10 Software Plug-Ins for Portrait Photography
By Theano Nikitas
As a portrait photographer, your job is to make your clients look their best. Carefully planned lighting, posing and styling, along with your expertise behind the camera, will get you most of the way there, but post-processing is also an integral part of the job. Image-editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom get you just so far; sometimes using a plug-in to elevate your images to the next level is the most efficient solution. Some plug-ins are practical, offering tools that every portrait photographer needs to ensure that a subject’s skin looks perfect (or close to perfect) but realistic. Others offer creative options that can be tweaked to represent your own unique style. Either way, adding plug-ins to your main image-editing program will generally save you time and help make your images stand out from the crowd. Check out these ten plug-ins to see which one best suits your portraiture style and post-processing needs.
Alien Skin Software Exposure 5
Alien Skin Exposure 5 is all about style, especially for the portrait photographer who wants to create a unique look with the plug-in’s many color and black-and-white options. In addition to a wide variety of film emulations and presets, Exposure 5 offers numerous tweaking options ranging from filters and toning to sharpening and focus (in case you want a little more bokeh). Equally important is the addition of new textures, which is a great bonus for those who love a vintage look. Other enhancements include individual controls for adding borders, dust, scratches and light leaks. Creative options are almost limitless, with long lists of styles in black-and-white and color, with various other categories such as Cinema, Lo-Fi and Cross Processing. Unless you’re doing a funky senior portrait, you’ll probably prefer the more subtle or gentle styles. But if and when you want to get edgy, Exposure 5 offers those options as well. Version 5 is a fairly major update to its predecessor and is the first Alien Skin plug-in that also functions as a standalone program. You’ll also find an increase in workflow options as well as a redesigned user interface, a visual preset browser with live previews, and the convenient ability to hide and reveal panels with a single click.
Prices: $149; $69 for upgrade
Digital Anarchy Beauty Box Photo 3.0
A time-saving plug-in for portrait photographers is Digital Anarchy’s Beauty Box Photo 3.0 (a version for video shooters is available, too). Don’t let its basic user interface fool you: This plug-in provides a wealth of controls to make your subject look his or her best. Using face detection and advanced algorithms, the application automatically detects skin tones and creates a mask (adjustments can be made to the mask, if needed) while you control skin enhancement with parameters such as the amount of smoothing and sharpening. And, for clients who do their own makeup, you can easily retouch the shiny areas of the skin. Of course, there are presets that are one-click simple to apply, and while you can’t save your own presets, Digital Anarchy promises additional presets will be released in the future. There are helpful tutorials on the website, and the user manual (free via download) is an excellent guide that will ensure a quick and efficient portrait editing workflow.
Anthropics Technology Portrait Professional 11
Portrait Professional is a surprisingly powerful plug-in, especially given its ease of use. With its combination of basic image-adjustment tools—including white balance, exposure, tint, brightness and contrast—and its advanced portrait enhancement options, Portrait Professional provides a one-stop solution for portrait photographers. As expected, you can enhance skin tones and texture, eliminate wrinkles and blemishes, whiten teeth and brighten eyes. But Portrait Professional goes much deeper than core retouching. There are tools to change the shape of the face, nose, eyes and mouth, with special sliders to reduce under-eye bags and crow’s feet. Eyes can be widened, necks elongated, and hair and eye color can be changed. Essentially, there’s no facial feature that can’t be enhanced—although you need to be especially mindful of the old adage that less is more, particularly with some of its sculpting tools. Thanks in part to performance improvements in version 11 and the overall efficiency of Portrait Professional, you’ll be spending less time in front of the computer and more time with a camera in your hands. Portrait Professional is available in three editions: Standard (standalone), Studio (plug-in) and Studio 64 (plug-in optimized for 64 bit).
Prices: $80 for Standard; $120 for Studio; $240 for Studio 64
Athentech Imaging Perfectly Clear
Athentech’s Perfectly Clear is one of the smarter plug-ins on the market when it comes to adjusting exposure and other image parameters, which makes it ideal for portrait photographers who are on a tight deadline or want to do some quick adjustments on location. In addition to its default auto correction, Perfectly Clear offers five presets: Portrait, Landscapes, Noise Removal, Fix Dark and Tint Removal. Further time-saving is achieved by creating and saving your own presets with custom settings for white balance, tone (including exposure and contrast), color and clarity (sharpening and noise removal). Other portrait-specific tools include an adjustable skin tone slider, light diffusion and automatic red-eye removal. It doesn’t take much to get photos looking good with Perfectly Clear. Single, side-by-side and above-and-below views are available to display your work, as is a zoom slider and navigator for examining specific portions of the file. The plug-in is available for Adobe Photoshop, Elements and Lightroom, and Corel PaintShop Pro. Plus, a beta desktop version is (at press time) available for download. Perfectly Clear apps for iOS and Android are pretty handy as well.
