Portrait retouching. Everybody does it. In many cases is common knowledge, in fact it’s expected – “of course it’s photoshopped”. From the now famous Dove commercial to the ridiculous Ralph Lauren ad, portrait retouching is a very sensitive area yet part of everyday life.
Ethics? What ethics?
Without trying to justify the abuses of retouching, it does has its uses. Acne for example is something transitory, I’ve had models with a few spots now and a perfect skin a week later – what should have I done, postpone the shoot? Ask her to put a thicker layer of makeup? (have you seen how much makeup is used in film/tv?) Moreover, the camera and studio lights are unforgiving. Stuff you’ll never notice in real life, like small wrinkles, shine and so on, become painfully obvious at when captured in full 25 Mp resolution. And even before Photoshop, people were using makeup and airbrushing and favourable angles to get the most flattering look.
The moral dilemma is, obviously, where to draw the line?
Portrait Professional 9 from Anthropics is definitely not going to make the previous question any simpler because, if anything, it pushes the boundaries further, allowing one to enhance portraits so easily it’s almost ridiculous.
How it works
At a glance, it’s a stand-alone program (not a Photoshop plugin) that does face sculpting, eye recoloring, skin repair, hair repair, teeth whitening and more. What’s really cool about it is that it creates some sort of a 3D model of the face, so after you set the control points, most adjustments are fully automatic.
You start by loading a picture and choosing the gender. You then click to indicate the corners of the eyes, the tip of the nose and the mouth. After that the program will build something like a wireframe model of the head, which you can fine-tune. I found that this is the most important stage; misplacing control points can lead to poor results.
After the model is built, the fun begins. The program has a very simple interface based on sliders.
The main slider areas are:
- Face sculpt (head, jaw, nose, neck, eyes, mouth);
- Skin controls (spots, wrinkles, shadows, hue, shine, texture);
- Eyes (whiten &brighten, sharpen, eye color, darken pupil, remove reflections);
- Mouth (whiten & brighten teeth, lip saturation and colour);
- Hair (shine, tidy, vibrance);
- Skin lighting (shadows, relight, contrast, highlights).
Overall, there are enough sliders to keep you happy for hours.
There are some mask-painting features to restrict the skin and hair areas. The skin controls even feature a Texture selection that allows you to retexture the skin so it doesn’t appear unnaturally smooth. The Skin lighting controls seemed the least useful, at least for me, but I think it can help in bad lighting situations.
Enough theory, let’s see it in action
Scenario 1 – spots
This is an all-time favorite. So ephemeral yet so low-esteem-inducing, they appear exactly when you want them the least – like before a photo session.
In the original, the acne was visible even with the makeup. The image on right is the result of automatic processing in Portrait Professional. Perfect skin yet not plastic-like.
Scenario 2 – Skin shine, teeth and eyes
Here I had a beautiful model with a different – it was very hot and the lighting was pretty crappy (indoors, available light – tungsten – yuk!).
Sweat on makeup is always an issue, but Portrait Professional managed to clean it nicely. Also note some subtle teeth whitening (not really needed). Just for kicks, I made the eyes wider and changed their color.
Scenario 3 – Playing God with Face Sculpting
This is THE feature that sets Portrait Professional apart from competition. In short, it uses some internal algorithms to determine the facial structure and “push” them towards an ideal. Obviously, not everyone is going to like it. I tried some face sculpting on a photo of my wife and she hated it; others have loved the results.
This is understandable because, as the program tries to alter the photo to perfection, it also destroys one’s uniqueness (as an example, look at a beauty pageant – the contestants tend to look all the same) and I mean it when I say “perfection is boring“.
There’s something disturbingly fascinating in reshaping someone’s body to fit an idealized fantasy. Perhaps Photoshop (and plastic surgery) has made us all into little Frankensteins or Doctors Moreau, always trying to undo God’s / Nature’s work. But I digress.
It took me a while to realize it, but the makers of Portrait Professional want it to be seen as an alternative to Photoshop (one of the reasons it’s a standalone app and not a plugin) and at $69 it’s quite tempting. It can definitely turn a few hours of retouching into a 10 minute play time and if used sparingly it can do wonders.
The downsides? Well, if everybody get their hand on it, no Facebook pic will remain untouched. God help us all.