Portraits and processing them are very specialized things, with specific needs to do the job well. So which portrait editing software on the market is the best? In this article, I’ll compare six of the most popular portrait editors including the highly rated PortraitPro Studio, and give you my thoughts and recommendations as to which is best for you.
Here are the programs we’re going to look at in more detail. I’m starting with Lightroom and Photoshop because they are the base for some of the others that can be used as plugins. But you don’t need an Adobe subscription to use most of them (with the exception of Portraiture 4).
Which are the BEST portrait editors for 2023?
- Lightroom Classic – Adobe
- Photoshop 2023 – Adobe
- Luminar Neo – Skylum
- PortraitPro Studio 23 – Anthropics
- ON1 Portrait AI 2023 – ON1
- Portraiture 4 – Imagenomic
Lightroom is great for basic adjustments and until recently, as a portrait editor, it wasn’t automated or easy. You had to brush in different effects where you wanted them.
Now that the new masking tools are able to detect people and faces, it’s much easier. But there are still some things you can’t do with Lightroom in regard to portraits. Let’s look at it closer.
PROS of Lightroom as a portrait editor
If you already have an Adobe subscription you don’t need anything additional, the tools are all there for you. Lightroom’s catalog and DAM (digital asset management) is the best of this bunch as well for keeping your images organized and sorted.
After the latest round of updates to Lightroom, the masking tools are better than ever before. The built-in AI can select a person, just their facial skin, or face and body skin, as well as eyes, lips, hair, and eyebrows. You can also select the subject or background and edit them independently so you can brighten or darken each accordingly.
Presets can be saved as well and the advantage Lightroom has here is that you can select which edits to include in the preset and which to exclude. So you can really target just the edits on the person or people.
Click here for help learning how to use Lightroom for all your editing, or on the image below.
CONS of Lightroom as a portrait editor
There are also a few things you cannot do with Lightroom in regard to portraits including:
- You cannot open or enlarge squinty eyes
- It cannot fix blemishes automatically
- It cannot change eye color
- There are no tools to slim the face or the body
- You cannot add or enhance makeup
- You cannot alter the expression of face shape
So if you want to do any of those things you will need to take the image over to Photoshop. Assuming you have a current subscription to Adobe, then you already have that too.
Inside Photoshop you have a whole host of tools that can do all that and more. But of course, it also comes with the task of learning how to do that and Photoshop can be daunting and intimidating to learn, which brings us to . . .
If you can imagine it, you can probably do it with Photoshop. But the learning curve is a steep and long one that can be full of frustrations and failures. I know, I’ve had my own fair share of both over the years.
So if you want to be a professional photographer, add any design elements into your work, add text, make composite images, or any number of advanced techniques – it is the industry standard and you’ll have to bite the bullet and just dig in and learn it.
But if you just want to make your own photos look good, it’s likely overkill and more than you’ll ever need. Let’s look at the pros and cons.
PROS of Photoshop as a portrait editor
The sky is the limit here.
You can use the Liquify tool to adjust the shape and slim body parts (tuck in the waist, slim arms, etc). The neural filters allow you to adjust the expression and more.
If you get into frequency separation you can do advanced skin retouching like a professional glamour or fashion photographer. You can clone and heal like a madman, removing unwanted items from the subject or background.
You can also blur the background (although not nearly as easily as with Luminar Neo), replace it, colorize it, or whatever you desire. Likewise, you can change the color of clothing, hair, eyes, etc.
As I said there really is nothing you can’t do in Photoshop if you have the time and skills. Check out my Photoshop 101-301 Course Bundle for help getting started!
CONS of Photoshop as a portrait editor
The biggest drawback is the level of difficulty learning and using the software. Anything that is complex, comes with a lot of instructions. It will take many hours, perhaps even months or years to even come close to mastering it.
Don’t expect to get perfect or perhaps even acceptable results right out of the gate. It will take time. So if you want fast and good results right away – this is not your best option. If you’re in it for the long haul, then go for it.
Or you need to buy or make a lot of Photoshop Actions that can help streamline the process. But honestly, I don’t really use Actions anymore, I personally prefer plugins.
NOTE: I have actually not edited the example image with Photoshop because quite honestly that’s not my workflow and it would take me a LOT longer to do it using just the tools in PS.
Read more about Lightroom Classic and Photoshop on Adobe’s website.
Luminar Neo by Skylum
Luminar Neo is a great software choice if you are brand new to photo editing and want to beat the steep learning curve of other options. If you use Lightroom as your main editor and want some additional tools in your arsenal it works great as a plugin as well.
In my own personal workflow, I do the basic edits for exposure, color, and contrast in Lightroom. Then I take the image into Luminar Neo to do the portrait editing. The tools in Luminar Neo are easier to use than Photoshop, and it gets better results and has more options than Lightroom.
