Photoshop Smart Portrait Neural Filter tutorial

Use Smart Portrait in Photoshop to Change Your Subject’s Look

Change your subject's appearance using Photoshop's Smart Portrait filter. Add facial expressions, make them look younger or older, adjust hair thickness and more just by dragging siders! For Photoshop 2022 or newer.

Written by Steve Patterson.

Photoshop’s Smart Portrait Neural Filter may not be its most practical feature, but it can still be a lot of fun. You can use Smart Portrait to quickly add facial expressions to your subject, like happiness, surprise or anger. You can change the age of your subject, making them look younger or older. And you can adjust hair thickness, eye direction, head direction and more just by dragging sliders.

Like all of Photoshop’s Neural Filters, Smart Portrait uses artificial intelligence to redraw the image with new detail that was not present in the original. But unlike other Neural Filters, Smart Portrait processes your image in the cloud, meaning that the effect is rendered online by Adobe’s servers. The advantage with the cloud is that the result will be better than if it relied solely on your computer’s power. But the disadvantage is that it takes longer, especially if your internet connection is slow.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how each of the Smart Portrait sliders affects your image, and I’ll share a few tips for getting the best possible results.

Which version of Photoshop do I need?

The Smart Portrait Neural Filter has been upgraded from beta to an official release as of Photoshop 2022. So make sure that your copy of Photoshop is up to date. Or if you need Photoshop, you can get the latest Photoshop version here.

Setting up the document

You can follow along with any portrait photo. I’ll use this image from Adobe Stock.

The original image used in the Smart Portrait tutorial.
The original image.

Let's get started!

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

Apply Smart Portrait to a copy of your image

Here’s my first tip. Before opening the Smart Portrait Neural Filter, make a copy of your image layer and then apply the Smart Portrait filter to the copy. As we’ll see later on, having the original image below the layer you're working on will help you clean up any problems that the Smart Portrait filter creates.

In the Layers panel, the image appears on the Background layer.

Photoshop's Layers panel.
The Layers panel.

Make a copy of the Background layer by pressing Ctrl+J on a Windows PC or Command+J on a Mac. A copy appears above the original.

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the copy of the image above the original.
We'll apply Smart Portrait to the copy.

Open the Neural Filters workspace

With the copy layer selected, go up to the Filter menu in the Menu Bar and choose Neural Filters.

Selecting Neural Filters from Photoshop's Filter menu.
Going to Filter > Neural Filters.

Your image opens inside Photoshop’s Neural Filters workspace. And a blue box appears around the face in the image that Photoshop detected.

Photoshop's Neural Filters workspace.
The Neural Filters workspace.

How to hide the blue box

If the blue box is distracting, you can hide by going up to the View menu and unchecking Extras. Or press Ctrl+H on a Windows PC or Command+H on a Mac to toggle the extras on and off.

Hiding the Extras in Photoshop.
Unchecking Extras under the View menu.

Download and enable Smart Portrait

Photoshop's Neural Filters are all listed in the panel to the right of the image. And as of Photoshop 2022, Smart Portrait has been upgraded from a beta filter to an official Featured filter. If you are still seeing Smart Portrait listed in the Beta section, you’ll need to update your copy of Photoshop.

But before we can use a filter, we first need to download it. So if you have not done so already, click the cloud icon to download Smart Portrait.

Clicking the cloud icon to download the Smart Portrait Neural Filter in Photoshop.
Neural Filters need to be downloaded first.

Once Smart Portrait has finished downloading, click the toggle icon to turn it on.

Turning on the Smart Portrait Neural Filter in Photoshop.
Turning Smart Portrait on.

The Smart Portrait effect sliders

Each Smart Portrait effect is controlled by a slider, and the sliders are divided into groups (Featured, Expressions, Global and Settings). We’ll start by looking at the Featured effects at the top.

The Smart Portrait Neural Filter effect sliders in Photoshop.
The Smart Portrait effect sliders.

Happiness

The Happiness slider makes your subject look happier. At least, that’s the idea. But sadly, of all the Smart Portrait effects, Happiness can be one of the least impressive. In fact, depending on the amount of happiness you add, the result can look creepy.

For best results with the Happiness slider, keep the effect subtle. Here I’m increasing the amount to +10 (the maximum is +50).

Dragging the Smart Portrait Happiness slider to 10.
Increasing the Happiness amount to 10.

The progress bar

Any time you drag a Smart Portrait slider, a progress bar will appear as you wait for the result. And the first time you drag a slider is when you’ll wait the longest because that is when Photoshop processes the image in the cloud using Adobe’s servers. The progress bar itself will say Processing in the cloud.

The Smart Portrait progress bar showing the image processing in the cloud.
The progress bar showing the image being processed in the cloud.

