Portrait Professional 11 review
Price: £33.25 plus VAT
Pros: Automatic face detection and mask application; can enhance every facial feature and shape, plus the hair.
Cons: Can’t deal with darker images.
When Portrait Professional first launched it was a revolutionary product, being able to map out faces and produce skin cleaning and general tweaks. The latest version packs in a large number of features, but every effort has been made to keep the process as automated and simple as possible.
It’s available as a standalone app, and plugin versions for Photoshop and Aperture. The job starts when you load an image. The software scans it for faces and automatically applies the face-defining markers. For faces straight on this is usually very accurate, but for ones at an angle or with shadows, it’s less so.
The defining points can be moved to more accurate locations, but they are all linked, so moving an element on the lips will change one above it. Moving the corners of the eyes will adjust the eyebrows, and so on. Mostly this isn’t a problem, but sometimes the knock-on effect isn’t desirable and this feature can’t be turned off, though you can undo the action.
There are some presets for male and female, child, young and old that start the process, and then there are extra presets related to the gender of the subject. If you eschew those, then there are seven main slider-based sections, as well as some overall picture controls. These cover sculpting the face, skin smoothing and colouring, eye controls, mouth and nose, lighting on the surface and hair controls.
All the main sections have on/off toggles, so can be removed quickly. Opening a section such as the face sculpt controls shows a master slider, and then individual sliders for all the shape elements. What’s impressive is that everything is slider-based, so the improvement can be visually checked immediately and if it doesn’t work, undone again.
Face sculpting is probably the most controversial element of the software because it changes the physical dimensions of the face. That’s fine if, for example, you are cleaning up a portrait, but when the face is representing someone there are obvious legal issues. That’s not the problem of the software though, that’s your concern and it’s handy to have when needed.
The basic purpose of PP was always to clean up and smooth out the skin for female subjects. This can be overdone to give an artificial and plastic look, but with this release the basic skin-smoothing is nicely restrained. As well as the slider-based controls, you can also use a touch-up brush to remove specific flaws the automated system misses.
Don’t expect this to be like Photoshop’s various Clone and Healing tools though, it’s much better. You can brush around and over the eyebrows, for example, removing uneven textures, without destroying the eyebrow. It makes cleaning up areas right up to important features considerably easie and safer to do. There’s a handy slider for taking out patches of skin with highlights from the flash. There are also very useful functions for defining cheekbones and adding a little colour.
Of the other options, the hair processing ones are interesting. Here you can try to change the hair colour of your subject. In a brightly lit image this is usually very good, but ones with significant shadow cause problems when turning the subject blonde or much lighter. The shadows tend to get brightened along with the hair, resulting in lots of noise and a false looking image. However, adding a more uniform colour to a darker image does work, and hair smoothing can give unruly hair a more attractive look.
Portrait Professional is class-leading software. It packs in a large number of very well-implemented features, but attempts to make everything as simple to use and as well-explained as possible.