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Thread: Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

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    Senior Member Ed Hurst's Avatar
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    Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

    Hello all,

    I am a believer, generally speaking, in keeping full, skilled control of the creative process, so tend to shy away from complex software or plug-ins that adjust or edit images automatically (or semi-automatically). However, I am intrigued by the plug-ins that claim to ease the process of touching up, making more flattering, etc. portrait images (making skin look 'perfect' [whatever that means], removing lines, changing shapes, optimising facial proportions, etc.).

    Although I am sure that doing it manually is better, does anyone have any advice on these plug-ins / applications and which of them works best? I understand they won't be perfect, but if they get me 80% of the way there and help with large volumes of images, that will be a help. (I am awaiting the response that this can't properly be automated, and kind of agree - but advice on the options would still be welcome...)

    I use a Mac BTW, if that is relevant...

    Many thanks,

    Ed

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    Re: Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

    I know some people who love Portrait Professional. However I find that it over smooths things and just looks bad/fake.

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    Re: Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

    Hey Ed. I'm a long time lurker and finally decided to join so I could chime in here.

    I don't believe that there is a great fully automated solution out there, but I really like Imagenomic Portraiture for speeding things up. It's only for skin smoothing and doesn't allow you to reshape features and all like Portrait Professional does, but I don't know how important that is to you. I tend not to make those kinds of adjustments.

    The thing about Portraiture and likely any other skin smoothing plug-in, is that you can't just let it go to work, you have to intervene here and there. When the process is fully automated, it spits out an overdone result that just looks bad, like bumgardner said. The key is to combine the plug-in with varied layer opacities, masking, and traditional retouching techniques like healing or cloning.

    Imagenomic Portraiture has fine, medium, and large detail smoothing adjustments. Fine detail smoothing affects pores or thin wrinkles, large affects wide gradations of highlight to shadow, and medium is somewhere in between. The large detail smoothing is great for removing harsh transitions on the face and lessening wrinkles without making your subject look like a doll. You might call it a local contrast reducer.

    Generally, my workflow is to remove obvious blemishes and imperfections with healing and cloning, then use the plug-in to give the skin an overall smoothness while keeping pores and fine details intact. Then, I'll play with the opacity of the plug-in layer to get a realistic look and/or use a mask to locally increase or decrease the smoothing where necessary. I don't know if that sounds too involved, but it really is a great time saver and doesn't leave me feeling like I've compromised on the quality of my photos.

    I hope this helps! Please let me know if I can elaborate on anything.

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    Re: Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

    Hi Ed,
    I went through the same questions a while back and the advice I got / conclusion I then came too, was:-

    - Try to fix the problems with light control first (i.e. fill flash, reflectors etc). Wipe kids faces before the shoot (they get bogeys everywhere!
    - Use Capture One's skin tone adjustment tab in the colour editor. This has a very light uniformity slider
    - Hit blemishes with the spot tool in capture one
    - Export and fix any remaining problems in photoshop by cloning (simple) or blurring a layer and masking.

    I also found a little tip in Monte Zuckers book, where he claimed he always shot at high iso and used noise reduction to smooth skin. It does give a more graphic feel, but as ISO improves, it becomes more difficult.

    The ISO trick was far better to my eyes than any of the demos I tried (I cannot remember which ones, but I remember giving up). I have Nik Color Efex with a supposedly 'acclaimed' skin tone adjustment, but despite loving Color Efex for many things, the skin tone just looks like anything from smooth plastic to smooth plastic with some lumps, which is on par with all the tools I saw.

    Would have definitely been within the past year I did went through this as I recall I was still using my old back which I exchanged only recently.


    Paul

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    Re: Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

    I can highly recommend OnOne's PhotoTools-2.5 ... a stand alone program which I have as a plug-in for PS-5.

    It is a non-distructive, layer based imaging program that not only allows fine levels of application in the software work flow, it creates a layer on the PS original which can you then can further adjust opacity to the precise degree required.

    Of all that I tried in my search for my wedding and portrait applications, this one was the most natural looking, allowing you to retain delicate skin texture the best ... and in fact, I am hard pressed to match what it does with one click/level adjust verses a laborious manual process.

    It is a full on program that offers more than Portrait enhancements, and many of the other controls are quite valuable in speeding up workflow and providing enhancements.

    Like with any of these highly controllable programs, it does take discretion and taste to apply the effects judiciously.

    I think you can do a trial download ... and if you need some assistance on effective application, just PM me ... like with any software, one learns the tricks that make it more effective. None of this stuff is instantly no-brainer, it takes some practice and experience.

    -Marc

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    Re: Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

    Between ColorEfex and Oneone I found Onone to deliver the nicest results. Nowadays it is called Perfect Portrait and is part of the Onone Photosuite (I enjoyed it more when it was still called Skintune).

    AFAIK, you can use both packages for a limited period of time as a Demo.

    I have ColorEfex as well as Onone Photosuite but frankly I must admit I use the manual method most followed by Alien Skin Exposure. The plug-in to simulate film I found does much more to my portraits than ColorEfex or Photosuite does. The addition of grain hides imperfections much more nicely than the transition to plastic.... For instance using an emulation of Kodak Ultra without grain gives skin on fair women a beautiful golden glow. Add grain to taste to further bury imperfections and the endresult is much nicer (all IMO naturally).

    Alien Skin Exposure is the one plug-in I cannot do without.

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    Senior Member David Schneider's Avatar
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    Re: Advice sought - best software / PS plug-in for 'improving' portraits (skin, etc.)

    While I'll be trying to see about integrating the OnOne suite into my studio workflow, currently we use Imageonic Portraiture with their load of free actions. We have learned which ones give us our preferred results for certain lighting and skin conditions and can always use the automatic mask to bring back anything as well as drop the opacity of the layer.

    There maybe better, but a lot depends on your work load and your work flow.

    Sometimes it's best to master one piece of software than to jump to the latest and greatest and have a new learning curve to deal with.

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