To be honest, I don’t use portrait enhancement plug-ins that much. It’s too easy to end up with something that looks like a porcelain doll rather than a real person. However, I do like shooting portraits, and I do realise that sometimes the lighting or your own technique doesn’t do your subject any favours – so I thought it would be a good idea to take a proper look at OnOne Perfect Portrait, which is included as part of the Perfect Photo Suite.

The first question to ask is whether its enhancements really do make your subjects look better – or whether they simply look false. The other is whether Perfect Portrait can do anything you can’t do in Lightroom or Elements or some other generic image-editor.

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

I’ve started with this outdoor portrait which is nice enough as it stands, but could maybe benefit from the Perfect Portrait treatment nonetheless, so let’s see how it works…

01 Recognising faces

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

The software has face-recognition built in, so as soon as you open an image it spends a few moments analysing the picture and then draws a green rectangle around your subject’s face to show that it’s found  it.

02 Marking out features

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

When you click inside this rectangle, Perfect Portrait displays adjustable marquees for the eyes and the mouth, and you drag the control points to position these precisely over your subject’s features. There is another portrait plug-in which will ‘morph’ facial features into a supposedly more flattering configuration, but Perfect Portrait doesn’t do this. Instead, it simply uses these marquees to separate different features for different kinds of enhancement.

03 Manual enhancements

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

Now you can choose one of the many portrait enhancement presets displayed in a panel on the left side of the screen (it’s collapsed in this screenshot), and these are categorised by the age and gender of your subject. But I’m going to use the manual adjustment sliders on the right to get a feel for how they work.

First, in the Skin Retouching panel, I’ve increased the Smoothing value so that pores and textures on my model’s face are smoothed over – but not so much that you get that awful ‘porcelain’ effect.

Next, in the Eyes & Mouth panel, I’ve made my model’s eyes whiter and increased the whiteness of her teeth and the vibrance of her lips.

04 Mask adjustments

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

Now all the way through this I’ve assumed that Perfect Portrait has masked the relevant areas of my model’s face properly, but I can check this using the mask view – there’s a pop-up menu in the bottom left corner of the window. You should find that all the non-face areas of the image are masked, but if any background areas aren’t masked with that sooty overlay, you can use the masking tool to paint over them.

You may not need to do this. Even if you don’t fix the mask, your portrait adjustments may not make an obvious difference to background areas anyway.

05 Retouch brush

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

Finally, you can use the Retouch brush to smooth over any larger blemises or wrinkles. I’ve used it here to smooth over the shadows under my subject’s eyes. Be careful, though, because too much smoothing can look just plain weird. This first attempt, above, just doesn’t look right.

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

So I had another go, reducing the brush opacity to 40% using the pop-up slider on the options bar at the top, so that I could build up the smoothing effect more carefully. I’ve left some of the shadows and creases in the image, and I think the finished image looks much more natural.

06 The finished image

OnOne Perfect Portrait basics

As I said at the start, I’m not normally a fan of portrait retouching plug-ins, but I think Perfect Portrait has done a good job here. I’ve exaggerated the soft-focus effect a little to make it more obvious (I’d probably make it subtler than this as a rule), but the point is that Perfect Portrait does allow you to be subtle and careful with the settings and produce a result that, when you compare it with the original, is a genuine improvement and not false-looking. It’s also a good deal easier than working out how to do the same things manually in a program like Photoshop.