Portrait Professional 11 Studio 64 Edition

Portrait Retouching Plug-In for Photoshop

I find retouching portraits in Photoshop very Zen. I love zooming in to 500% and zapping every blemish and oversized pore of a model's skin with the Healing Brush. I adore perfecting the eyes, and I have picked up an arsenal of cool tricks over the years from retouching pros such as Scott Kelby and David Cuerdon. But do you know when I don't like retouching portraits in Photoshop? When the deadline is near and I've just received a folder chockfull of images that need to be cleaned up. Professional retouching in Photoshop can take hours and years of experience to do it well.

I've had the opportunity to play with the newest version of Portrait Professional Studio 64 Edition by Anthropics Technology Ltd., and it's been great fun. Portrait Professional has a pretty nifty face and feature detector that picks up on the faces in your image and detects where the eyes, nose, and mouth are (even whether the mouth is open or closed). Sometimes it's spot on and sometimes you need to tweak where the purple marker lines end up. There's a warning not to try to be too accurate—which goes against my nature; I would actually prefer all the points to have adjustable handles, as in Adobe products, so I could twist them to perfection. But then again, this is a tool for saving time, not for nitpicky accuracy.

When you've let it know whether the detected face is female, male, adult or child, Portrait Professional queues up an "after" next to the "before" with a basic (natural) preset applied. It also automatically applies some face sculpting (mainly slimming of the face). Theoretically, you could end here and save out your image with much more even skin in just a couple of clicks, but there are eight categories of sliders you can use to dial in just the right adjustments for your image. I would prefer for Face Sculpt to be off by default, since occasionally, even the small tweaks can look strange, especially on a model whose face is turned. Used judiciously, the Face Sculpt section can dramatically improve the shape of a face, making it slimmer or trimming down a prominent nose.

The Skin Smoothing Controls are easy to use and provide nice results, and the Touch-Up Brush works much like the Healing Brush in Photoshop for targeted "zapping" of flaws missed by the sliders. I'll caution that images can go very quickly from nice to overdone. So, unless you want all your subjects to have that Barbie-doll look, it's best to use a light touch. Some adjustments like Skin Smoothing can flatten out the features of the face or add a strange glow or artifacts around the edges. Often, editing the skin area with the Restore Brush (another fun and useful feature) will fix these, but again, use a light touch. In the next version, I hope the skin and hair detection brushes will have a hardness setting, and adjusting the selected areas will work more like the Refine Edge feature in Photoshop.

The variety and number of sliders available gives you a good range of control, such as allowing you to choose different settings for the right and left eye and the upper and lower lip. It's nice to have several skin texture fills to choose from, in case you don't like the default texture applied to your image. I find some adjustments to be a bit much even at their lowest settings (mainly eye and tooth whitening), but that's a matter of taste. My one area of disappointment was in the Mouth & Nose Controls. Lips can be tricky to adjust, especially if your subject has no lipstick or the lipstick has worn off. On many of the images I tested, Moisten Lips or Sharpen Mouth just made the lips look chapped or gray. This section needs real makeup colors to choose from. The Hue slider has a full spectrum range (unnecessary), and tiny movements can yield green or purple lips. The hair adjustment section has the right idea—a pop-up menu of real hair colors to choose from, coupled with a Vibrance setting. Speaking of the Hair Controls, it's another section that's fun to play with but can go wrong quickly. I advise not trying to lighten or darken hair much beyond its real-life hue. When you have a look you like, you can save a preset for use on other images.

Portrait Professional Studio 64 offers a wide variety of intuitive adjustments that are quick and effortless. As a Photoshop user, if I had one image to retouch for a book cover or advertisement, I would take time to do it in Photoshop. Faced with a thousand wedding or senior portraits to adjust, I would certainly choose to speed things up with Portrait Professional. It can be installed as a plug-in for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Aperture, and would be an affordable and easily mastered addition to any professional photographer's workflow. Because as we all know, time is money, and clients buy more photos when they look fantastic.

The Studio 64 Edition that we tested retails for $239.90, but there's also a Studio Edition available for $119.90. The only differences are that the Studio 64 Edition is optimized for 64-bit operating systems and there's no limit on image size.

Company: Anthropics Technology, Ltd.
Price: $239.90
Rating: 4
Hot:  Automated face recognition speeds up workflow
Not:  Very easy to overdo adjustments for unnatural results