giving it a more pleasing appearance. While most of us would need an array of tools, filters and adjustments to accomplish all this in Photoshop, Portrait Professional v9.0 can do this extremely complex task with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Portrait Professional v9.0 seems too good to be true, but it’s actually extremely easy to use and streamlines workflow in a way that saves a tremendous amount of time. So how does it work? The software was developed through analysis of hundreds of faces and the creation of a knowledge base of appearance and aspects of attractiveness so that the software could be programmed to essentially  know the changes needed to make a portrait more appealing without altering the facial features too drastically.

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Images ©Cheryl Pearson.

Although the application uses a set of complex algorithms to define the changes, the steps you are required to perform for each portrait are simple and straightforward. Once you launch the program you are guided through each step. Opening the photo and selecting Male or Female sets the default facial adjustments for that gender. The program then asks you to set five points on the face for the eyes, nose and mouth. The right panel guides you through this task, displaying the correct placement for these five points. A dialogue box provides instructions for fine-tuning the facial outlines created by setting these points.

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Once these adjustments are made, the image is processed and within seconds a completely retouched portrait with subtle facial reshaping appears. The eyes are enhanced, teeth whitened, and the face is cleaned-up, even visible wrinkles are less defined. In most photos I tried, the retouching did not appear overdone and the facial re-sculpting was quite subtle.

One of my favorite features is the before and after image display. You can choose to view both version in lieu of just the retouched image. In both displays you can press Enter to toggle back and forth from the retouched portrait to the original. This proves essential when viewing the facial reshaping, particularly if you wish to make adjustments, and gives you an idea of which elements of the face were altered and in what way. The program will do various alterations, such as reshape the jaw, slim the face, elongate the neckline, shorten the nose and change the width of the eyes. The specific changes can be difficult to perceive without toggling the comparison.

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In this example, the subject's face is slightly elongated, the jaw line narrowed, and eyes separated by a small amount.

I did find that in some portraits with a slightly angled face position the facial adjustments didn't look as natural as I would have preferred. With certain portraits, the automated adjustments distorted the facial features in a way that deviated too far from the original image (below).

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Underneath the photo thumbnail in the right panel is a drop-down menu with various default settings where you can choose to reset the image back to the original. It's also possible to leave the retouching intact while converting the facial restructuring back to its original state. Once the retouched photo is generated, the right panel displays seven controls to fine-tune the adjustments, so if you don’t like the automated results, you can change it completely or make further enhancements. The Face Sculpt Control section has a button to turn this feature on or off, providing the option to skip reshaping and keep the other touchups. The on/off option is available for all seven controls.

The controls—Face Sculpting, Skin, Eyes, Mouth, Hair, Skin Lightening, and Picture Control—all worked well. I would continue to use Photoshop to perform all of the adjustments that fall under Picture Controls (exposure, contrast, etc), because Photoshop has far better control and quality in this arena. All seven controls contain submenus. Each submenu contains individual sliders for each facial feature for fine-tuning each element of the face more precisely. Having all of these options in one program is like having a variation of the Liquify tools and all the retouching tools from Photoshop in one panel, making it quick and easy to make adjustment to your portraits.

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For example, under the Hair Control tab the user can define the hair area. This area becomes highlighted in magenta with a resizable brush to extend or cut back on what you would like selected (below). There are sliders for Shine, Lighten, Redden, and Vibrance, with an additional dialogue box to refine Hair Fill Shadows and Hair Smoothing. You can adjust these sliders individually, or use a Master Slider in each of the seven main controls to move all the sliders under it as a group. Each slider is color coded with green, orange and red. With certain controls, once the slider moves past the green area the enhancements start to look unnatural or display artifacting in that area of the portrait. One very useful element, a dialogue box with an explanation of how that control works and what it adjusts, appears if you hold the cursor over any of the controls or sliders.

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The top tool bar contains a Touch-up and Restore Brush. The brush size and strength can be defined for both brushes, allowing you to paint over and restore details in certain areas of the portrait. The Touch-up tool paints over blemishes, wrinkles, stray hairs, etc, while retaining the texture of the area. The restore brush also worked well to bring back detail in just the selected areas.

Another convenient feature is the ability to complete the retouching process on multiple individuals in the same image. If you select Next in the top right panel and select Enhance Another Face In This Photo, that image starts again at the beginning steps. The portrait can be saved completely once all faces are retouched.

Full Body Skin Control is a feature you may not use with every portrait, but I found it valuable. In a ½ or ¾ length portrait you can define the skin selection. Smoothing these skin areas together keeps the skin retouching consistent throughout the entire image.

Overall, this application is one I would use with all my portraits. In most cases, the automated retouching and face reshaping needed no further adjustment. The extensive set of effective tools to fine-tune each aspect make it easy to correct anything that doesn’t look quit right. This program encompasses all that is required to create a completely retouched image in a condensed and easy to use interface.

With the capability to resculpt the appearance of your subjects, Portrait Professional v9.0 goes beyond a simple and expeditious option for retouching photographs. Although you may not want to use this option in all of your images, having a quick and effortless means to create these alterations when you do is a real time saver.

I personally don’t think facial resculpting is appropriate for all portraiture, and that it’s something that should either be requested by the client or discussed with them beforehand. While I do think some general/minor retouching is OK, portraits should stay as true to what the person looks like as possible.  This is why it's good to know how to use the automatic retouching feature, which wasn’t too drastic or unnatural in most of my tests, but be able to turn off the facial structuring if it's not appropriate for an image or doesn't work well with a pose. Of course, any photographer who's interested in using this software will have to make their own determinations about how much information they provide to clients about retouching, and for which cases resculpting is appropriate.

There are two versions of the software, Standard and Studio. Prices range from $99.95 for the standard version and $149.95 for the Studio version. The Studio version handles raw processing and 16-bit TIFF files, and allows the user to batch process files. The Studio version may also be used as a standalone application or as a plug-in for Photoshop. Visit www.portraitprofessional.com for more information and to download a free trial.