Photo a Day: More Portrait Professional

Changing the Face of a Face in Portrait Pro

As noted yesterday, I’m the proud owner of a Portrait Professional license.  As noted yesterday, too, I continue to be pleased and impressed with this software. And as promised yesterday, here’s a more in-depth example of what I don’t like about the default settings of Portrait Pro (but again, these can turned off with a simple mouse click) — the changing of the subject’s face and skull shape to bring them more in line with beauty norms.

This of course is an example of the larger conundrum with photography that is practically as old as photography itself. Despite the proverbial saying: “the camera doesn’t lie,” it can be made to do so. Granted it’s much easier here in the digital age, but cameras have been lying and photographers have been tweaking images for the sake of their own artistic vision or a client’s happiness pretty much since a Frenchman developed photochemical photography in the 1820s.

Whether it’s right or wrong, i.e., ethical, to do so … well, we’ll save that hornet’s nest for some other time. Let it suffice to say that in terms of photojournalism, I think it’s wrong. In terms of anything else, I’m firmly in the camp of “it depends.” It depends on the audience, the photographer’s artistic goal (commercial, fine art, etc.) and of course what the client wants (if a client comes into the equation).

Myself, as explained yesterday, I’d like to make my subjects look like they would on a near-perfect day (unless I were publishing a photo in some sort of journalistic context). I remove blemishes and will tweak skin tones, and I’m not above tucking in a chin or slimming a tummy a little bit — but I draw the line at changing the shape of someone’s face/skull (although if a client wanted it done, sure, why not).

Which brings us back to Portrait Professional. It’s default settings change this (straight out of the camera, except for a crop and a conversion to jpeg, but otherwise un-retouched):

A Thai woman marches in the Pattaya, Thailand St. Patrick's Day Parade (2013)

To this:

A Thai woman marches in the Pattaya, Thailand St. Patrick's Day Parade (2013)  -- As edited in Portrait Pro

Her eyes and lips are bigger, her nose is smaller, and her long face has been contorted into a more traditional oval shape. To my eye, it almost doesn’t even look like the same woman. Aesthetically pleasing, sure (although I would argue not necessarily anymore so than the original image, in terms of the lovely subject). But aesthetics are subjective, at best. And for me and my own photography, this is just a bit too much.

To illustrate it even further, here’s an animated gif with the before and after images (as depicted above):

a demonstration of before and after editing changes made with Portrait Pro

Fortunately, with one mouse click, you can turn off the facial sculpting features, but keep the skin blemish and tone corrections. And all of these can be tweaked or turned off individually. But the default settings (minus the facial sculpting) are pretty much spot on:

A Thai woman marches in the Pattaya, Thailand St. Patrick's Day Parade (2013)  -- As edited in Portrait Pro

Other than one blemish on her chin and a stray highlight on her cheek, the skin corrections are done. She looks lovely — and more importantly, still like herself. I think I would lessen the corrections done to the skin under her eyes, too, where the correction begins to get into the alien-skin/airbrush territory.

So all done with a few clicks as a plugin in Photoshop. Sharp eyed peeps might also notice that Portrait Pro has also tweaked the general lighting and highlights as well. Like the facial sculpting, you can turn this off with a click before you return to Photoshop.

P.S. Curious about my lovely subject? I caught her marching in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade — in Pattaya, Thailand, no less.