So Luminar Neo is my number one recommendation for portrait editors.
The things it does, it does very well. It’s easy to use, and you can do more with it than just portrait editing. So it’s a more well-rounded option than any of the specialty portrait editors mentioned below (Portrait AI, Portraiture, and PortraitPro). If you get the full Pro package with all the extensions it is a complete editing solution.
In my opinion, it’s the best bang for your buck as well.
PROS of Luminar Neo as a portrait editor
The biggest pro of Luminar Neo for portrait editing is how easy it is to use. You don’t need to learn about complex skin retouching or even do a lot of cloning to handle blemishes. The skin smoothing is also really nice and even at the maximum setting, it doesn’t go too over the top, maintaining a natural-looking texture to the skin.
Below is the original, unedited stock image that I used for this comparison. Use it as a reference for comparing all the after images below. At the bottom of the article, you’ll find them all side-by-side for easy comparison.
You can also use the Face Light slider to create a custom vignette that brightens the face and darkens the rest of the image. Watch this video tutorial to learn more about this trick.
Neo also has options for creating more blur in the background and portrait background removal. Both of which are simple to use but effective.
As well the Mystical or Glow tools are great options for adding an overall softening effect which works really nicely on all portraits.
Finally, you can also save edits as a preset or sync them across multiple images and the AI will do its job on all of them with minimal tweaks needed.
If you want to get a trial version and take Luminar Neo for a test drive CLICK HERE!
For full Luminar Neo education (the entire program not just for portraits) check out our Luminar Neo Training Course now.
CONS of Luminar Neo as a portrait editor
Because it’s simpler to use it lacks some of the more advanced options. But whether or not you miss them depends on your needs and what you want to accomplish. For one thing, you cannot choose which edits to include in a preset – it saves everything including any masks you applied. So you need to be aware of that and use the preset at the beginning of your workflow.
It also doesn’t select or offer the option of selecting body skin. When smoothing the skin it only affects the face. So that can create a disjointed look if the neck and chest area skin is inconsistent with that of the face.
For body slimming or doing a little tuck here and there you’ll need the Liquify tool which means hopping over to Photoshop or PortraitPro. Likewise, if you want to do any expression tweaks, face reshaping, or makeup enhancement you’ll need to do the same. But personally, I’m not a fan of those kinds of edits anyway so I don’t miss those things.
PortraitPro Studio by Anthropics
Next up is PortraitPro Studio which is made by Anthropics. I tried this one out years ago so thought it was time to revisit it and see if it’s been improved.
It has! I can say that overall I was pretty impressed with what the software can do. But am I jumping in and getting it for myself? In a word, no. Read on to find out why.
There is a lot to like about this program and I know it’s the gold standard for a lot of professional portrait photographers. It does a lot of things, and it does them really well. Yet it still falls short in a few areas. Let’s take a look.
PROS of PortraitPro Studio
You can choose to use the software as a plugin for Lightroom and/or Photoshop and apply it as a Smart Object in Photoshop which provides a true non-destructive editing workflow. So if you’re already using LR, you can easily integrate PortraitPro.
It has a lot of options under the Controls tab and each one has a full set of tools, and yet more options (see screenshot below). So as you can see, there is a lot that can be done with this software.
As per the controls, you can:
- Alter the shape of the face, eyes, lips, chin, and even neck and shoulders.
- Smooth the skin to varying degrees.
- Adjust and add lighting and coloring to the face to contour with light. This is something that can only be done with Photoshop and none of the others listed in this comparison article.
- Edit or add makeup.
- Adjust the eyes including changing the eye color, removing eye bags, etc. You can even darken the pupil, brighten the iris, and add and position a catchlight (you have a choice of shapes also).
- Alter the light and shape of the mouth and nose to add contouring.
- Edit the hair including changing the color and brightness.
- The Picture controls allow you to adjust the exposure, sharpness, and color, and add a vignette.
- Layer controls are where you can mask and edit the background or change it to another image, as well as add an overlay like a texture or a bokeh image.
- Tools include a sky replacement, crop tool, remove noise, clone tool, and art effects such as painting looks and grunge styles.
One of the keys to the success of the AI in this program is image mapping. It detects the face (or faces) and applies a mask like the one above. You can then manually adjust the points if any are not accurate so you get the best results from all of the tools because the face is correctly identified.
So while having all those tools is great, it can also be a drawback. There is a lot to this program. On the few images that I ran through it, I spent a lot more time just playing around and jigging with settings than any of the other programs.
Perhaps in time it becomes quicker but I can’t verify that – so you’ll have to try it yourself and decide. You can also save your work as a preset at any time and choose which elements to include in the preset (see below).
Once a preset is applied you can also dial its entire effect down with a slider. You can see below my original edits at 100% and then after I saved it as a preset and applied it I could dial it down to 60%. I personally like the dialed-down version better.
