Imagenomic is mostly known for its award winning Noiseware product, but there’s another Imagenomic product that I use all of the time – Portraiture. What this product does is skin softening but in a more subtle yet sophisticated way by automatically detecting the skin surfaces and only applying changes to them.
In addition to the automatic mode you can use an eyedropper tool and take multiple samples to get great one pass skin softening on faces with multiple skin tones (i.e., shadows on face, rosy cheeks, etc…) which is something all of the other products I have used have failed to do in just one pass. Imagenomic handles this very well in a package that looks intimidating the first time you load it up, but it’s 2.0 improvements help you get the hang of how it works quickly so it grows on your fast.
Photo Thoughts – Red Jacket
Portraiture is my “go to” skin softening product
Rather than just do a review of Portraiture, I thought it might be fun to add a little user education in it by doing a end to end walkthrough and while I’m discussing how Portraiture and its best competitor – Nik Software’s Dynamic Skin Softener (found in Color Efex) work.
Portraiture –vs– Nik Software’s Dynamic Skin Softener (via Color Efex)
Color Efex Skin Softening User Interface
I’ve been a big fan of Nik Software since 2007 and the first product I purchased from them was Color Efex. Included with this product was their crown jewel filter that many photographers use daily – their Dynamic Skin Softener (DSS) filter. I used it and loved it for years, but when Portraiture 2.0 came out I started to find myself going to Portraiture more often to get the job done right very quickly.
Portraiture’s User Interface appears more complex at first, but it is pretty easy once you realize that it automatically does everything so you could just load it and click OK and get pretty good results most of the time. However its power lies in the eye dropper too which goes beyond what Color Efex offers and actually lets you do skin samples as much as you like to pinpoint a range of colors that should be impacted by softening.
While Dynamic Skin Softener (DSS) is a good product and it can be dialed in to get similar softening results, I found the advanced eye dropper and some of the presets in Portraiture to be a big step ahead of what Dynamic Skin Softener can do.
To see what I mean, compare the screen shot above to the shot below (taken from Mac, but both work the same way) and notice the mask preview on the right. By sampling various spots on the image I was able to isolate most of the skin with minimal impact on the rest of the image. The remainder can usually be ignored or masked off with a quick black brush stroke when you return Photoshop, but I usually just leave it alone and most of the time I can isolate my selection to just the skin very quickly.
Nik’s Dynamic Skin Softener (DSS) I would have to use multiple U-Point controls and most likely the brush feature of Color Efex to do the same thing, but when skin tones shift quite a bit I find that I have to do multiple layers and sample each of the major tones separately to get them all done very well. Both products work well, but this is just much faster because I can do it in one quick pass with a few simple clicks.
Portraiture offers some handy presets (shown above) that speed up productivity as well as options for enhancing the skin tones (can be disabled).
The Nik alternative offers some sliders to control the level of softening, and U-Point controls allow you to disable softening in places. Finally Color Efex only has user-definable presets (called Quick Save slots), so you don’t get anything built-in to speed up your workflow.
Seasoned DSS veterans like me can use both products equally effective, but I still have found that the default settings in Portraiture are better to my personal preferences. This coupled with the fact that I can make fast adjustments in one pass means I get a a time advantage in my image processing my workflow that make it worth it the switch.
DSS vs Portraiture Comparison
Here’s an image that shows what the skin looks like after the skin softening with Nik Software’s Color Efex Dynamic Skin Softening, and when you hover over it you can see the same image processed with Portraiture. Click the links in the caption for larger versions:
Dynamic Skin Softener – click here for larger
Portraiture - click here for larger
Both products create good results, but I find that DSS is a little more aggressive by default. Both products allow for adjustments so this can be addressed in the user-interface or by simply changing the opacity of the skin softening layer, but I find the defaults in Portraiture more suitable to my tastes.
This example for Portraiture uses color enhancements, but this can easily be disabled by clicking off in the Enhancements panel shown in the screen shots above. I used it because it saved me a processing step, but others may wish to do that in Photoshop or Lightroom directly.
Skin Softening is Subjective
Just like with noise reduction, how much skin softening you apply is very subjective. One user might want the porcelain/plastic look and the other may only want a faint hint. I’m in between, but I lean more to the softer side. If you flip through fashion magazines you’ll notice that the industry practice is definitely a lot of softening, but artificial texture is usually added after the fact to give it more of a realistic appearance.
My advice here is do what you like. You are the photographer, and your work is a reflection of you so do what you like the most. Top Photographers like Jill Greenberg have made a name for themselves by doing unrealistic skin enhancements, so while some people might complain about your level of skin softening (as they do with Jill) others will call it your style (as they also do with Jill).
Don’t let the naysayers scare you. <g>
Other Changes to this Photo
Once I had my skin softening done then I selected the teeth using the quick selection tool, created a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to adjust the teeth color. I removed a little saturation from the yellow channel and added a little lightness on the master channel. I learned this trick and others I used on this photo from Scott Kelby. You can read a bunch of tricks like these in his book The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers.
The next thing that needed to be fixed were the eyes. I made a selection on the eyes and did a quick high pass filter on them (around 24), then I changed the layer to use the overlay blending mode and then masked out whatever I didn’t want modified. Once again this was a Kelby trick discussed on his PhotoshopUser TV show but similar techniques are done in the book above too.
My last steps to this image were a little dodge and burn on the eyes, a visit to the warp tool to narrow the face, and I used the digital reflector filter in Color Efex to add some additional light and color to the face. I sharpened the final product with Sharpener Pro.
I’ve had Portraiture for a long time, including the first version. At first I didn’t use it much because I was set in my ways with Color Efex. I just didn’t see the point. However, one of my mentors who was a die hard Dynamic Skin Softener fan (his only reason for owning Color Efex) picked it up and ranted about how much better it was. This got me to take a closer look and I quickly discovered that there is indeed much more than you can do much faster with Portraiture than you can with Nik’s Dynamic Skin Softener.
The biggest and best advantage is the fact that I no longer have to do multiple skin softening layers when the skin tones differ on the face (i.e., hot faces with rosy cheeks, shadows like on the neck above, birth marks, etc…), which was a big hassle in my previous workflow – especially if you are using the Aperture or Lightroom versions as you’ll need to make multiple passes which can be painfully slow with lots of TIF files created in Color Efex.
My overall advice is that if you are doing a lot of people work and you like skin softening, then Portraiture is a must own (which is why it is high on my What Plug-ins Should I Buy? list). If you just do a casual amount and own Color Efex then you can probably live without it. Both products are WAY better than using Photoshop’s Blur filter or Lightroom’s negative Clarity trick as both methods require a lot of complex painting that is very time consuming and I’ve never been as happy with the results.
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