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Two Paths to Retouching

By Stan Sholik

Is portrait retouching software worth the investment or should you stick with what you have? We compared the process, advantages and limitations, comparing Anthropics Portrait Professional and Adobe Photoshop CS5 (and a subsequent comparison using Craig's Actions).

Portrait retouching is far more art than science. Even with a firm intent in your mind for the final form of a project, there are many paths to that end. This article will explore two popular portrait retouching paths, Anthropics Portrait Professional v9 and Adobe Photoshop CS5. I hope when we are finished that you will see the advantages and disadvantages of each technique and maybe learn a few tricks along the way.

The image I have chosen is a capture I made in the studio of a high school student. She’s a California girl with freckles and skin issues that will make the retouching interesting. My intent is not to produce a poreless high-fashion portrait, but rather one that is faithful to reality while minimizing any skin issues. Admittedly, once I was into it, I did take liberties to tweak reality. My goal was to complete the retouching using Portrait Professional and Photoshop in the same amount of time, though I doubted it could be done. I’ll start with Portrait Professional.


But before we get started I want to have the original image correctly color balanced. I had the model hold an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport for one of the captures (above, click image for large view). After importing the RAW files into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, I used the eyedropper to select a neutral balance with one of the gray patches. Then using the exposure slider I adjusted the lightest patch (red circle) to 95%/95%/95% and the darkest patch (blue circle) to 10%/10%/10%. But neutral color balance is always too cool for a portrait in my opinion, so I selected the eyedropper again and clicked on one of the warming patches (orange circle) for my final color balance. I then processed the portrait to an 8-bit RGB TIFF.



Portrait Professional

After opening Anthropics Portrait Professional, either the standalone version or the Portrait Professional Pro Photoshop plug-in, and the image file, it takes a minute or so to manually set the alignment points that the software uses to locate facial features. Once the portrait is open in Portrait Professional, it appears in the central view window with the adjustments panel to the right. Since I wanted a “natural” looking portrait, I turned off the Face Sculpt Controls to return the face to its natural shape.


In order that Portrait Professional can perform its initial magic you need to make your way through a few screens in order to position points on the subjects face. This is the final screen with all of the points selected.


Portrait Professional automatically makes adjustments to the portrait, including changing the shape of the face with the Face Sculpt Controls. Using the split screen Before and after view you can readily see the adjustments. I turned off the Face Sculpt Controls initially to preserve the natural look of the model’s face.

It was immediately obvious in the preview window that Portrait Professional had smoothed the skin to the extent of eliminating all of the girl’s freckles, but left some of the skin defects on the shadow side of her face. This wasn’t the look I wanted, so I selected the Restore Brush and, by using the Return key to toggle to the Before view so I could see where the freckles were, I painted a few of them back in. Switching to the Touch Up Brush and a higher brush strength, I removed the few remaining defects.

I tried different settings of the Skin Control sliders as I panned around the image, but couldn’t really improve on the settings Portrait Professional had chosen. However I did notice that there were still blemishes showing on her chest and arms. Clicking on the Show Skin Area button I saw that those areas hadn’t been selected. I enlarged the skin area to cover them and the blemishes disappeared.


Initially, Portrait Professional didn’t select the models chest and arms. I extended the skin area using the tools.


This shows the extended skin area.


After trying different settings of the Tan slider, I decided to give her a tan setting of 30.

Even though I liked the warm skin tone that I had originally created in Lightroom, after playing with the Tan slider I decided to give her a tan of 30 (above). She is a California girl after all.

Eye Controls are next in the adjustment panel. I brightened and sharpened her eyes and then enhanced her eye color to draw more attention to them. I would have enlarged her eyes slightly, but there was no control to do this. The eye widening slider opens the eyes slightly, but doesn’t affect their overall size.

I wanted to darken and warm the lips, but I found the controls in Portrait Professional are limited for doing this. I pushed them as far as I could.

I added a slight amount of Shine and Lightness to her hair, but couldn’t do anything about the flyaway hairs around her head.

I didn’t need any of the Skin Lighting or Picture Controls, so I zoomed out to see the result. This is when I decided to take one liberty with reality. I opened the Face Sculpting Controls and thinned her cheeks with a low setting of 20 to complete the adjustments.

I wanted to eliminate a “bump” in her shoulder that she created from the way she was sitting, but there was no tool for this.


In case I wanted to make any changes later, I saved the setting of all of the slider that I used as a preset.

Just in case I might change my mind later, I saved all the sliders as a custom preset with the model’s name, Makena. 

Total time: 22 minutes.


The final corrected file using Portrait Professional.

Photoshop CS5

In Photoshop I have developed my own best portrait workflow. Since there are many paths to the same result in Photoshop, yours may well differ from mine.

I begin with basic cleanup, working with the Spot Healing Brush first for small blemishes, then the Healing Brush for larger areas. Then I do my skin softening and smoothing adjustments before moving on to the eyes, lips, hair and any final adjustments. I make all of these adjustments on separate layers. This gives me the ability to soften brushstrokes with Gaussian blur and to create masks to control exactly where the effect is applied.

