By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP
While I love creating images for my clients, I admit that the retouching phase of my workflow can be a little tedious. The key to turning a profit is minimizing the time you spend behind the computer. But you also want to turn out an amazing final product. We all struggle with finding that a fine line between perfection and “good enough no one else will notice but you.” Fortunately, Digital Anarchy has developed Beauty Box to help you accomplish practical retouching without spending hours fine tuning things for minimal improvement.
After using Beauty Box on a few images, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this Photoshop Plug-in was able to approximate the skin smoothing techniques I desired, while maintaining adequate detail for my taste. Prior to Beauty Box, all the automation techniques I’d tried made my subjects appear to have plastic skin (due to the loss of detail).
The Beauty Box plug-in operates within Photoshop (see interface below):
I appreciated the simplicity of the interface layout, as well as the easy access to all controls (and any presets you choose to save). The plug-in starts with a default smoothing control, but you can tweak three variables to achieve your personal preference for smoothness: smoothing amount, smoothing radius, and skin detail amount.
Below the smoothing controls you'll find the masking controls. When you have “auto mask” selected, Beauty Box will automatically mask every image you open. I found it did a decent job of isolating the skin tonal ranges, but you can easily select “show mask” to confirm whether it has rendered the mask properly for a given image. Everything masked in white will have the Beauty Box filter applied to it; shades of gray will have the filter partially applied, and anything masked in black will remain untouched by the filter.
If the auto mask didn’t select all skin tones, you just click “set skin color” to choose the primary tonal value, or “add skin color” to add more tonal range to the mask. I found the manual controls work well in occasions where the auto mask fell a bit short. But you likely won’t need to perform this extra step, as the automated mask works for most situations—important when your goal is automation!
The Beauty Box interface also features some advanced controls to allow you further tweak the mask (hue, saturation, value ranges), as well as tools to sharpen the image and correct color. The sharpening and color tools are nice because you can restrict them to just the masked areas, or you can apply the changes to the overall image. How nice to have one plug-in accomplish smoothing, sharpening, and basic color correction.
Once you’ve adjusted everything to your liking, it’s very intuitive to save it as a preset, and move on. The preset list is always displayed on the right hand side of the interface, so you’ll be able to easily access them in the future.
Here’s an image I retouching using Beauty Box. The “before” version (below) is straight out of camera, with no adjustments performed:
Notice how in the post-processed image (below), the subject’s skin has been smoothed, but pore detail is still retained.
And just to make sure you can see the difference, here is a before/after comparison. While the subject has good skin to begin with, you can see that Beauty Box has definitely created a more even skin surface (particularly on her forehead).
When using Beauty Box, it's key to remember that making manual tweaks may improve the render of your image, but you probably will not see significant improvements over what Beauty Box already renders automatically. And, if you insist on manually overriding the settings for every image, it will definitely use up a lot more of your time. And time is money … right? So let Beauty Box do the work for you, and put that free time toward something more profitable in your business.
Beauty Box was developed by Digital Anarchy, and can be purchased for $99. Digital Anarchy also offers a video version of the plug-in, so make sure you are ordering the “Photo” version of the plug-in. Beauty Box Photo is compatible with Photoshop 7.0 and later, and works with the following operating systems: Mac 10.4 - 10.6, XP Home and Pro, Vista 32-bit and 64-bit, and Windows 7. If you want to fully understand the purpose of every control in Beauty Box, Digital Anarchy has a downloadable PDF manual to help you understand how to use Beauty Box to its full potential. They also have several tutorials you can watch to get you started.