September 14, 2020 | 16205 Views | By Dan Harlacher
9/21/20 Update: ON1 Portrait AI is available now!
Very soon, you will see a totally new portrait editing workflow that will knock your socks off! So, how did we get here? VP of Product, Dan Harlacher shares the story.
Long before I started to work in the industry, I was a portrait and wedding photographer. My wife and I still operate a studio focused on children and families. I’ve always had a soft spot for portrait photographers when I’m designing features for our apps. Years ago, most of the ON1 customers were professional portrait photographers looking for ways to enhance their digital photos.
Being so close to the portrait industry, I have long heard the horror stories of staying up past midnight retouching photos for the next day’s sales session. It’s a harsh dichotomy that portrait photographers have to deal with today: Every photo people see in the media are heavily retouched, so they expect the same for every picture they see of themselves. For a photographer, that means way more retouching than we used to do. In the old days, we would tell customers that we would retouch the photos that they order for prints. However, today we don’t have that luxury. Clients often get digital files, and there is pressure to make every shot look great. Couple that with delivering far more photos than we used to (film vs. digital), and the amount of retouching has gone through the roof.
Retouching technology hasn’t kept up with the need. Many photographers are still retouching manually in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. That means actions and brushes and layers and such. It’s a manual process painting for each face that takes a couple of minutes, even for the fastest retoucher.
There are a few plug-ins and apps that have come out in recent years that improve on this. Portraiture from Imagenomic was one of the first plug-ins to do this. Unfortunately, it works based on the color range, so it smooths other stuff the same color as the subject’s skin, and it doesn’t handle different colors of skin in the same photo well. A newer generation of tools can detect people’s faces and smooth the skin out automatically. Some even find the eyes and mouths and can enhance these too. However, some of these (Luminar) force you to use the same settings on every face in your photo. That doesn’t work well when you have a bride and groom next to each other. It forces you to over retouch the groom in favor of the bride. Or it means going back to Photoshop and using layers and masks to combine two different adjustments, taking up more time. Even in the best apps (Perfectly Clear, Portrait Professional) that do let you use separate settings per person, you still have to manually adjust the settings for each face.
What portrait and wedding photographers need is two-fold. First, they need a way to batch process tons of photos at once. Something that will find each face and do the right amount of retouching automatically. Second, they need a tool that is fast and powerful for retouching their best photos. That’s what we set out to create with ON1 Portrait AI, which is coming very soon!
ON1 Portrait AI is a new app and plug-in designed especially for portrait and wedding photographers. It combines intelligent batch processing with powerful retouching tools into a single app that you can use as a standalone or a plug-in in the workflow apps you use every day like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic.
First, let’s talk about batch processing. This is where Portrait AI is a game-changer. With Portrait AI, you can process an entire shoot, even a giant wedding, and it will find every face in every photo, then classify each face and apply the correct facial retouching to all of them, based on your preferences. It uses the power of machine learning to find the faces, identify their age and gender, then find their facial features such as skin, eyes, and mouths and do the right thing without you having to lift a finger. It’s the first and best-in-class, non-destructive, fully automatic, and intelligent retouching solution. Now you can go to bed early and let Portrait AI do the heavy lifting for you. Your photos will look great for your sales sessions or client delivery.
Secondly, let’s talk about the powerful retouching capabilities. We thought long and hard and spoke with many portrait photographers to ensure we had the right balance of automatic settings and manual control, without making it crazy hard or slow to use. It all starts with the AI-based face and feature detection. This technology finds each face and important regions like skin, eyes, and mouth without the need to use brushes and masks. Then you can quickly fine-tune each area. First, you will want to smooth and reduce the blemishes in the skin. Portrait AI uses industry-standard frequency separation technology to smooth the skin in a natural way that maintains skin texture and pore structure. It can also reduce blemishes like fine lines, wrinkles, acne, reduce shine, and add texture to out of focus or overexposed areas. You have full control over each of these options rather than a one-size-fits-all on or off option. You can even use the skin brush to control exactly where the skin retouching is applied to fine-tune your results. There are also manual tools for removing or reducing larger blemishes like moles.
Next, you can adjust the face lighting, brightening to add fill light, or darkening it for more detail. You can even slim the face to compensate for focal length problems.
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and Portrait AI can make them pop! First, it finds the eyes automatically. Then you can whiten the whites and enhance the detail and color of the irises. You can also reduce dark circles under the eyes and enhance the eyebrows. Lastly, you can even out the size of the eyes to fix foreshortening issues with three-quarter views.
Lastly, Portrait AI will find the mouth automatically. Then you can whiten the smile or change the color and vibrance of the lips.
While all of that sounds great, the proof is in the results, both in quality and time savings. Let’s look at the initial quality of the most popular automated portrait retouching apps. I used the same photo and the default or automatic settings for each. (A couple applied unexpected color/tone changes and/or face morphing at their default settings, so I turned those off for a more consistent comparison.)
It takes a critical eye, but if you look closely at the results, you will notice that the default eye enhancement of Perfectly Clear is too high while the skin smoothing isn’t strong enough. You will see the skin shine is harsh, but Portrait AI tames it while maintaining natural skin, reducing blemishes, and providing great looking eyes, all at the default settings. Keep in mind all of these could improve with more time using some manual adjustments, but we are trying to reduce the amount of manual work.
Let’s talk about how much that manual work adds up. I took this same photo and retouched it manually in Adobe Lightroom Classic, Adobe Photoshop, and compared it to manually adjusting Portrait AI and using the other tools in ON1 Photo RAW to make the best version in each app. Note there is no retouching of the mouth as it didn’t need any.
|Application||Adobe Lightroom Classic||Adobe Photoshop||ON1 Portrait AI|
Now let’s say that you need to retouch 20 photos from the session. In Lightroom Classic, it would take 50 minutes. In Adobe Photoshop, it would take 1:16 minutes (I added 10 seconds to open and save each photo) versus only 27 minutes using Portrait AI. In real life, that would probably be even less as this photo had a tricky color cast in the shine that required a little extra work in Photo RAW. If you think that’s impactful, imagine if I just let the AI Auto do all the work, it would only take 1:13 to batch process out full-sized retouched JPGs of those 20 photos while I watch Netflix and eat Doritos!
I’m excited to get Portrait AI into the hands of all my portrait and wedding photographer friends. It feels like I will be giving them the greatest gift, the gift of time to do more critical work than repetitive retouching. Now you can use that time to grow your business, be more creative, or spend more time with your family instead of hunched over your computer late into the night.