Thursday, 24 March 2016

Bring on the airbrush

Way back in 2012 I reviewed a product called Portrait Professional, which allowed the user to touch up a photo of a face using simple controls, rather than manually fiddling about in something like Photoshop. Now I've got my hands on its successor, PortraitPro, and it's streets ahead in both sophistication and ease of use - which can't be bad. In fact it's scary just how much it does.

Facial feature identification
Given a photo of a person, the software analyses the face and identifies the facial features - this process is automatic, but usually needs some slight manual tweaking, for example to make sure it exactly follows the line of the teeth - but that's just a matter of dragging lines on the screen. The software immediately applies a generic improvement, but then the fun really begins as you can modify all kinds of aspects using a set of sliders.

Want to whiten the teeth? No problem. Improve skin texture and colour? Easy. Apply fake makeup? A breeze - lipstick, mascara, bronzer, the works (no I didn't). And there's some more subtle work going on here too - for example, the software can subtly change the shape of the nose or plump up the lips - and the effect is remarkably convincing.

You might think this kind of thing only applies to those who want a modelling career, but we all use pictures of ourself, for example on social media, or in my case, in book publicity. And even a face like mine (take that as you will) can benefit from a little enhancement. I used a photo I regularly employ in publicity. I wasn't looking straight at the camera, as is often the case in portraits, and my skin wasn't having one of its best days. I may be biassed, but I'm impressed by the improvement:


In case it's not obvious, the one on the left is the 'before' and the one on the right the 'after'. By default, while running the program you get this kind of before and after shot (useful to have a big screen), which makes for easy comparison.

The changes are subtle, but comprehensive. Although the most obvious difference is skin thats less red, there are at least 20 different processes that have been automatically applied, a couple of which I've tweaked slightly. But the final outcome is a photo that, while equally good in terms of quality, simply looks a lot better. (I should have taken more of the shine off my skin, but I forgot.)

Of course we have something of a backlash on the matter of airbrushed photos of celebrities and social media selfies. But this isn't a matter of drastic change, simply doing the kind of thing a makeup artist does routinely for a TV appearance - making the best of what you've got. And if a photo is to do a job, why not?

You can pay £99.95 for the full pro version of the software, but to be honest the bells and whistles this adds are only going to interest a photographer working for a glossy magazine. Unless you handle RAW image files, the standard version does everything you might need for £29.95 at the time of writing. Clearly PortraitPro is not for everyone. But if you either take a lot of pictures of people, or, like me, need to provide publicity photos for various reasons, then it's well worth considering the investment. (There's a free trial version to give it a go.)

The software is available direct from the PortraitPro website. It's available for Windows or Mac (OSX 10.6 or later).


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