Review: Portrait Professional 10, Standard Edition

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Pros: Easy to use, elegant program that enhances photographic portraits with skill and sensitivity. Just mark out the position of the features, and the program will do its job. However, there are enough controls there to keep compulsive fiddlers happy for hours.

Cons: It's too easy to get carried away and produce over-smoothed results. But this is ultimately down to the operator, not the program: It can be as subtle as you want it to be. While the program works perfectly for straight-on and three-quarter views, it has more difficulty with profiles.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Portrait Professional is a powerful application for enhancing and beautifying portraits of people. Now in version 10, it's notable both for the high quality of its results and for its extraordinary ease of use: a wizard guides the user through each step of the setup process, and then straightforward, intuitive sliders allow us to control every aspect of the subject's appearance. Normally $89.95, the Standard edition is on sale for $39.95.

When you open the program, you're first asked to load an image, and then to tell the program whether the face is female or male. This is a key step: Portrait Professional doesn't just clear blemishes, it modifies the face based on a programmed appreciation of human beauty. Version 10 now has optimizations specifically for pictures of children, activated by a Child button.

The program doesn't just work for straight-on portraits, it also detects three-quarter and even profile views. When working with profiles, however, it can have some difficulty aligning the feature elements: guidelines indicating the position of the nose and chin are sometimes off, with no obvious way to adjust them to their correct position. Three-quarter views work just fine, with the program correctly interpreting the position of the eyes relative to the nose and showing a sample image from the correct angle for subsequent placement indications

To test Portrait Professional, I used a photograph of a woman who is not model and is without makeup. (Click on all images to see larger versions.) The first step is to specify the subject's gender.

Figure 1. The initial step: female or male?

After choosing the gender, the next step is to mark the main features. You're first prompted to mark the left corner of the left eye, and the right corner of the right eye. Helpfully, a close-up of a typical face shows you where to put these markers; the text describing what you're supposed to do also appears next to the crosshair cursor. This is followed by instructions to mark the tip of the nose, and the left and right corners of the mouth.

Figure 2: Marking the corners of the mouth.

Once the basic position of the eyes, nose and mouth have been set, the program zooms into the right eye so you can set the corners, eye shape, and eyebrow. The program places these markers for you, and its initial accuracy is good: Usually, it only takes a couple of minor adjustments to get the shape exactly right. You can also set the position and size of the iris, as well as the size of the pupil. As you select any of the handles on a portrait, a corresponding handle is shown on the sample image, showing exactly where you're supposed to locate the anchors.

Once you're done, pressing the Spacebar moves to the other eye, where you repeat the process. All the time, helpful text explains exactly what's required.

Figure 3: Setting the shape of the eye.

The next step is to mark the outline of the mouth and the extent of the nose. In this step, you begin by telling the program whether the mouth is open or closed, before going on to match the anchors to fit the shape of the lips. Only four points delineate the nose, marking the outer extremities, the bottom, and the tip.

Figure 4: Marking the shape of the nose and mouth.

The final step is to set markers to determine the outline of the face. There's one for each side of the face, one for the chin, and one for the tip of the forehead. As the help text points out, you can get good results without touching these controls, but it helps to take the few seconds necessary to get it right.

After this last step, press the Spacebar again and Portrait Professional begins to work its magic. In just a couple of seconds, the image is processed. And the initial results are impressive: skin is smoothed, blemishes removed, and the whole portrait takes on a much more professional, tidier appearance.

Because of the small size of the review window, you only have room to see the After view of the portrait, but you can flip between this view and the original by clicking a button in the main window or pressing the Enter key. When working with a larger window size on a typical monitor setup, you can choose to view the Before and After views side by side, for comparison. These views are synchronised, so dragging the preview area around in the tiny thumbnail at the right moves both together.

Figure 5: The initial result, as Portrait Professional automatically enhances the image. Tweaking Time
Now you can tweak the results using controls that are arranged within logical sections. The top section holds the Face Sculpt Controls, which adjust the shape of the features based on the developers' preset standards of beauty. There's a Master Fade slider, which moves all the features around; but there are also individual sliders to control the shape of the forehead, jaw, nose, neck, eyes and mouth shape, with additional controls within each of these—so you can set the size of the upper and lower lip, widen the eyes, and correct cross-eyes.

The Face Sculpting is perhaps the most controversial area of Portrait Professional, as it modifies the shape of the subject's features towards an accepted norm. But you don't have to use this feature: You can choose to set the Master Fade value to zero, to leave the shapes untouched. In practice, though, a small amount of adjustment can help to make a person look more beautiful without looking artificially altered, and making people look beautiful is what this program is all about.

