By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
Retouching is time consuming. There are trade-offs as you scale between customization and automation, and generally the faster and more automated a program is, the fewer options you have for customizing. While many editing applications attempt to bridge the gap and do both, it’s rare to find one that does both well. Earlier this year, I did a review of Perfect Photo Suite 8 (PPS8). Overall, I enjoyed using the interface and thought that it had potential as an add-on to Photoshop for portrait retouching purposes. After delving deeper into PPS8, I was most pleased with how the software handled retouching images. To put it simply, Perfect Photo Suite 8 may be a workflow efficiency boon, depending on how your workflow is set up.
Basic portrait retouching for PPS8 is pretty straightforward. You open PPS8, select the Portrait Module, and then get to work. PPS8 will automatically detect faces within the image, and identify each by a green box (below). Usually PPS8 does a decent job of finding faces for you, but sometimes you will have to adjust the control markers for eyes and mouth. Profile views tend to have a harder time being recognized and automatically set up. If no faces are detected, you can always click on a face to add an editing box for that individual.
The toolbar to the left of the image has six buttons (top to bottom): Face Select Tool, Face Edit Tool, Perfect Eraser, Retouch Brush, and the standard Hand and Zoom tools. Face Select displays all the identified faces in the image, while Face Edit allows you to select and work on retouching a specific face. Perfect Eraser removes larger blemishes, dust spots, and other things from your image; Retouch Brush has variable opacity so you can completely touch out skin flaws or just tone down wrinkles depending on your preference.
The retouching panel to the right of the image includes three sections; Skin Retouching, Color Correction, and Eyes & Mouth. These will be applied to the faces that you (and PPS8) have defined. When refining an individual face (above), you can select how much of the subject’s skin you want to have PPS8 edit. In the skin retouching panel, the first control is Face Size (default is medium). This control (small, medium, large) lets you choose how tightly the edits will be held within the facial mask and whether they extend into the neck or hair. You can further expand the retouching area by unselecting the checkmark that defaults to select Face Only in this section of the retouching panel. Finally, there are slider controls for Blemishes, Smoothing, Shine, Shadows, Texture, and Evenness.
Blemishes: reduces or removes the appearance of blemishes like acne
Smoothing: airbrushes the texture of the skin and removes texture
Shine: evens out and tones down the highlight areas of the face
Shadows: lightens and evens the shadow areas of the face
Texture: adds texture back to the skin
Evenness: flattens out the tonal range and reduces blotchiness or red splotches of the skin
The Color Correction section of the retouching panel lets you edit the skin tones of your subject. This is particularly helpful if your image was not created in a studio or if you weren’t able to color balance the image for whatever reason. You can adjust the Amount, Warmth, Color Shift, and Ethnicity. The Ethnicity drop-down will allow PPS8 to fine tune the skin more accurately than just assuming one size fits all. Finally, the Eyes & Mouth section lets you whiten eyes and teeth, as well as bring out detail in the pupil (Detail), and enhance the lip tone (Vibrance). Note that each of these sections can be reset to default as well as toggled on/off.
Rather than manipulating each of these controls individually, you can choose to use one of the onOne Presets available (above). There are four preset sections: Children, Female, Groups, and Male. Each section has multiple presets, and you can save and store your own; they can be previewed in list form to the left of the main image or as a pop-out window.
In this first example, I’ll be doing some basic portrait retouching on a child portrait. You can see above that while the face has been identified, the control points for the eyes and mouth are not really in the right places. So, for this image, I had to adjust the locations of the markers. The only thing in the right spot was the blue marker for the pupil, and the markers for the corners of the mouth. By clicking and holding on each marker, I moved them into their proper places. For the mouth, there are four lines that allow you to define both top and bottom lips, as well as the area where the teeth are. For the eyes, you define the whites and set the location of the pupil. It’s important to confirm these markers are accurate if you want the whitening effects to occur in the appropriate areas.
Here’s the corrected view:
Once you have them set up, the control markers can be hidden by clicking the Hide Controls button to the upper right of the image. Next, I selected one of the onOne presets in the Children category (Natural). From there, I did a few tweaks to the sliders, mainly bringing up the tones in the teeth and pupils. I then removed some of the larger dust spots, a few stray hairs on the posing stool, and a few other minor distractions around the image. While I could have spent a lot more time on it, I kept it basic to show you the true capabilities of PPS8. The longest part of this edit was refining the eyes and mouth control points; I’d say I spent two minutes at most for this retouch. If you look at the before and after views (below), you’ll notice the main enhancements were to the eyes and teeth, but the skin tones were also flattened out some, and there is a little softening of detail around the hairline as well.
