Rethinking My Retouching Software
I've been spending some time using Aperture 3.3 as portrait retouching software. The results look very promising. That means fewer round trips to use Photoshop or a plugin to retouch a portrait. It's not just a matter of new features. Some of the existing features seem to work much better in the current release. Of course, there are also some killer new features. Here's a quick overview:
White Balance from Skin Tone – This is a fascinating new feature that really enhances Aperture 3.3 as portrait retouching software. There are times when I didn't have a grey card with me and nothing in the photo seemed appropriate to use as a measure of white balance. Now with Aperture 3.3, I have the option to use Natural Grey or Skin Tone with the eyedropper. All I have to do is select the Skin Tone option and click the eyedropper on the subject's cheek. I compared these two options on my last shoot with my grey card. Both improved over the camera's settings, but the Skin Tone white balance had a natural warmth that was far more pleasing than the grey card. There's still an option to select Temperature & Tint to manually control white balance, but I've found using the Skin Tone to be an excellent tool for portraits. I'd like to see this feature in all retouching software.
Skin Softening – Previous versions of Aperture had a Skin Softening tool. Unfortunately, it was difficult to use. The tool sapped resources from my computer and was very sluggish. Apple gradually improved its algorithm for this tool. It's no longer sluggish. More importantly, it yields some very nice results. Combined with Aperture's brush settings to Detect Edges, you can very quickly use Skin Softening without overlapping onto over textures in the photo. You still see pores and other fine details, though there is the possibility to overdo the softening. Fortunately, you can easily correct it with one slider.
Contrast – This may seem like a basic tool, but the results have also greatly improved. I've found that Aperture 3.3 does an outstanding job of darkening my background without pushing my subject too far. It's the slider for “make this subject pop!” It's almost perfect for that job, but has the tendency to blow-out the skin on some subjects. My first option is to use the Recovery slider to bring back details. If that's already pegged out, I can use Aperture's selective editing brush to erase the Contrast. Even this isn't always perfect. Bringing back the detail after a Contrast adjustment could result in some discoloration, but not always. Even with that caveat, it's still a very useful improvement.
Highlights, Shadows & Mid Contrast – When brushing away the Contrast causes some discoloration, then it's time to fall back on these settings. In the photo below, I used Mid Contrast to eliminate shine on the model's forehead. Used globally, it flattens out the entire image. Fortunately, you can just use the adjustment brush to apply the change to the area that needs it.
Retouch Brush – I used to avoid this at all costs in past versions. Rather than remove a blemish, it was more likely to cause one. On top of that, it was very slow and cumbersome. That's no longer the case. The Retouch brush does a wonderful job and is much faster than its prior incarnations. Where the problems with this brush used to always mean a trip to Photoshop for me, now I can comfortable rely upon the Retouch brush in Aperture 3.3.
Now that I can trust Aperture 3.3 as portrait retouching software, it's become an incredible time saver for me. I'm still experimenting, though. Brightening the eyes will take some different techniques than the one I tried in this image. That's OK. I like to dig in and play with the possibilities.
I dug back into my archives to find a photo to really test Aperture 3.3 as portrait retouching software. This shot of Meredith is from 2007 when I still have my D200. The original was flat and had a sickly green color cast over everything. One click with the Skin Tone white balance tool and a slide with the Contrast tool did most of the work to make the shot presentable again. I'll keep throwing problem photos up against Aperture 3.3 to see if it has a weak spot, but I'm very happy so far.