But after that, Smart Portrait switches to processing the image on your device (your computer). The progress bar will say Processing on device. So once Photoshop switches from the cloud to your computer, the wait time after dragging a slider should be shorter.

The Smart Portrait progress bar showing the image processing on you device.
The progress bar showing the image being processed on your device.

How to toggle the effect on and off

Toggle the effect on and off to compare it with your original image by clicking the Preview icon in the lower left of the Neural Filters panel.

The Smart Portrait Neural Filter preview icon.
The effect preview icon.

On the left is my original image, and on the right is with Happiness increased to 10. The result looks pretty good. He does look a little happier.

But notice that even at a low setting, Smart Portrait is starting to add detail that was not present in the original image. For example, his mouth was initially closed. But Smart Portrait has added teeth. It’s a believable effect, but they are not his real teeth. Instead, Photoshop used machine learning to draw what it thinks his teeth would look like.

A Smart Portrait comparison between the original image and Happiness increased to 10.
Left: The original image. Right: Happiness increased to 10.

Increasing Happiness to the max

While subtle increases to Happiness can look good, big increases usually don’t. I’ll drag the Happiness slider all the way to +50.

Dragging Photoshop's Smart Portrait Happiness slider to the maximum setting.
Dragging the Happiness slider to the maximum setting.

Here again is the original image on the left and the Happiness effect on the right. At this point, things just look goofy.

A Smart Portrait comparison between the original image and Happiness increased to 50.
Left: The original image. Right: Happiness increased to 50.

Trying the Happiness slider on a different image

But goofy is better than creepy. Here’s the effect using a different image. On the left is the original photo and on the right is with Happiness increased to the maximum amount. This is what I mean by creepy, and I doubt she would be too happy with the result.

So your experience with the Happiness slider will vary from one image to the next. But from my testing, subtle adjustments work best.

Running the Smart Portrait Happiness slider on a second image.
Left: The original image. Right: Smart Portrait's idea of what happiness looks like.

Reducing the Happiness amount

The Happiness slider can also be used to make your subject look less happy (if that’s something you ever need to do). And perhaps not surprising, the result tends to look more believable. Even with Photoshop, it seems easier to take away someone’s happiness than add to it.

To reduce happiness, drag the slider to the left. I’ll lower it all the way down to -50.

Dragging the Smart Portrait Happiness slider to its lowest setting.
Dragging the Happiness slider to its lowest setting.

Even at the lowest Happiness setting, when compared to the original image on the left, the result on the right still looks fairly realistic. A more subtle adjustment would look better.

Comparing Smart Portrait's Happiness slider at the lowest setting with the original image.
Left: The original image. Right: Happiness lowered to -50.

How to reset the Smart Portrait sliders

As we make our way through each of the Smart Portrait effects, I’m going to reset the slider we just looked at back to 0. You can quickly reset an individual slider by double-clicking on it.

Double-clicking on a Smart Portrait slider to reset it to 0.
Double-click on a slider to reset it to 0.

Or to reset all sliders at once, click the Reset icon in the upper right.

Click the Reset icon to reset all Smart Portrait sliders at once.
Click the Reset icon to reset all sliders.

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

Facial age

The Facial age slider makes your subject look younger or older, and is one of the more impressive Smart Portrait effects. But a better name may have just been Age since the person’s hair style and hair color are also affected

Drag the Facial age slider to the left to make your subject look younger. I’ll drag it all the way to -50.

Dragging Smart Portrait's Facial age slider to -50.
Lowering Facial age to -50.

Compared to the original image (left), he definitely looks younger (right), with smoother skin and softer lighting. But his hair also looks thicker and darker in the younger version.

Using Smart Portrait's Facial age slider to make the subject look younger.
Left: The original image. Right: Facial age -50.

Dragging the Facial age slider to the right makes the person look older. I’ll drag it all the way to +50.

Dragging Smart Portrait's Facial age slider to +50.
Increasing Facial age to +50.

And again compared to the original image on the left, he looks quite a bit older. Plus his hair is now thinner and gray.

Later on, I’ll show you how to enhance these effects even more, to the point where your subject looks like a completely different person.

Using Smart Portrait's Facial age slider to make the subject look older.
Left: The original image. Right: Facial age +50.

Hair thickness

The Hair thickness slider makes your subject’s hair thicker or thinner. If I drag the slider all the way to the right:

Dragging Smart Portrait's Hair thickness slider to +50.
Increasing Hair thickness to +50.

His hair looks thicker, which has the added effect of making him look younger.

Using Smart Portrait's Hair thickness slider to make the subject hair thicker.
Left: The original image. Right: Hair thickness +50.

