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Portrait Professional 8 review


Needs Intel Mac + Mac OS X 10.4 or later + 512MB RAM

Review Date: 14 Aug 2008

Price when reviewed: (£34 ex VAT); Studio version with Camera Raw and 16-bit support £59.95 (&51.02 ex VAT)

Reviewed By: Ken McMahon

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Portrait Professional 8 is a retouching application designed specifically for studio portraits.

If you're no dab hand with the retouching brush, don't let the Professional tag put you off - it applies to the results, not the skill level required to achieve them.

The application analyses an image, and applies distortion and effects filters to alter facial characteristics, so that they more closely resemble conventional perceptions of human beauty. For this to work, you must first provide the software with some information about the shot - the gender of the sitter and the precise location of facial features. This takes only a few seconds, after which the software goes to work to produce a default enhancement, which is displayed on the right of a before/after preview that occupies most of the screen. To the left of these is a control panel with a multitude of slider-based controls that you can tweak to get the look you want.

Several presets are provided to make things even easier. These include default male and female, glamour male and female, and various iris colouring options. The Remove Wrinkles preset is a little bit excessive and the Sepia option could more accurately be called 'cadaver', but this isn't really an issue as you can manipulate the sliders manually and save your own presets.

Moving beyond the presets, individual controls provide more versatility than you'd expect from sliders. Hence, you can use the Face Sculpt master slider to elongate the head and produce a high forehead and narrow cheekbones, or to individually adjust head, jaw, nose and neck controls. The same applies to eyes and mouth shape, which are further sub-divided, so you can adjust eyes individually and change the shape of the upper and lower lip, and the degree of smile or frown.

The remaining controls are dedicated to removing skin imperfections and improving overall skin texture and colour. There's a master slider and individual controls for, among other things, imperfections, thin wrinkles, pores, shine, adjusting colour temperature and adding a tan.

The global filtration removes all but the most prominent blemishes, and for stubborn areas there's a touch-up brush. In operation, this tool is closer to Aperture's Retouch tool than Photoshop's Clone Stamp. You don't have to define a source, it automatically selects matching skin from the surrounding area, so all you need do for effective and invisible spot removal is dab the affected area a couple of times.

With the overall picture taken care of, you can move on to tools designed to improve specific parts of the image. These include eye whitening, colouring, sharpening and red-eye removal, teeth whitening and lip colouring, hair and skin colouring and basic overall adjustments.

The truly surprising thing about Portrait Professional is not that it works, but that it works so well. As with all retouching, you need to know how much is too much and where to draw the line, but that's really about all you need to know.

An operator with very little skill or experience would have no trouble using it to make genuine improvements to portraits that you could only achieve in Photoshop if you really knew what you were doing. Even then, particularly where shape changes are involved, making the right selections and adjusting them would be the work of many minutes rather than just a few seconds.

One thing we were disappointed not to find was some method of retouching stray hair - a common portrait spoiler. There are hair 'tidying' controls, but these just smooth, or blur, and fill shadows. Some method of applying the same adjustment to other images from the same shoot would also be useful. The only way to do this is to save a slider preset and apply it to a new image, but you still have to open each one individually and go through the feature location routine. It would also be nice to be able to compare alternate versions rather than just a before and after.

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