How to Use Photoshop's Smart Portrait Feature: A Beginner's Guide


Photoshop’s Smart Portrait feature is a beta option found under the Filter tab in Neural Filters. Its primary focus is to generate new elements for your portraits, such as emotions, hair, and other fine details.

Portrait Photoshop featured

In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to use Smart Portrait to make subtle adjustments to a portrait picture without introducing pixel distortion.

Smart Portrait Usage Limitations

Before we begin, it’s important to note that the Smart Portrait suite isn’t meant for retouches or serious portrait editing. At least not in its current iteration. We’ll demonstrate why in the examples below.

It’s plain to see that Adobe is only just warming up its Sensei AI capabilities and is likely the reason for Smart Portrait being identified as a beta feature.

In fact, a quick glance at the other beta features available for use raises questions as to why Adobe is bothering to release a limited adjustments suite which has very little practical use for the typical Photoshop user. Playing with any of these sliders, only to discover glaring limitations, will likely leave you scratching your head, as it did with us. Who are these beta features for?

AI Image Editors Are the Future

Perhaps this makes more sense when we look at what Adobe’s competitors are doing. One of the best portrait editors currently on the market, Anthropics’ PortraitPro, is a highly-evolved portrait editor that makes use of AI and smart features to help you craft a portrait to perfection effectively.

Another Adobe competitor that’s been making waves is Skylum’s Luminar photo editing software, which also boasts advanced AI editing options.

Within this context, it’s clear to see that Adobe is attempting to maintain its market dominance by showing that it too has exciting AI offerings in the works. Once Adobe catches up, few would doubt that the company will become industry leaders in AI technology for photo editing.

In other words, Adobe clearly intends for its more advanced users to make use of Smart Portrait in their workflow at some point in the future.

How to Get Started With Photoshop Smart Portrait

We recommend that you follow along and download the same image that we’re using, at least for your introduction to Smart Portrait. You can download it from

  1. Brighten the image by adding a Curves adjustment.
  2. Alt + Click on Auto, select Enhance Monochromatic Contrast, and click OK.
  3. Click on the Background layer to highlight.
  4. Go to Filter > Neural Filters.

    add neural filters
  5. Click on the Beta Filters icon (flask).

    select beta filters
  6. Click on the Smart Portrait beta dial at the top of the menu.

    click on smart portrait

Now, you should have the entire Smart Portrait menu opened on the right side of the menu. From here, you’ll be able to adjust the sliders to make positive and negative effects ranging from -50 to +50 for each of the Expressions and Subject adjustments.

To activate and adjust each of the Expressions and Subjects, click on the corresponding boxes.

Photoshop Smart Portrait Expressions

Below are the adjustments we made at the two extreme values (-50 and +50) for each option. We’ll briefly discuss the results in each section.


At -50

happiness at -50

At +50

happiness at +50

Photoshop does a decent job rendering the negative Happiness values, but as you move the slider gradually up through the positive range, it’s obvious that replacement teeth are being substituted from one or more stock photos on file.

You can even notice a major difference with only a slider adjustment of +1. Just check and uncheck the Happiness box to see the before and after. The new teeth are clearly noticeable.


At -50

surprise at -50

At +50

surprise at +50

The results for the -50 and +50 extremes are a little strange in appearance. For the +50 result, the effect has effectively blurred this person’s face. As we’ll see with other examples, the extreme ends of the sliders often produce undesirable results.

However, each image will be treated differently by Photoshop. Some results will work better with images where the original expressions are already more aligned with any given Expression adjustment.


At -50

anger at -50

At +50

anger at +50

The results are more realistic on the extreme ends of the sliders. It appears that the main method for expressing anger is to artificially raise the subject’s right eyebrow. The problem with this effect at +50 is that Photoshop blurs the right side of the subject’s face as a result. A quick checking and unchecking of the Anger box will confirm the added distortion.

Besides extremes potentially looking odd, another thing to look out for is the distorting of the image. Generally, these effects are more likely to happen at the extreme ends of the sliders. The best practice would be to pull the sliders back toward the +25 or –25 values to maintain resolution integrity.

Photoshop Smart Portrait Subjects

Under the Subject subsection, there are five more adjustments that can be made to the image.

The results you’ll get from these adjustments may be considered even more experimental than the Expressions adjustments. To demonstrate, we will only show the extreme values to see how Photoshop handles each one.

Facial Age

At -50

facial age at -50

At +50

facial age +50

While the prospect of playing with a subject’s age may be exciting, the results are anything but.

The problem is Photoshop’s minor adjustments to the subject’s face and hair are lacking real in-depth treatments. When you adjust to the negative side to make the subject younger, the only thing that really happens is the hair becomes more feathered and smoothed out. Which is hardly a universal de-aging effect.

Also, the face is only treated with shadow adjustments around its perimeter. This too is ineffective in making the subject appear younger.

On the flip side of the coin, aging the subject is a bit more realistic but still lacks realism. The hair is merely lightened from its original dark brown. The seemingly random addition of age lines (odd-looking at that) helps a little but they still don’t make for an older subject.

If you look closely at the subject’s chin on the +50 edit, you’ll see how the age effect doesn’t blend smoothly into the rest of the picture. You can nearly see the line where the effect ends and the original is left intact. Which brings up the last critical point: the rest of the image still looks like that of a young woman.


At -50

gaze at -50

At +50

gaze at +50

The sliders for Gaze serve to shift the subject’s eyes to the left and right. While there aren’t noticeable flaws, the eyes may not seem quite right at particular values. But Photoshop does a decent job of it with this particular photo.

Hair Thickness

At -50

hair thickness at -50

At +50

hair thickness at +50

Hair thickness fails to achieve great results in every value we tried on the slider for this photo. The problem lies at the top of the subject’s head, where a little patch remains unedited throughout the range of adjustments. Why this happens is anyone’s guess.

However, Photoshop already has a Liquify tool that does a great job increasing and decreasing hair volume. It’s best to put a little more work in and get much more believable results with Liquify.

Head Direction

At -50

head direction at -50

At +50

head direction at +50

Head Direction is another highly experimental adjustment with lackluster results at the extreme ends, or just about anywhere along the slider. Therefore, this feature won’t be useful to many users.

Light Direction

At -50

light direction at -50

At +50

light direction at +50

Light Direction produces OK results, but other AI image editors appear to handle this better.

Other Things You Can Do With Photoshop Smart Portrait

There are a few sliders we left out of this tutorial at the bottom: the two Mask settings, and Experimental. We encourage you to play with these sliders to see what other results you can get in tandem with your own edits.

You may be interested to know that you can make some pretty wild edits by keeping some or all of your slider boxes checked. Ironically, these changes may be more in tune with practical applications if one is seeking to make truly bizarre images for dramatic effect.

multiple sliders checked

When and where to ultimately stop is always up to the user. As far as portraits are concerned, there are many ways to add creative touches to enhance the subject’s appearance, including removing any blemishes as a final touch. The trick is to always keep exploring Photoshop and to continue experimenting.

Image Credit: Majid Akbari/

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About The Author



Source: How to Use Photoshop’s Smart Portrait Feature: A Beginner’s Guide

By Craig Boehman

Techylawyer and its authors do not claim to have written this article, we acknowledge the works of the original author


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