Nik Collection Analog Efex Pro
Things have been quiet on the Nik software front since Google purchased the company in 2012, but there are signs of life with the release of Analog Efex Pro. Compatible with Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom and Aperture (see the site for specific requirements), Analog Efex Pro—as its name implies—focuses on analogue looks. This plug-in is great for portrait photographers who want to present their clients with a vintage-style image. The basic “looks” for this plug-in include Classic Camera, Vintage and Wet Plate. Users can add up to ten additional options to the Adjustment panel ranging from standard adjustments, levels, and curves to lens vignette, light leaks, and more. A film type option allows you to choose variations on warm, cool, and subtle but, disappointingly, not specific film types. Still, the plug-in offers more than enough styles and adjustment parameters to meet or exceed the needs of most portrait photographers. The interface is immediately familiar to Nik software users although, unfortunately, Analog Efex Pro does not offer control points, a useful staple in other Nik products. Google, however, promises that there will be additions to the application in the future.
Topaz Lens Effects
One of a number of plug-ins from Topaz, Lens Effects offers more than two dozen creative effects that were developed based on real lenses and filters. Among the effects you’ll find are several bokeh options to create a more custom background blur along with tilt-and-shift and pinhole lenses, diffusion, graduated color and ND filters, vignettes and many more. Each effect has a list of presets along with separate tools for effect-specific adjustments. You can save, import and export your own effects, and can link directly from the plug-in to online tutorials. Topaz offers webinars as well, so you’re never far from practical help and creative inspiration. But we think you’ll gain inspiration for your portraiture just by using the Lens Effects and experimenting with all of its options.
Imagenomic’s Portraiture is a powerful but user-friendly plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. It’s an effective tool for smoothing skin while maintaining texture for realistic results—a fine line that all portrait photographers must be aware of. The program automatically detects the subject’s skin and creates a mask, which can be tweaked if needed. There are plenty of options for refining the portrait with tools to adjust hue, saturation, luminance and latitude. A separate Enhancements panel provides sliders for a range of parameters including sharpness, tint, brightness, and contrast for fine-tuning the overall look and feel of a portrait. And if you’re not sure exactly what you want, the program has a bracketing feature so you can choose from several variations of the same image. A handful of presets are available to get you started but you can create and save your own, along with a space for your notes so you can mix and match them each time you shoot a portrait under similar conditions. A free trial is available if you want to take it for a spin.
onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 8
The latest version of Perfect Photo Suite offers new modules, features and enhancements, making it a robust plug-in set. In addition to Browse (which is new), Layers, Enhance, Effects, B&W, Mask and Resize, the plug-in includes a Perfect Portrait module that uses face detection to start you off with adjustable selections of the subject’s eyes and mouth. Collections of visual presets are organized by Children, Female, Groups and Males to better target adjustments, and you can create and save your own presets. Retouching options range from various skin adjustments and color correction to specific tools for eyes and mouth. The application’s Perfect Eraser, which uses content aware fill to “paint away” unwanted elements, as well as a retouch brush for local corrections help round out the module’s tools. This cross-platform suite comes in three editions, all of which operate as standalone applications. Premium is compatible with Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom and Elements. There’s a less expensive version that works only with Lightroom and Aperture, while the least expensive Standard version only works as a standalone. It’s a full-featured suite that’s easy to use without the onscreen help and works well for almost every image-editing task you need.
Prices: $300 Premium; $150 for Premium upgrade; $130 for Lightroom/Aperture; $80 for Lightroom/Aperture upgrade; $80 for Standard
Tiffen Dfx Photo Plug-in 3.0
Tiffen’s Dfx Photo Plug-in is jam packed with digital filters that allow portrait photographers to stylize images, add various effects and apply image adjustments. But there’s more to this software application than meets the eye. You’ll find an intuitive user interface with eight categories of filters: Film Lab, HFX Diffusion, HFX Grads/Tints, Image, Lens, Light, Special Effects and user-selected Favorites. Each category has multiple preset options and a Parameters panel for fine-tuning. Dig a little deeper and explore working in layers, masks and blending modes. But Tiffen Dfx isn’t just about adding creative touches to your portraits. There are more practical aspects of the software as well, including the self-explanatory DeBand, DeBlock and DeNoise filters. There’s also a version for video-editing programs like Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro. Tiffen Dfx is versatile and extremely easy to use—despite its depth of features.
DxO Optics Pro 9
While not a plug-in in the traditional sense, DxO Optics Pro 9 can be integrated with Lightroom and Aperture. What you’ll gain as a portrait photographer is access to the software’s new noise processing engine, for lifestyle-type portraits captured in low light. In addition to 30 new presets and improved performance with background processing (a great time saver), version 9 offers improved highlight recovery, which can help rescue outdoor portraits. The software also provides access to a huge number of lens and camera modules for more accurate corrections. Available in two editions: Standard for compact, bridge and more affordable digital SLRs, while the Elite version adds high-end DSLRs to the mix.
Prices: $169 for Standard; $299 for Elite