CONS of PortraitPro
Unfortunately, because I’m currently running a trial version of the software it will not let me save or export a finished image. All the others that I am trialing (Portraiture4, PortraitPRO, and Portrait AI 2023) are fully functioning. So that’s a drawback for PortraitPro – how can you test the quality of the final result if you can’t get one?
So I was forced to take a screenshot so you can see the side-by-side image comparison.
NOTE: You’ll notice the huge TRIAL watermark on the image above, that is because their trial version does not allow you to save or export the finished image and this is how it displays while you’re working with this version. So it’s a bit off-putting, at least it was for me anyway. All you can do is literally look at it in the software and even that is obstructed.
Another con for me is the price. They have tiered pricing and if you want all the bells and whistles you need to get the Studio Max version, which of course is the most costly.
With the Standard option you cannot edit Raw files, so that doesn’t really work for me (or most photographers likely). The Studio package gives you Raw editing capabilities as well as being able to use it as a plugin for LR and PS.
But if you want batch processing (as many portrait photographers do) then you’ll need the Studio Max plan (see below).
At $179.95 USD that’s getting up there cost-wise. And if you choose to upgrade each year to keep it current that ends up costing $14.99/month which is more than an Adobe subscription (in which you get both LR and PS). So for just a portrait editor, I find it costly.
Another con for me is how far this software takes things. A pet peeve of mine is portraits with plastic-looking people. Skin with no texture and unrealistic edits. That includes reshaping the face. I’m not a fan of this technology, you can completely alter the person’s face so they don’t even look like themselves anymore.
This is the kind of disturbing standard that has been used in the fashion industry for decades and which puts young girls and teens at risk for body and self-esteem issues. It’s an unrealistic beauty standard – they can never look like the edited images.
For example, what do you think of this image of this lovely model? Is the editing overdone or just right?
Then look at it side-by-side with the before, unedited image (below)- what do you think now?
It doesn’t even look like the same girl does it? Is this appropriate for her? I think not!
But this is what is possible with software like this and it is done in the fashion world all too often. I have very strong opinions about this kind of thing especially with young, impressionable girls. It’s not a standard that is possible to achieve. It sets them up for issues with body image issues and self-esteem.
Just to be clear – this is NOT appropriate! Please do NOT do this kind of editing UNLESS the subject is an adult (well over 18, 21+ is even better) AND they have asked for and approved it.
So if it’s so great you might be wondering why haven’t I purchased it for myself yet. Well, the cost is one factor for sure, but it’s more about it adding to my time and workflow instead of simplifying it.
PortraitPro does well as a portrait editor, there is no doubt about that. But it’s one more plugin, one more step, one more thing to pay for and I’d rather have fewer of all those things, not more.
Currently, I have Photoshop and Lightroom and I use Luminar Neo a lot in my editing, for all kinds of images not just portraits. If I need noise reduction I used to go to Topaz DeNoise but now that both LR’s and Luminar’s Noise reduction tools are on par, I don’t need it. Once they both catch up on sharpening then Topaz Sharpen AI will be kicked to the curb as well.
For me, it comes down to the following deciding factor: Is the extra cost as well as the time and effort worth it? Is the final result that much better? Go get the trial and test it for yourself and decide.
In the end, although PortraitPro can produce excellent results – it costs more, increases working time, and I actually prefer the results I get with Luminar Neo. So for me, it’s a no.
ON1 Portrait AI 2023
ON1 Portrait AI 2023 is also part of the ON1 Photo RAW plugin package. You can buy their entire suite with a monthly subscription or just get Portrait AI 2023 by itself.
I’ve done reviews of ON1 Photo RAW twice now and I’m not a huge fan of their products, but I wanted to give this product a chance. So I took an objective look at the tools and features as they relate just to the job as a portrait editor. There is a trial version (click here) if you want to give it a go as well.
PROS of ON1 Portrait AI
It does a nice job on skin smoothing and other general face edits and for the price point, it provides good value. But compared to some of the other software in the article, its functions are limited to the following:
- Skin (retouching, smoothing, blemishes)
- Face (brightness, slimming)
- Eyes (brighten, enlarge, whiten, sharpen, remove circles underneath)
- Mouth (whiten teeth, darken and adjust lip color)
It’s fairly simple to use and you can also do some local adjustments to the image like tweaking the exposure, contrast, structure, and color.
So technically you could apply those things and blur and darken the background, but there is no automated masking tool to help you do that, you have to brush it in manually. You can also copy the mask from the portrait tools, but it’s rough with no AI to assist with getting it perfected.
CONS of ON1 Portrait AI
You can see from the result above it’s not quite as complete a job as either Luminar Neo or PortraitPro did on the same image. The circles under the eyes are still dark, some of the blemishes were missed (I noticed the blemish slider just blurs the skin more instead of handling imperfections), and there is no face slimming.
