AI is here to make our lives easier while getting stronger editing. And it’s improving on a day-to-day basis. So far, we’ve compared AI Upscaling, AI Sharpening, and AI Noise Removal. The results have been quite interesting. AI is driven by Machine Learning (ML), which is in a constant state of flux. The algorithm is constantly evolving as more training data flows in. Usually, it changes for the better, but as with any development, they sometimes just break and have to start all over again. This means that our results vary across tests and types of “retouching”. And today is no different.
I’ll begin by qualifying what I’m doing:
The subject is Kersten Luts, host of the Camera Shake podcast. He took this self-portrait as part of his Three Heads in a Row project (@threeheadsinarow). When I tested the different software using this image, I opened the raw file straight into the software, not into a plugin. Kersten shot this photo with a Nikon D750 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. The light in Kersten’s hand is an Interfit Badger Unleashed 250w. Kersten shoots these self-portraits tethered with a Tether Tools cable and has a monitor on the desk beside him to see the image preview.
Let’s get started
Adobe Photoshop has Neural Filters, which are usually great for automated, AI-driven adjustments. In this case, they’re not.
Each time you move the slider, you have to wait for the photo to re-render. There is no preview available before the finished result appears. So it somewhat tricky to anticipate what each adjustment does before actually doing it.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of adjustments available to us. In the ‘Portrait’ section, there are three available categories:
- Skin Smoothing
- Smart Portrait
- Makeup Transfer.
The Skin Smoothing category contains just two sliders: Blur and Smoothness, both make changes to an automatically applied Mask. The next category, Smart Portrait, is where I’d expect to find some serious AI tools to make professional portrait adjustments, but instead, we have what I’d call a more ‘quirky’ set of tools to move eyes and increase smiles. It’s these tools that I’ve highlighted in the example screenshot because there were no ‘professional’ tools available in Neural Filters.
Adobe Photoshop contains the original, amazing tools we use to retouch portraits, but there’s nothing much going on as far as AI tools go.
PortraitPro Studio Max
PortraitPro Studio Max 2023 by Anthropics is incredibly powerful and intuitive. The controls available affect parts of a series of masks generated by AI, as seen in the example screenshot.
The adjustments are instant on the image preview, making it extremely easy to nail the correct adjustment. The categories are broken down effectively, and each tab can have its influence turned on or off with one master button.
Besides the controls, there are presets which are all self-explanatory. Those make for a quick, one-click edit. You can also create and save presets if you so desire.
The fact that far more controls are available in such a simple format makes this an incredible piece of AI portrait editing software. We don’t have the ‘basic’ sliders to edit the raw image, but we have everything we need beyond that.
Luminar Neo by Skylum has a lot of AI in it. It packs an incredible amount of power and tools into one place. Under the Tools/Portrait panel, we have a few tools:
- Portrait Bokeh AI
- Face AI
- Skin AI
- Body AI
- High Key
The Sliders in these tools allow a huge range of edits and adjustments to our portrait. Ljuminar bases those on AI recognition of the subject and the subsequent masks. When you make an adjustment, you get an instant preview that then renders into full resolution. This means you can see the adjustment effect while the AI engine completes the render.
Outside the Portrait tab, you have many other Tools and Presets available. Those tools may be relevant even if you are not a portrait photographer.
Topaz Photo AI
Topaz Photo AI is a powerful AI tool combining all the plugins from their range. This includes Sharpen AI, DeNoise AI, and Gigapixel. The problem is that these are all technical AI tools rather than creative ones.
When it comes to portraits, Topaz does a fantastic job of making them bigger and sharper, but there’s virtually nothing in terms of creative AI edits available. In Topaz Photo AI, we have one slider – Recover Faces. It seems to do a bit of smoothing and not much else. Topaz won the previous round of our AI battles, but they’re not winning this one.
ON1 Photo Raw 2023
ON1 Photo Raw 2023 gives us basic adjustments like you’d find in Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw, along with some AI-powered presets for portraits.
You can target the skin, face, eyes, and mouth. These adjustments are all effective and powerful. Sadly, the automatic adjustment was frankly quite ridiculous. The face became cartoonish, but once I turned the automatic mode off and made my own adjustments based on the AI masks, the result was very good.
ON1 also provides AI Adaptive Presets – you can make further adjustments to the overall scene, things like background and toning. This is a great feature missing from other software, and it truly makes AI meaningful to creatives, allowing us to focus more on creativity while taking away the menial tasks.
There’s usually a trial available on the software tested here, so be sure to give it a go yourself. I made My tests around one image and from the perspective of a complete overview of the software. It’s also worth noting that AI and Machine Learning technologies are constantly evolving, so what is the best today may not be the best next week. Each algorithm is only as good as the data feeding it. That said, here’s the verdict:
With my tests concluded, I would vote to hear if you had a different experience. Which is your favorite AI for portraits?