Anthropics PortraitPro 21
PortraitPro 21 is a powerful editing tool that has potential to save work for many portrait photographers.
Offering the most comprehensive retouching toolset currently available, it will require time to explore its capabilities but can yield good results for users who can work within its limitations.
The last time we looked at Anthropics’ portrait retouching software was in August 2014, when we reviewed Portrait Professional Studio 12. The intervening six-and-a-bit years have enabled plenty of changes to be introduced so we thought it time to review the latest version of this popular application, which is available for Windows and MacOS computers (Windows 7 / Mac OS 10.12 or later).
The underlying objective of the software has always been to make it quick and easy to retouch portrait photographs to a ‘professional’ standard. PortraitPro 21 extends the capabilities with new tools that give users more power to control the entire picture; not just the sitter’s face.
The user interface for PortraitPro 21 retains the same basic structure of the earlier versions with large ‘before’ and ‘after’ preview windows and the tool panel docked along the right hand side of the screen.
Like many recent software applications, PortraitPro 21 makes extensive use of ‘artificial intelligence’ with AI face detection speeding up image recognition and identifying features that can benefit from selective improvement. We found this feature worked well in most situations, although it failed to identify a face on one occasion, as shown below.
The second screen grab shows the first steps towards manual face recognition: the user is asked to click on the subject’s nose tip and chin.
The new features are underpinned by AI and image processing algorithms to ensure the software is as quick and easy-to-use as possible, regardless of which edition is used.
Most portrait photographers will be dealing with common problems when retouching original images. Issues frequently encountered include:
1. Skin and hair irregularities such as cracked lips, spots, wrinkles, dull or unruly hair, and stray hairs.
2. Lighting irregularities that include unwanted hot-spots, unattractive colour biases, poorly-placed shadows and distracting backgrounds.
3. Colour issues associated with saturation, contrast and distracting colours and patterns as well as dyed hair that shows different colours in the roots and ends and large discoloured areas of skin associated with birth marks, age spots and dense freckling.
PortraitPro 21 has tools for correcting most, if not all of these problems.
This screen grab shows the manual adjustment tools in the Controls panel.
Who’s it For?
Like previous editions, PortraitPro 21 is only usable for re-touching portraits. It also resembles its precursors in applying an upper image size limit of 500 megapixels to 8-bit JPEGs, with the two Studio editions limited to 250 megapixels for 16-bit raw and TIFF files.
Note: The size limit is dictated by the number of pixels in the image rather than the size of the file when stored on a disk because the picture is decoded in memory and processed by PortraitPro at that size. At least 4GB of RAM is required to process large images.
Because it uses a high degree of automation, this application may not suit some potential users since it is will apply initial editing functions without user input. Some of the manual adjustments provided for subsequent editing can also be relatively crude when compared with similar functions in a dedicated image editor.
As with previous versions, PortraitPro 21 comes in three editions to suit different types of users. The Standard edition (AU$79.95) is designed as a stand-alone application and only works with JPEG or TIFF files. It doesn’t support batch processing or 48-bit colour and is unable to handle raw files or files with embedded colour profiles.
The Studio (AU$119.95) and Studio Max (AU$239.95) editions can process raw files and work with 48-bit colour. They also support conversion between different colour spaces and can operate as a plug-in that can be launched from Photoshop or as an external editor with Lightroom.
The main difference between the two Studio editions is the speed available for batch processing. The Studio edition only supports manual batch processing but the Studio Max offers an automated Full Batch mode that greatly speeds up the user’s workflow. This makes the Studio Max version more relevant to professional portraitists, particularly those specialising in glamour photography.
The relatively low price of the Standard and Studio editions won’t break the budget of an enthusiastic amateur portraitist so it could appeal to casual wedding photographers. For those who want to try out the software, we’d recommend starting with the Standard edition because it offers all the software’s enhancement functions. A free trial download is available here.
Anthropics lists seven new features as ‘key’ elements of its latest update. We’ve listed them here, along with our comments on what we discovered while trying out these tools:
1. Sky Replacement, which draws upon technology from the company’s LandscapePro application and enables users to mask background skies with a single click and import a replacement from either pre-selected stock images included with the software or one of the user’s own photographs.
This illustration shows the new Sky Replacement tool in use.
The software is designed to automatically detect and select the sky section in an image. It should also adjust the subject’s skin and hair tones and lighting to match the new sky background.
We found the software could usually identify blank white areas as sky, although it had problems with backgrounds that only contained small amounts of sky. It also incorrectly selected areas in some subjects that weren’t actually sky. Examples are shown below.
How many times do you find portraits not backed by an easily-identified sky? These two examples show situations where the auto selection function was unsuccessful.
The software provides some controls for refining the area selected as sky, with eight adjustable brushes that can be used to refine the sky area. Sliders enable users to set the size of the brush, its ‘hardness’ and its strength. There’s also an option to improve the edge of the sky area by softening or hardening it.
Brushes are available for adjusting the area designated as ‘sky’.
Users can also remove ‘halo’ effects that can occur where the sky edge is soft and lets the original background show through. Another handy tool is the Blur Sky tool, which can produce an attractive out-of-focus background in shots where backgrounds are too sharp and intrusive.
Using the Blur Sky tool.
2. Lighting Brushes are a development from the face re-lighting tools we highlighted in our review of Portrait Professional 12. They provide users with ways to locally adjust the direction and colour of lighting on the subject.
We found few issues with these versatile brushes and they were easy to adjust and use. Providing adjustments that range from subtle to quite noticeable, when applied appropriately they let you change the appearance of the subject lighting.