Now, onto some more in-depth retouching. This was my first experiment with a group portrait in PPS8:
I used the software to enhance eyes, mouth, skin, and the background of the image.
When I first began to mask out the background of the image in the Mask module, I painted over the people (red mask, negative - Drop Mask Tool) and didn't do more than a brush stroke or two before I accidentally let go of the cursor. My computer began processing for a bit, and I started to get annoyed because I wanted to finish making my mask. All of a sudden, up popped the image with the background completely dropped out. It surprised me so much I jumped back and exclaimed, "Whoa!"
The auto mask did a really good job of dropping out the background; the only place it struggled was with the white shirt. The initial mask excluded the triangle of background inside her arm, and a subsequent addition to the mask showed that the default settings had trouble differentiating between white-gray and gray (below).
I was able to refine this using some of the tools in PPS8 though. I then went into the Portrait module and edited the control points for each face, working on details as I went along. For this image I did not use any presets, but adjusted the sliders manually. My main goals were to reduce shine and even out skin tone, which was accomplished reasonably well while still keeping detail. This before and after, again, was done completely with the sliders, and I didn’t do extensive retouching on any one image, so you can see what the automation can do. I would guess that, for this single image of a family of four, PPS8 cut down my edit time by 50 to 75 percent compared to manually retouching each face for the same variables.
Finally, I decided to retouch a high school senior portrait with PPS8. I used the Male Natural onOne Preset as a starting point for this image and bumped up the skin repair sliders enough to smooth over a few blemishes. I used the retouching brush on a reduced-opacity level to lighten under the eyes and even out a few areas of skin that remained uneven. With this image, I did take it a little further into an airbrushed look than I do for my portraits just to demonstrate the capabilities of PPS8 for photographers who prefer that look.
For this example, I took the retouching further into an airbrushed look than I do for my client work so that photographers whose clients want that effect can see what the software can do.
All that sounds great, but in order for retouching to be cost-effective, you need batch editing, which PPS8 has, accessible through Photoshop. You start a batch from within Photoshop (File > Automation > Perfect Batch 8), and then switch over to PPS8 to set up the details. The Batch dialog window asks you to select source and destination folders, and then you can add presets from any PPS8 module that you desire.
For this batch run I just added one module: Perfect Portrait. For my first test run, I put 24 images in a test folder (the files totaled about 7MB in size) and ran the batch. It took four minutes to process that set. Two of the images looked unchanged, and another two images had obvious flaws in where the control points were placed on the eyes. Other than that, the batching did a decent job of enhancing the eyes and skin, as well as drawing the focus into the face.
I batch processed a folder of raw and JPEG files from a session to see how PPS8 handled a more realistic set of images with large file sizes. This time the folder held 56 files, totalling 274MB; processing took a little less than 20 minutes. Based on these results with batching in PSS8, I would probably use the batch feature for generating previews and web files and the like and manually edit the images that would be printed or enlarged.
While working on some of the images for this article, I felt the need to re-open them in PPS8 and do further editing on one. I was very disappointed to see that none of the edits I’d done in PPS8 were saved; I basically had a “before” and “after” file. You'll need to do any editing all in one fell swoop or leave PPS8 open until you can complete it, because otherwise you’ll have to redefine all the facial control points and start from scratch if you want to revisit a particular file later.
Along these same lines, I was not too happy with the fact that the Effects module layers all merged into one after being applied to the image (I had created a portrait sharpening layer and a lightening layer, among others). I had been expecting the layers to be preserved as in Photoshop.
So, if you can live with those shortcomings, then this will still be a fine software option for you.
Overall, I think PPS8 could be good for retouching workflow efficiency, depending on the extent of your needs for retouching and your willingness to develop presets that will work for the kinds of images you create. It won’t replace Photoshop for me, but I can see it being a good supplement or add-on. To learn more about retouching with PPS8, you can browse a plethora of training videos at onOne Software’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/onOneSoftwareU
Pricing and Info:
Perfect Photo Suite 8 can be installed on either Windows (7 or 8) or Mac OS (X 10.7, 10.8, 10.9). There are three versions of the suite available:
- Premium Edition, $179.95
- For Adobe Lightroom + Apple Aperture, $129.95
- Standard Edition, $79.95
The Premium Edition works as a standalone program and has optional integration with: Photoshop (CS5, CS6, CC, Elements 10-12), Lightroom (4, 5), and Apple Aperture (3.4+). The Standard Edition does not integrate with any other software. If you own a prior version, there are upgrade options available. For more information, or to download a 30 day free trial, visit onOne Software. http://www.ononesoftware.com/products/suite8/
Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP is a portrait artist in Michigan.