Is The New Photoshop 'Smart Portrait' Feature Really Smart?

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

Photoshop shop-talk by Craig Boehman.

Image courtesy of

Adobe Photoshop Version 22.0 was released in late October and created quite a stir. But are the new "smart" features really that smart?

Apart from the much-anticipated Sky Replacement tool, which makes use of Adobe's very own AI engine called Sensei, many Photoshop enthusiasts have been talking about the new Neural Filters.

Chief among them and first on the drop-down menu under Feature Filters is 'Smart Portrait', a panel chock-full of AI adjustment sliders which are supposed to smartly render an image to-taste.

We will explore two groups of sliders making use of the above image to see what results you can expect from Adobe Photoshop 22.0.


There are three sliders in this group: Happiness, Surprise, and Anger. When you check the respective box, you activate the emotion and Photoshop begins to analyze the image. Once the scan is complete (may take a few moments) then you have the option of plus or minus 50 for each emotion, which is the standard range for each slider. Below are all three emotions pushed to the extremes.

Happiness: -50 and +50

Surprise: -50 and +50

Anger: -50 and +50


One thing which should become apparent to the casual user is that every emotion that is pushed to +50 will result in teeth being added, even if the original image didn't have any. Upon closer inspection of these images, the teeth are misshaped or just plain weird-looking.

On the flip side, all the sliders pushed to -50 resulted in the mouth being closed. With this particular subject, the eyebrows were really distorted and appear quite odd in the Anger adjustments. Otherwise, Photoshop seemed to render the more-subtle changes in facial expression quite well.

Facial Age

This slider will likely prove to be one of the most fun to play around with. Who wouldn't want to see older and younger versions of someone or one's self? Well now, you'll know! At least, according to Photoshop. Let's have a look to discover how the sliders treat our young subject.


It appears to this reviewer that Photoshop really struggles with the Facial Age feature. While the +50 setting seems a little more realistic than the opposite end, neither image looks convincing.

It seems that the biggest changes to the old version are the addition of lines to the face - but even these changes look obviously fake. The young image looks almost exactly the same save for the hair being rendered more softly. It only looks like somebody quickly styled her hair with a blow-dryer.

Who are these features for? Let's first determine who this isn't for, and that would be for professional photographers and retouchers. There is simply too little scope for these unimpressive features to belong in the day-to-day workflows of industry professionals who are doing client work.

Photoshop has a long way to go if they're attempting to woo photographers away from other AI-rich portrait editors like Anthropics PortraitPro or Skylum's Luminar, the latter of which is upgrading its new AI engine in time for a new Christmas release.

So who is Adobe's intended audience? Probably hobbyists and Adobe's existing Photoshop user base who just want to goof around with a new set of sliders. If Adobe was hoping to increase their sales based on these features alone as selling points, there will likely be a lot of unimpressed users who've now found themselves locked into an annual subscription.

The problem is, pushing the sliders to the extremes result in unusable images. Even the most casual user of Photoshop will recognize this and won't likely be too impressed by making moderate adjustments either. These "moderate" results can be achieved by existing Photoshop tools and image compositing techniques.

If anything, these new features will be fun to explore for 15 minutes or so. Until then, best to leave the gimmicks to phone apps. Photoshop is meant for bigger and better things.

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