The Lighting Brush can be used to add tints to backgrounds blurred with the Blur Sky tool.
3. Hair Highlights is a new function that can be used to add coloured streaking to subjects’ hair as well as other tonal adjustments. Users can also customise under-tones and vibrance to make the highlights more subtle or more conspicuous. Again, we found few issues with this function, thanks to its flexible adjustment range.
A very basic use of the Hair Highlights tool.
4. Clone Tool. The new Clone Tool gives users a more precise way to exact details and colour from one area in an image to another. It can speed up corrections of skin blemishes but is also useful for removing unwanted items in the image.
You can see where the Clone Tool has been used by the fine circles in this screen grab.
While it worked very well when we followed the tutorial, when applied to removing blemishes on our own images, this tool was clumsier than the cloning tools provided in regular image editors. It’s less easy to control the size of the brush with a high degree of precision and undoing changes also requires more steps than a regular cloning tool. But, once you can cope with its limitations it can do the job in most situations.
While the Clone Tool could be used to successfully remove small blemished, it was less successful at replacing larger areas, such as missing teeth.
5. History Tool. The History Tool (shown in the screen grab below) makes it easy to switch between recent states in your workflow so you can track individual changes and go back to an earlier state and apply different adjustments without quitting your current working session.
This tool isn’t listed in the Index for the Help Guide but it’s present as one of the tutorials, which makes it easy to understand. We found the ‘Undo’ button in the top toolbar didn’t work when we tried to jump back more than a couple of steps. Fortunately, the ‘Restore’ brush in the middle of the top toolbar allows you to paint an Edit Effects Mask over the picture and ‘brush away’ unwanted changes.
This illustration shows the Edit Effects Mask brush in use.
6. De-Noising and Sharpening tools provide a quick and easy way to reduce noise and sharpen images without sacrificing quality. These tools are handy when working on images shot in low light levels and with high ISO settings and/or slow shutter speeds.
The Remove Noise tool provides subtle reductions in the visibility of noise in images.
No tutorial is supplied for the de-noising function but you can find a Remove Noise too in the Tools dropdown menu. Sharpening adjustments are available as part of many of the other controls. Using these tools is quite intuitive and they worked well in our tests.
7. Colour Styles are a new feature in the Picture controls that replaces the need for filling layers. Users can choose from 20 presets with names like Harvest, Spring, Morning Light, Cool, Pop, Rembrandt and Turner plus Gray, Simple and Sepia. There’s not a huge difference between most of them and additional slider adjustments are provided for Vibrance, Saturation, Temperature and Tint.
Pre-set Picture controls make it easy to apply different colour styles to images.
These ‘filters’ can also provide the kinds of stylized processing that has become popular on social media sites. A Black And White slider is also available, which progressively de-saturates the colours in the image without noticeably changing overall contrast and tonal subtlety.
The Black And White adjustments provide plenty of controls for fine-tuning the effect.
One of the best features of this application is the suite of tutorials on the introductory page when you open the software. Each silent demonstration shows clearly what the selected feature does and which tools to use. When you close the video, the software opens the demonstration image and provides step-by-step instructions for the adjustments covered.
Two sets of video tutorials are accessible from the opening page of PortraitPro 21.The top five cover ‘Getting Started’ tuition, while the 16 ‘Learn More’ videos demonstrate key functions of the software.
There are four ‘Getting Started’ tutorials plus 16 ‘Learn More’ clips covering new functions like those listed above plus more specific functions like Makeup, Hair, Layers adjustments and using the Presets and Snapshots functions. Newcomers to the application should take advantage of them, especially when working with a trial version of the software as they enable you to explore its capabilities and limitations.
An example of one of the tutorial videos, in this case, demonstrating the Picture adjustments.
Another welcome feature with the Studio editions is that PortraitPro will enter plugin mode by default if it is run from another application like Photoshop or Lightroom. This will allow colour profiles to be used but will remove the File menu options except for the ‘Save and Close’ function.
PortraitPro 21 can be accessed directly from Photoshop’s Filters menu.
As well as being able to change the sky behind a subject, PortraitPro 21’s presets also include background replacements. A few (four for females, two for males) are found in the Presets menu but the Layers menu gives you a much wider choice, plus the option to import your own background image.
The background images that come pre-loaded with the software.
An example of a situation in which the software failed to correctly identify which areas were subject and which should be background. Some areas in which edges also needed refining are also outlined in red.
Area brush tools are available for refining the area covered by an effects mask, where the automatic pre-set doesn’t quite get the boundaries right. They can be found in the Skin Smoothing and Skin Lighting & Coloring adjustments as well as in the Hair Mask section and for the effects masks associated with changing backgrounds behind subjects (including Sky Replacement).
Area brush tools in use for refining the area covered by an effects mask.
While these tools are ‘smart” brushes, in that they will automatically detect the edges of regions, they often require fine-tuning. A slider is provided for changing the brush size while users can choose between Extend (for painting over areas you want to include in the mask) and Cut Back (for selecting areas you want to remove.
Comparing the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ images in this screen grab shows how the software will automatically apply ‘face sculpting’ to change the shape of the subject’s face when the image is first opened.
The face sculpting tools are largely unchanged, and the same applies to the feature enhancements, which include whitening of eyes and teeth, adding a moistening sheen to lips and applying subtle makeup to eyes and lips.
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- Features: 8.8
- Ease of Use: 8.7
- Performance: 8.5