While it does have a Liquify tool and retouching tools, its Retouching Brush tends to just blur things as well instead of removing them. So I didn’t really find it at all effective. The Liquify tool was clunky to me and I couldn’t get it to work either.
The healing tool was better, but LR can do that too so I didn’t see any extra benefits here. I did get the retouching brush to fix the bright spot on her neck (see below) with a little bit of work.
But basically, it’s missing the following, so it doesn’t really add anything to my personal workflow. But if it fits in yours and you enjoy it – then go for it.
- Good blemish removal options that are more automatic
- Body skin smoothing
- Enlarge eyes
- Change or alter the iris color
- Blur background
- Darken background
- Handle stray hairs
- Batch editing
Portraiture 4 by Imagenomic
This software just does one thing – portrait editing. To be more specific it pretty much does skin smoothing and that’s it. So it’s pretty simple to use, but on the other hand, it lacks many of the options the other software offers.
It’s also pretty costly with a price tag of $249 USD if you want it as a plugin for either Photoshop or Lightroom and $299 if you want it for both. So it’s at the bottom of my review for these reasons, because it’s also on the bottom of my recommendation list.
But, having said that, if you do a lot of teen or senior portraits (grads) and have to handle blemishes – this might be a good option for you because it does that really, really well!
PROS of Portraiture 4
Well, first off it’s pretty easy to use. There are only three sets of sliders and it just does skin softening. Below you can see the interface – that’s all there is to it – and a before and after view.
But because it’s so simple, there is a lot that it doesn’t do. See the summary chart at the end of the article for a point-by-point comparison.
CONS of Portraiture 4
The two big cons are that Portraiture 4 is pretty pricey coming in at $249 USD as a plugin for Photoshop. If you also want to use it with Lightroom it will cost you an additional $50.
Considering it only does skin smoothing and nothing else, that’s a huge drawback and why I would not recommend this software. There are other software options that do more and most of them are way less expensive.
Another thing that’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine is that it allows you to really go overboard and overedit an image (see above). If you take all the sliders up to the maximum you’ll end up with a person that looks like a Barbie doll – plastic skin, devoid of all texture and realness.
Recommendations and side-by-side comparison
I’ve made a couple of charts that will give you a side-by-side look at all of the features of each of these software. Just click on the chart to see it larger in a new browser tab.
Based on my tests of each, my software of choice for the best portrait editor is still Luminar Neo. I may purchase PortraitPro for myself but I think for you it may be more than you need or a bit of overkill.
Here are my picks for you based on your needs. See which of the following sounds the most like you and my recommendations for each category.
If you are a total beginner (in photography and/or photo editing) I would suggest Luminar Neo for you. Its ease of use and the shorter learning curve will have you up and running with great results faster!
Besides doing a really nice job on portrait editing, Luminar Neo can also be your main software for all your editing needs. It can also do sky replacements, it has layers, you can add an overlay, adjust the lighting, exposure, contrast, and color, and lots more. It’s a complete solution.
Read my review of Luminar Neo here, or just go ahead and get the software here.
More advanced photographers that do more portrait photography as a specialty may find the added tools in PortraitPro fit for you a little better.
But honestly, I fall into this category and I’ll still likely use Luminar Neo for 90% of my portrait work. It’s faster and I’m happy with the results. So keep in mind that getting a new tool that has more bells and whistles doesn’t mean it’s automatically better! Use the tool that works for you and that you enjoy using the most.
For professional portrait photographers, I’d recommend Photoshop for sure because it has a lot of other tools you may need such as a text tool, layers, actions, curves, layout design, and a lot more.
But you may also want to add either Luminar Neo or PortraitPro if you do a lot of portraits and want to streamline your workflow.
Portrait editors head-to-head battle – video
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Before and after image comparisons
Here are the before and all of the after images so you can see them together. Scroll down to see the same for two other images that I also ran through each software.
I chose this stock image because the lady has both freckles and blemishes and I wanted to see how the software would handle that. As well her eyes are dark, and she has dark circles under them, so that is a good test too.
Mature portrait example
In this next example, I chose a portrait I made of a more mature lady. Let’s see how each software does with this subject.
Example of a portrait with blemishes
Let’s see how well each of the software tackled blemishes. Pay attention to the captions below each of the images, I’ve added a note for each one.
The bottom line
Has this been helpful for you in determining the best portrait editor for you? I hope so!
My goal is to provide clear and concise information for you to be able to make the best, most well-informed decision possible.
So tell me, which software are you leaning toward as your portrait editor and why? Tell me in the comment area below what criteria were most important to you and what was the deciding factor.
I will likely continue to use mainly Lightroom Classic and Luminar Neo in my portrait editing workflow. It’s possible I will add PortraitPro into the mix from time to time. Ask me again in a year or so.