On suggestion from Kevin from Nik Software, I agreed to try out the Dynamic Skin Softener filter in Color Efex Pro against Imagenomic’s Portraiture, which has been my standby for skin softening for a while now. I was very excited about doing such a test, and decided that to make it fair, the only differences would be in the skin softening layer. I actually adjusted exposure and hue in Lightroom before porting the photo into Photoshop. I purposefully didn’t do any cloning cleanup, to see if there was any difference in how each program reacted to the problems (in this case, some dry skin flakes near the child’s mouth). I hope that these versions are clear enough for you to see the differences which happened between each program, and so that you can pick for yourself which one you would use more. Warning- as both programs save your prior actions and restart with those settings, I was unable to use just the default settings for either. But, that means that you are seeing each setting as I would actually use it in real life.
I picked a photo that was fairly recent and a bit unusual for a portrait test, maybe… having a fairly short depth of field and such. I wanted to see how each program handled specific issues like out of focus areas, though. As you can see, on the original photo, the girl’s face has some visible skin pores, blood vessels, etc around her cheek and skin hairs around the eyelid. Eyelashes and nostrils are in focus, eyes and lips are almost in focus, as well as some hair around the face. Not bad but could be improved upon, which is the whole reason for this test, right? EVERYONE AND EVERY PICTURE can use some post-processing magic. Done correctly, it can only improve photos. Every time. (ok, getting off my soapbox).
Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro Dynamic Skin Softener filter:
So, to start with, this is a great, great filter that Nik has included. Portraiture is listed at $199, JUST for a single product to do what this filter does. Color Efex Pro has 52 filters in the complete package for $299. So just on that fact, not knowing how well the filter works, you might want to run out and buy the Nik package. You can always adjust the filter, right? Well, lets see how much it actually needs it, by doing this test. First off, when you go into the Nik plug-in, you have to maneuver down to the Dynamic Skin Softener filter. When that was clicked, it automatically applies it to your photo in preview mode. It has several sliders which you can use to adjust the filter. As Kevin had suggested in his earlier comment to try this product, I first picked a skin color with the eyedropper, then adjusted “color reach”. I quickly realized that I would need to readjust it after all the other sliders, so that the program knew where to apply the adjustments. The other sliders- for small, medium and large details- weren’t self explanatory but had to be played with to see what they would effect. I played until I found a setting for each which seemed to fit the photo the best- softening skin while still keeping detail in detail areas like the eyebrows and eyelashes. This is where color reach came in handy… too high and everything got affected. There was some bleed-over (hair, eyebrows a touch) and some uneven coverage in the cheeks and in the eyelid skin hairs… I think with some minor masking in Photoshop, though, plus some judicial use of the blur tool, this could do what you want, which is basically give you a shortcut way to get good portrait skin softening.
This is also a plug-in from the Photoshop filter list, and one that I use often on portraits. I’m just not that great at skin softening on my own, I always end up oversharpening the details and then the photo looks ok on screen but lousy on paper 😦 So I count my blessings that companies have put out products like the two I’m testing today!
There are a few choices in looks from Portraiture, but 99% of the time I just use the default setting. I don’t like overdone skin softening, and most of the other settings are stronger. I even have turned down the default sliders, I think, reducing the feathering, opacity and fuzziness. When you open the plug-in, it gives you a preview of your image with the effects applied. I also like the mask version that you see in a thumbnail on the plug-in, although the effect is often too minor to really see the mask laid over the photo. Anyways, when applied, this program does a good job at fuzzing out the skin irregularities and skin tones, and still keeps some details… but you loose some of the detail in almost everything, so masking is not optional, it is necessary with this software. Anything that is slightly out of focus- here lips and eyes- got feathered. Hair also lost detail. Even the eye lashes lost a small amount of their sharpness. I would need to mask detail back into 90% of the photo, or just reduce the opacity of this layer a bit until some skin detail came back. Even then I might mask around the hair, eyebrows, and eyes a bit. This sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It isn’t, really. But it’s art. I don’t really want it to be as easy as in the photo studios in department stores. I’m guessing they don’t take the time to mask back in some detail 🙂
I would say that my testing proves that neither program does a 100% perfect job of only softening skin and to the right degree with a touch of a button… that might be science fiction, to believe that any program would work perfectly like that! So I try to look at it as an artist… what will make it easier to do my work while still getting the effects I want, which might mean masking later, or using other filter to get the effect I want… I just want a product that is worth the cost for the effort it saves me. SO… Overall Portraiture is simpler than the Dynamic Skin Softener in Color Efex Pro, and does a very similar job. Color Efex Pro does a better job at maintaining definition in areas where you want it, while Portraiture does a better job at evening out skin irregularities and skin tones. I think there is more masking to be done with Portraiture, to bring back details that were lost, while in Color Efex Pro you may need to incorporate some masking along with some blurring in areas. For me, I think Portraiture has a slight edge over the filter from Color Efex Pro, because I like that the filter does everything I want and then some… it’s relatively easy to mask back towards the original photo, and perhaps quicker than using the Nik filter. BUT, I don’t see a clear winner, and I think which you pick depends on what you will use it for… do you want a one shot, quick skin smoother only, or are you looking for skin smoothing as a useful filter along with 51 other amazing filters? As I stated before, the price might be the reason to pick Color Efex Pro over Portraiture. If I hadn’t owned Portraiture before, and owned Color Efex Pro, I know I wouldn’t be willing to pay $199 for Portraiture. And that may be the real answer to my test.
See my work at www.kelleybard.com. Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope that I helped answer some questions about these products!