Portrait Professional Studio 8 review

Anthropics’ Portrait Professional enhancement software sounds promising but is there a place for another retouching utility?

Professional Standard £39.95 (£34.74 plus VAT @ 15 percent)
Professional Studio £59.95 (£52.13 plus VAT @ 15 percent)
Anthropics Technology 0870 2247990, www.portraitprofessional.com
System Requirements
Intel Mac & OS X 10.4 or later, Windows Vista, XP, or 2000


Handling 4/5
Spec 4/5
Performance 4/5
Value for Money 5/5
Overall 4/5

With the release of version 8.0, Anthropics’ Portrait Professional image enhancement utility adds overdue support for the Mac OS, and a host of new and improved benefits over previous versions. If you’re not familiar with the software, the simple to use retouching utility analyses an image and applies correction and enhancement filters based on a number of criteria within a database of facial features.

Garnered from extensive scientific study at various respected universities in the UK, this criteria of facial features - essentially what’s attractive and what isn’t, forms the basis of the definition of human beauty. Through a four-step process, you start off by providing information about the sitter in your chosen image. The gender, the location of the eyes, mouth, nose and outlines of the face are mapped on screen and then sliders are used to enhance your portrait.

Portrait Professional has come a long way from when it required an internet connection to compare selections with their database and run algorithms housed securely on their server. From version 6 it became a standalone application and a Max version, intended for professional users, added support for 16-bit Tiff’s as well as Raw conversion for a number of file types. That now has become the Studio edition, reviewed here.

Studio has essentially the same step-by-step image enhancement features that require little or no previous retouching skill of the Standard edition but allows a choice of working colour spaces including selection of monitor ICC profiles and version 8.0 adds improved support for Raw files – but we’re not told what exactly. Presumably, they’ve added compatibility with some of the newer DSLRs.

I tried some files from the Sony A900, but it failed to decode them properly. Raw files from the EOS 1Ds Mk III were handled without issue, as were 16-bit Tiff’s from the same camera processed originally by Aperture. And that was using a MacBook Pro with just 2GB of Ram.

Although the interface looks like it has been ported from the Windows version the Mac implementation is generally very good but the two-fingered scrolling feature of the track-pad on a MacBook Pro fails to alter brush sizes – best then to use a mouse, or better still a tablet.

Be that as it may, you won’t find it necessary to hone your painting skills, as, like previous versions, Portrait Professional’s main control panel contains a plethora (around 80 or so in total) of expandable slider-based controls. This sits to the left of two before/after previews in a pane that occupies the rest of the screen. The panel can be detached and left floating – that’s handy if working from a couple of monitors but doesn’t present too much of an issue for typical Mac 16:10 ratio screens. It can be a bit tight for squarer Windows monitors, but the panel and preview panes are adjustable.

After following the initial three steps, mentioned previously, the software delivers a default enhancement from algorithms now contained within the software. From those few simple steps the result is usually surprisingly good - prominent lines and blemishes are smoothed, eyes are brightened and sharpened, noses straightened and faces slimmed. However if it’s not quite to your liking the fourth and final step allows you to fine-tune the look.

Although there’s not one effect that can’t be replicated in Photoshop, all this is achieved in no longer than five minutes, and usually less. However, it’s worth noting at this stage that the software still works well with faces that are three-quarters on but can’t be used on people in profile. Neither does it work that well if the face, or eyes particularly, are somewhat obscured by hair – it’s good, but not that good.

Portrait Professional also works with individuals in a group, but you can’t lift and stamp the key facial settings and adjustments from one similar image to another, which is a drawback. In terms of workflow then, I find it’s simpler to convert chosen Raw files in an external editor, such as Aperture or Lightroom, and export the best images as 16-bit Tiff’s into Portrait Professional.

From the default enhancement you can either tweak certain settings or apply a global (master) adjustment of facial features and effects, depending on your time constraints. A pull-down menu of 18 presets is also handy. These consist of the default male and female settings, as well effects for increasing the drama (contrast), glamour (colour), sculpting, removing wrinkles and others. It’s an easy quick-fix but if you want precise control you’ll want to head for the manual sliders.

These are split into two main groups and the first are subdivided again into face-sculpting adjustments and removing skin imperfections. You can use the sculpting tools to straighten a nose or elongate a face, enlarge eyes or change the shape of the forehead. You need some experience with retouching here and of the sitter or sitters.

I found that it’s easy to make adjustments with people you don’t know, but with those you do, even slight adjustments make for an unconvincing result. The lesson here is subtlety.

Most prominent skin imperfections can be lessened easily enough but the utility leaves some texture for reality’s sake. This may result in stubborn spots or blemishes having to be removed by the touch-up brush. Again no real skill is required, in operation it’s not unlike Photoshop’s Spot-healing brush.

The remaining controls, the second group, concentrate on facial features in depth. You can change the iris colour, whiten eyes and teeth, darken the lips, sharpen the mouth and so on. There’s another group of controls for adding shine and lightening and reddening hair. But a subset for tidying has no options for removing stray hair or for retouching grey-roots from coloured hair, two surprisingly common requests.

Despite the few drawbacks, the lack of applying adjustments to other images from a group, the limited hair-retouching options and patchy Raw camera support in the Studio version, Portrait Professional has much to commend it. Given the extraordinarily low price (of either edition), the shallow learning curve and the staggeringly good results, it really doesn’t make sense not to give it a go.

Jan, before and after

This review of mine first featured in Professional Photographer magazine, January 2009.

Please note Portrait Professional is now at version 9.  For more information, please follow the link.


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