Portrait Professional 11 review: Tidy up portraits quickly and easily

When Portrait Professional first launched it was a revolutionary product, being able to map out faces and produce skin cleaning and general tweaks. Other apps and plug-ins launched into the same market so it’s been up to PP to stay ahead of the game, without making the software so cumbersome to use that it ceased saving valuable time any more. The latest version takes heed of this, packing in a large number of features, but making every effort to keep the process as automated and simple as possible.

Installation offers a standalone app and plug-in 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 here’s the thing, they are all linked so that moving one element on the lips will move 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 can’t be turned off, although you can undo the action. The viewpoint automatically zooms into the face area, and a zoom slider and navigator panel allows adjustment of this. It makes the initial facial feature selection very quick overall.

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, eye controls, mouth and nose, skin colouring, lighting on the skin 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, there are no numbers involved, so that the improvement can be visually checked immediately and if it doesn’t work, undone again. The face sculpting is probably the most controversial element of the app because it changes the physical dimensions of the face. For commercial uses of portraits where you are selling a service or product, then this isn’t an issue, but where the face is representing someone then there are obvious legal issues. That’s not the problem of the software, that’s your concern and it’s a handy feature to have when needed. The eyes in particular can benefit from this, as rounded sockets can be elongated. Most of the adjustments are flawless but the eye-widening can lead to distortion.

The basic purpose of PP was always to clean up and smooth out the skin for female subjects. This can be overdone to give a completely 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 tight to important features considerably easier and safer to do. On the actual slider side, there’s ones for wrinkles, shadows, pores, smoothing and adding texture back in. What’s really useful is the one for taking out patches of skin with highlights from the flash. There’s 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.

OUR VERDICT

Class-leading software. 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. Skin-smoothing can be as extensive or subtle as you like, and it’s possible to tweak all the other features. Setting up the image is quick and a vast array of file formats are supported. First rate.

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