The initial skin cleanup in Photoshop took half of my 22 minutes because of the large number of small blemishes, but I’m happier with the Photoshop result since I could easily leave the freckles I wanted.


Closeup of the model’s face without any Photoshop adjustments.


I first used the Spot Healing Brush and then the Healing Brush to clean up as many of the major skin defects as I could before smoothing and softening the skin.

To smooth the skin, I flattened my layers with my favorite keyboard shortcut, shift/opt/cmd + E (Mac) or shift/alt/ctrl + E (Win). Then I chose a low setting of Filter > Other > High Pass, desaturated it (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate) and select Soft Light Blending Mode. Since the High Pass filter sharpens rather than softens, I invert it with (cmd/ctrl + I). Then I used Color Range in the Mask panel to limit the softening to the skin tones. For this image, I needed to duplicate this adjustment and apply it again at a lower opacity to achieve the softening I wanted. Then I added a curves adjustment layer to make the skin look more tan, as I had in Portrait Professional, and used the healing brush to smooth out some tonal variations. 


I used the inverted High Pass filter as described in the text on two layers in order to smooth the skin to my liking.


A Curves adjustment targeting the same skin area as the smoothing added a tan as I had done in Portrait Professional.


To finish off the skin retouching I used the Healing Brush at a low opacity and with a strong Gaussian Blur to even out the tonality.

For the eyes, I painted out the second highlight in the pupil, then created a mask with Quick Mask, then a Curves layer using the layer mask to enhance the iris color and brightness. Since I was in Photoshop, I could enlarge the eyes now. Studies have shown that people with larger eyes (and thinner cheeks) are judged to be more beautiful, so I feel OK about taking these liberties. I selected the eyes, increased their size by 5% and masked them back into the image. I sharpened the eyes with Smart Sharpen and used a mask to limit the sharpening to the eyes and eyelashes. 


To brighten the iris I used Quick Mask and carefully painted with black in the iris areas.


Using a Curves adjustment layer and the mask I created, I changed the color and brightness of the irises. A Smart Sharpen adjustment with a mask for the eyes completed the eye work.

After flattening layers again, I was ready to fix the lips. I selected them with the Quick Mask tool and inverted the mask I created. Then, using curves, I darkened her lips and added a little red, magenta and yellow. When I zoomed out to look, I decided I had overdone it, but since it was on a separate layer, I just lowered the opacity and it looked great. Finally I created another layer with a Soft Light Blending Mode and painted with white to add highlights and black to add contour, softening the brush strokes with Gaussian blur. 


Using the same Quick Mask and Curves technique that I used on the eyes, I added color to the lips. To give the lips dimension, I added a Soft Light blending mode layer and painted highlights with white and shadows with black, then blurred the brush strokes with Gaussian Blur.

To change the shape of her cheeks, I used the Puppet Warp tool in CS5. After setting anchor points I pushed in from both sides to thin her cheeks and jaw. I was able to deal with the shoulder bump also. Using the Liquefy filter with a medium size brush and low setting, I pushed the bump into her shoulder, then added a layer mask so that only the edge was changed. 


To thin the cheeks, I used the new Puppet Warp tool, setting anchor points, then adding and nudging control points for the look I wanted. 


To smooth the shoulder line I used the warp tool on low settings and with a medium-sized brush to nudge the shoulder back to a more pleasant line.

The last thing I wanted to do was fix the flyaway hair. For this I created another layer and used the Spot Healing Brush, the Healing Brush and the Clone tool to remove the strays. I was way over my time goal, so I didn’t make any changes to lighten the hair, which would have required another Curves layer and mask.


On a new layer I used the Spot Healing Brush, the Healing Brush and the Clone tool to remove a lot of the flyaway hairs.


Here is the final image and all of the adjustments showing in the Layers panel.

The final file size was 182.7MB, from the initial 17.1MB. I could have permanently flattened layers to decrease the file size, but I wanted to be able to show the complete list of layers at the end. I do group adjustments to make the layers panel more orderly.

Total Photoshop time: 48 minutes, more than double that of Portrait Professional.


The final corrected file using Adobe Photoshop CS5.

However, what you lose in productivity by using Photoshop you gain in ability, control and flexibility. I prefer the way the skin looks in this Photoshop image, although I confess that I use Portrait Professional for most of my portrait work. I also like the ability to increase the size of the eyes and correct problems such as the shoulder that I can only do in Photoshop. When I have the time and budget with a corporate client, I use Photoshop for those reasons. For most other work, Portrait Professional is tough to beat. With either program, if you have a firm idea of what you are looking for in the final result, they, or a combination of them, can take you there.   

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, Professional Filter Techniques for Digital Photographers, covering both on-camera analog and post-production digital filters is published by Amherst Media.