If you're a professional photographer, specially a portrait photographer, you may already be using Imagenomic's Portraiture, but if you're not, do read on.
Portraiture is a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture specifically design for skin retouching. In simple terms it smoothes skin.
A few months ago I had the chance to meet one of Vancouver's top boudoir photographers. To my surprise she shared with me one of the many tools she uses in her trade: Portraiture.
Prior to using Portraiture, I was using the good 'ol Photoshop tricks to smooth skin, ranging from the clone stamp tool, healing brush tool, patch tool, spot healing brush, both blur brush and blur filter, dodge and burn tools, all combined. Doing this kind of work can be really challenging and if not, at least very time consuming. I always loved it because it can get quite technical. But if you have to work with lots of images, this process is simply not practical.
Portraiture will speed-up your workflow exponentially. In a nutshell, it masks areas of an image that have skin tone colors and smoothes those areas but still maintaining details of hair, lashes, lips, eyes, etc. To access Portraiture in Photoshop, after installation, you'll find it under "Filter > Imagenomic > Portraiture..."
The interface is at first a bit overwhelming because it has a number of pop-up menus and lots of sliders with labels that may not be obvious right away. But even if you're intimidated by the UI, you can start by using the presets which have different levels of smoothing.
Once you outgrow the presets, which may happen really quickly, then you get to the power of the software, which is to control the areas that are masked (the areas where the filter will be applied), and determine how to and how much to smooth the skin.
An essential part of Portraiture is the preview window where you compare the original image vs. the filtered version. Here I personally like using "Accurate" over "Fast Preview", which slows down the preview dramatically, but as the label implies, it's much more accurate. If you want to see how the same image would appear with different settings applied, there is the option by using what Imagenomic refers to as "bracketing".
Depending on your workflow, this feature can be great because you can preview how the image would change by modifying the values of one parameter multiple times. The implementation of bracketing is a bit limited, but easy to use. I just wish I could see all the different results at once instad of having to cycle through each on its own tabs.
Apart from smoothing skin, it also has a number of enhancement features. The two that I keep on using almost every time are "warmth", which can make the skin tones redder (warmer) or bluer (cooler), and "brightness" which would be similar to modifying the levels or curves on the skin tone mask.
I'm a devoted fan of non-destructive editing, and Portraiture does not disappoint in this areas since you can have it output to a new layer with or without transparency mask. If you want to keep your Photoshop files leaner you can output to the same layer as the original image, but this would be destructive editing.
So far I've only used Portraiture in Photoshop, but you can also use it in Lightroom and Aperture giving you the flexibility of applying the filter to a large group of images. In Photoshop you can use Actions to record a script and then apply it to a batch of images using the automation features of Photoshop.
In short: Portraiture is a powerful software with a bit clunky UI; a must for anyone working with portraits or any kind of model.
Pros: Great output quality with an extensive range of settings. Can be applied to large numbers of images.
Cons: Takes a bit of time to understand the user interface. A bit pricy if you don't make your living photographing people.
* Portrait photo by Feliciano Guimarães (http://www.flickr.com/jsome1/)