PhotographyBB Portrait Magic Pro Action Pack (Portrait Magic) is an affordable skin softening product for Photoshop.
Skin softening is a technique that can be used subtly to “take the edge off” a subjects skin or, at the opposite end of the scale, it can be used as subtly as a 50lb sledgehammer to produce a “china-doll” effect. The effect you will want to produce will vary with the subjects and nature of the photographs you are taking, so it is useful to have a product, such as Portrait Magic, to help you achieve these results quickly and easily.
I currently use Dynamic Skin Softener which is part of the Nik Color Efex Pro collection of filters and its a great application, however the set of filters does cost €299.95 (approx. £248). Portrait Magic, on the other hand, is as affordable as deep fried potatoes at only $28 (approx. £19). So has does this inexpensive action measure up?
Whats in the action set?
For such a small price the action set is quite well stocked. There are five skin softening presets that range from a a light softening through to the aforementioned “china-doll” effect, which is called Surreal in these presets; there is also a full manual action, which is the best way of applying the effect. As well as these there is a one shot skin sharpness reduction action and five skin glow effects. Quite lot of bang for your buck.
How does It perform?
I think the best way of answering this is to demonstrate how to use the action and then take look at the end results. (I’m assuming you have loaded the actions into Photoshop, if you don’t know how to do this there are instructions on the PhotographyBB website).
Open a suitable image in Photoshop.
In the actions palette (press option F9 (Mac) alt F9 (PC) if you can’t see it) find the actions and select the “Full Control Smoother” action and press play
The first thing the action will do is to tell to press stop and remove any blemishes with the healing tools (J), once you have done this (if you need to) press play again.
Once you have pressed play a new dialog box will appear that gives instructions on what to do next [fig3].
Although it says to press ok, on a Mac you press the continue button.
This is where you set the softness of the skin. It takes al little time to get feel of how the sliders affect the image and the preview looks a little extreme, once you get the hang of it it is quite easy to get the desired result. I tend to add a little more softness than needed as I can always reduce the results once the action has finished running whereas you can’t increase it.
Once you have finished the softening press play again and the photograph goes all weird on you
Worry not and follow the instructions in the dialog box. Again getting the hang of the sliders takes a little time, but as with the softness sliders its better to go a little heavy as you can always back it off later.
Press play again and the action finishes by telling you can fine tune the effect by adjusting the opacity of the softness and sharpness layers.
Its quite difficult to see how the effect turns out here as the images are quite small and I’ve use it quite lightly on this image. So you will have to take my word for it that the results are very good. The sharpening of the background can be too much in some cases but it is easily controlled using a layer mask.
I’ve got a few. Firstly the instructions say the action is best used on images that are ‘mainly “straight from the camera” ‘. I have a few issues with this, firstly this is a finishing action, the last part of your workflow and you will be using on portrait images which will often have had quite a lot of “work” done on them so by their very nature the images will not be ‘straight from the camera’. The action works perfectly well on images that have had other work, which can be quite extensive with some images, done to them.
Secondly, and this is a biggy. Instead of acting on your original image the action duplicates it so you have two files. The actions are applied as layers and layers can be turned off, creating another file is unnecessary and uses up space on your harddrive. You can remedy this by going into the action and turning off ‘duplicate first document’ instruction and the action still works well.
Thirdly. The actions only work on 8 bit images. This isn’t too much of a hassle for me as I’m a wedding photographer and I tend to have images in 8 bit to save on memory space, but could be an issue for some users.
Lastly. According to the website the actions only work in Photoshop CS2, CS3 and CS4. I’m sure there is nothing in the actions that won’t work in CS5 but it may be worth checking before you buy.
Despite some instructions that could be open to misinterpretation and an action instruction that should be changed, the results from the actions are great. If you are looking for a skin smoothing tool this is a very good one and at the price you would be a fool to buy something more expensive. Oh, hang on a minute, I did buy something more expensive…
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