Figure 6: Adjusting the shape of the features.

The next set of controls is for the skin itself, with individual sliders to set the amount to which the software removes imperfections: thin wrinkles, fine shadows, pores, and so on. Here, you can also remove shine, smooth skin, and adjust the hue. You're also able to control the skin texture, and even the amount of tan.

There are ten settings for spot removal, with different levels of sensitivity. If you think the program has misinterpreted the extent of the skin area, you can switch to the Skin Area panel. Here, you see the skin area as a transparent overlay, with a variable-sized brush that lets you to paint the skin region in and out. In my example image, however, Portrait Professional did an excellent job of selecting the skin area, intelligently discerning the boundary between the skin and the soft, flyaway hair that partially obscured it.

Even with the default settings, Portrait Professional manages to remove blemishes and smooth out pores and wrinkles. If there are any areas it has missed, such as moles or bags under the eyes that you'd like to remove, you can use a touch-up brush on them. Like Photoshop's Healing Tool, this removes unwanted artifacts and intrusions, but it does so with more sensitivity, replacing them with natural skin texture.

Figure 7: Fine-tuning the skin to remove blemishes.

The Eye controls allow you to whiten and sharpen the eyes, and to change the eye color. You can brighten the iris and darken the pupils, and even expand the pupil-darkened area to make them more appealing. You can remove existing reflections and add your own from a selection of typical reflection patterns.

The Mouth and Nose controls let you adjust the saturation, darkness, contrast, and hue of the lips, giving the impression of lipstick where none was present, or adjusting the hue to better match clothing. You can sharpen the lips as well, with optional independent controls for the upper and lower lip, and increase the contrast of the nostrils.

The Hair controls have sliders to set the amount of shine, to lighten or darken the hair, to redden it (a good enhancement for both blondes and brunettes), and to add vibrance. There's also a separate Hair Tidying Control section, with controls for setting the brightness of the shadows and their texture, as well as for smoothing out the hair. This section has its own on/off button, so you can quickly compare the look of the hair before and after the smoothing process. As with the skin area, you can edit the hair area if you think Portrait Professional has misinterpreted the image.

Figure 8: Tools for controlling the shine and vibrance of the hair.

The Skin Lighting control section lets you adjust the shadows, highlights, and contrast, as well as to "relight" the skin; there's also a global Picture Control section, which allows you to set the exposure, contrast, shadows, vibrance, saturation, and temperature of the entire image.

Although this all may sound like a huge amount of fiddling, in practice it's possible to create stunning results in just five minutes, from beginning to end. All the extra tweaking controls are there if you want them, but Portrait Professional does an excellent job with its default settings alone. If you like a combination of settings, you can save them into a new preset; alternatively, you can choose from one of the built-in presets that cater to most common portraiture jobs, with names such as "Young Woman Glamorous" and "Man 50+ Natural", as well as more specific settings such as "Bigger Eyes," "Whiten Teeth," and "Turn Eyes Blue."

Portrait Professional can enhance even the most lackluster portraits, producing something beautiful from the most lifeless original image. How far you take it is up to you: While it's easy to get carried away with face sculpting and other changes, it takes the eye of the user to produce a result that still looks like a real person. For everyday work, I'd tend to use restraint; for a magazine cover, I'd often want to go all out on the beautifying.

In the example below, I've deliberately over-enhanced the image to indicate the power of the program. But the face is clearly still the same person, and in her own mind, this is how she really looks.

Figure 9: The end result. Click here to see a full-size screenshot showing the before and after images side by side, as you'd see them in a typical working environment. Worth the Price
Portrait Professional is easy to use, with helpful pop-up dialogs showing clear, visual examples of each operation when you hover over them. It's also remarkably low-priced, given its power and elegance. It comes in three editions:

1. Standard offers all the controls detailed in this review. Normally $89.95, it's on sale for $39.95 at press time. It can open 24-bit TIFF and JPG files but will not open RAW images.

2. The Studio edition also has the ability to work as a Photoshop plug-in; to read and write camera RAW, Adobe DNG, and 48-bit TIFFs; and to convert between color spaces. Normally $129.95, it's on sale for $59.95 at press time.

3. The Studio 64 edition is further optimized for 64-bit Windows systems. Normally $219.95, it's on sale for $119.95 at press time.

Both designers and photographers can use Portrait Professional as a quick and remarkably easy fix for portrait and magazine work. This new version brings better face enhancement and defect correction, new presets, a mode specifically for portraits of children, and a slick new interface. Simple to install and rock-solid to run, Portrait Professional performs almost all its functions in real-time—even with large original images.

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