Whether you take portrait or wedding photos professionally, for a bit of spare cash, or just as a hobby, there's no doubt that time spent retouching them after the event is a time consuming, and potentially cash-wasting, exercise. Photoshop, and the other image editing programs, are great in themselves, but require both skill and time to improve portraits. Enter FaceFilter Studio 2, a program designed to cure your portrait-polishing malaise and make perfect portraits in five painless steps.
Start by loading a close up head shot, or a head and shoulder portrait.
To start things off, load a photo of either a face or a head and shoulders shot. The larger the face is in the picture, the easier it is to create more dramatic changes or better quality results. Also, if you fancy playing around with the images, a picture where the subject has a neutral expression will make it easier to change it into a wider range of expressions.
Once loaded there are some quick fix options including removing red eye, or for tinting the eye colour, but frankly this is suitable for red-eye removal only as the colour mask is a circle and if the eyes are half closed, it will over-run onto the lids. So, forget about tinting unless the eyes are wide open. There are also options for automatic correction of colour, manual correction of colour balance and levels. There's a smart portrait option as well which performs the automatic functions, then selects the face areas for you. This is a little pointless as it's simply duplicating two areas of the program in one place - it corrects the colour then adds the face detection system. The next stage in the process otherwise is... the face detection system. So, same thing.
Adding control points within the facial mask to define the main features.
Anyway, the face detection part is the most important for tweaking the image. The facial mask is automatically added and the key points surround eyebrows, eye edges and four points around lips are placed in roughly the right places. These require manual repositioning. The important point about the facial mask is that it should cover all of the forehead, otherwise any colour or tone adjustments will leave an area unretouched. However, this stage, though critical, is very easy and quick to do. However, there's a blinding oversight by the programmers here. This is easy to do if the head is quite large in the photo. If it isn't it's very hard to accurately position the key points because... there's no facility to zoom in. D'oh! Even if the face was zoomed in on the previous screen, when this one is selected the view drops back out to show the entire picture. Also, the facial mask can't be edited at this stage, but can be moved around.
Using the Filter Skin option to remove blemishes and smooth the skin.
The next stage is the Enhance Skin section and here minor blemishes can be painted over,the skin toned, an eye colour added - as mentioned this doesn't work well - or the facial mask can be edited. This brings up another dialogue box in which, thankfully, the image can be zoomed into, but the window itself can't be resized so it limits the size on screen where all the face can be seen. There are other usability issues here as well. Along the top of this screen are the options for zooming and moving in and out, plus a hand symbol for moving the image around in the window. That done, where is the icon to click on to go back to for painting on the facial mask? There isn't one. You have to click on the Manual Adjustment button again to activate the mask paintbrush. Also, suppose you want to thin the mask out in places, or you've covered too much of the hair. Where is the remove mask button so you can paint over it to remove the mask? Ah, well this comes under the heading, of Increase/Decrease Mask. Now, to me, that option should automatically increase or decrease the diameter of the mask, not be a toggle for adding or removing the mask. So, this is all quite idiosyncratic.
The other major option here, before moving on to the expressions, is the Filter Skin menu. As usual, this brings up a dialogue box that can't be resized, but compounds the problems of sizing by having a before and after screen competing for space. There are three main options here - smoothing skin, removing shadows and shine and adjusting the skin tone. The Smooth Skin option retains the shape of facial features like cheeks and the nose and smooths the skin on a scale of 1 to 10. Anything other a setting of 1 looks completely unnatural on the preview screen however, this should be taken with a pinch of salt as the full screen picture effect is much more subtle. This is obviously highly unsatisfactory when you cannot rely on the preview screen to give an accurate representation of what the final effect will be like. Lots of back and forth ensue.
The ability to remove shadows should be employed only if the subject is half in and half out of very deep shadows, otherwise it's a case of removing definition from the face. The Gloss reduction is where shiny surfaces from flash can be toned down but note that this tends to smooth out and flatten skin texture as well. Even though there are some templates to use for quick results, it would have been nice to see a wider range of skin tone changes as well.
The fun part is changing the expression to either something serious or more wacky.
On then to the final stage before printing and saving - that of expressions. Here is where that facial feature mapping is now put to good use as there are a range of settings to apply to change the look of the face. Some of these work well, others produce bizarre and freakish results. A lot depends on the expression the subject was pulling in the first place. As has been mentioned, a blank expression is the easiest to change into other shapes. Some of these are quite subtle, and you can see where the program is going with the intent - confident, cool, kind and so on are all obvious. Some of the others, like sexy and young are less obvious. These are the standard expressions, there are also a range of fun ones that cover angry faces, pouting and bizarrely, looking like animals - fox, bull, koala. Again, if the initial expression wasn't fairly bland, some of look like plastic surgery gone horribly wrong. There is also the option to manually adjust the features, but this is quite a bit of effort which surely defeats the object of using the program in the first place.
The final stage is to print or save the picture.
There are some issues with the usability of the program, there are idiosyncrasies that need to be learnt, which is a bit disappointing on a program that is supposed to make the process of beautifying images simpler. There's decent results from the smoothing and de-glossing options, even if the preview is entirely unreliable, which leaves the expressions as the main feature to sell the program. These are variable in result, and work best with a close up of a well proportioned face, but once again, this is the type of face that probably requires least work anyway. However, they do work and if, for example, a wedding shot is ruined because three guests are smiling happily, but one is looking moody, this could correct the expression - providing you can get close enough in to the face to apply the masking. Obviously there's also a lot of fun to be had with the program anyway, and it does simply the process of correcting flaws in a basic fashion, and changing expressions without undue effort.
Simple to use
Wide range of expressions
Can tone and smooth skin
Can be very effective
Supports up to 12Mp images
Skin smoothing preview not accurate
Some expressions are very distorted
FaceFilter Studio 2.0 costs around £29.99 and is available from the Reallusion website and dealers.