And if I drag Hair thickness all the way to the left:

Dragging Smart Portrait's Hair thickness slider to -50.
Lowering Hair thickness to -50.

His hair looks much thinner, as if he just had a haircut.

Using Smart Portrait's Hair thickness slider to make the subject hair thicker.
Left: The original image. Right: Hair thickness -50.

Eye direction

The final Smart Portrait effect in the Featured group is Eye direction which can change where your subject is looking.

If I drag the Eye direction slider all the way to the right:

Dragging Smart Portrait's Eye direction slider to +50.
Dragging Eye direction to +50.

His gaze moves from center (in the original image) to the right.

Using Smart Portrait's Eye direction slider to shift the subject's gaze to the right.
Left: The original image. Right: Eye direction +50.

And if I drag the slider to the left:

Dragging Smart Portrait's Eye direction slider to -50.
Dragging Eye direction to -50.

He’s now looking off to the left:

Using Smart Portrait's Eye direction slider to shift the subject's gaze to the left.
Left: The original image. Right: Eye direction -50.

The Auto balance combinations checkbox

So far we’ve been looking at Smart Portrait effects individually. But of course, you can drag multiple sliders to combine their effects. And when you do, Photoshop limits each slider’s impact on your subject to create a more balanced and natural result.

But if you would rather see the full effect of each slider, uncheck Auto balance combinations above the Featured group.

The Auto balance combinations options for Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter.
Auto balance combinations only applies when two or more effects are combined.

Here I’ve increased Happiness to +15, lowered Facial age to -40 and increased Hair thickness to +40. On the left is the result with Auto balance combinations checked, and on the right is with it unchecked.

Notice how the effect is much stronger with it unchecked. You can toggle the option on and off to compare the results and choose which version you like best.

A comparison of Auto balance combinations on and off for Photoshop's Smart Portrait filter
Auto balance combinations on (left) and off (right).

Surprise

The Expressions group holds two sliders. Drag the Surprise slider to the right to make your subject look more surprised, or drag to the left to make them look like they knew about the surprise party all along.

The Surprise slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
The Surprise slider.

On the left is with Surprise set to the maximum of +50. To me, he looks more disappointed than surprised. And on the right is with Surprise set to the minimum of -50.

The result using the Surprise slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
Left: Surprise +50. Right: Surprise -50.

Anger

The last of the Smart Portrait facial expressions is Anger. But much like the Happiness slider we looked at earlier, Anger works best with subtle adjustments and tends to look better when reducing anger than adding more.

The Anger slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
The Anger slider.

On the left is with the Anger slider all the way to the right to +50. Notice how his face looks distorted, which would make anyone angry. And on the right is with Anger set to the minimum of -50.

The result using the Anger slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
Left: Anger +50. Right: Anger -50.

Head direction

The Global group is where you’ll find sliders for adjusting the Head direction and Light direction. There is also a Fix head alignment slider which is grayed out when Head direction is set to 0.

Drag the Head direction slider left or right to turn your subject’s head in that direction. I’ll drag the slider to the right to a value of around +40.

The Head direction slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
The Head direction slider.

Photoshop tries to redraw your subject with their head turned. But what often happens, as we see here, is that your subject’s head becomes detached from their neck.

The result using the Head Direction slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
Left: The original image. Right: Head direction +40.

Fix head alignment

That’s where the Fix head alignment slider comes in, which is no longer grayed out. Drag the slider in the same direction until the head and neck are realigned.

The Fix head alignment slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
The Fix head alignment slider.

With this image, I needed to drag the slider to +47 for the alignment to work. But with other images I tested, I was not able to realign them even after dragging the Fix head alignment slider to the max. So your results will vary.

The result using the Head Direction slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
Fix head alignment at 0 (left) and at +47 (right).

Light direction

Use the Light direction slider to reposition the light source on your subject after turning their head. Since I turned his head to the right, I’ll compensate by dragging the Light direction slider to the left.

The Light direction slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
The Light direction slider.

On the left is the head tilt without repositioning the light source. Notice how the light is shining directly on his face. And on the right is with the light source moved slightly to the left of center.

The result using the Light direction slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter
Light direction at 0 (left) and at -30 (right).

Retain unique details

At this point, we’ve covered all of the Smart Portrait effects that you can apply to your subject. And you may have noticed that no matter which effect we applied, our subject still remained recognizable.

The reason is because of a slider found in the Settings group called Retain unique details, which by default is set to 90. The default setting is usually what you want because it tells Photoshop to keep most of the person’s unique facial features.

The Retain unique details slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter.
The Retain unique details slider.

Lowering the Retain unique details value

But lowering the value gives Photoshop more freedom and can help enhance the result. For example, I’ll again drag the Facial age slider all the way to the left to make him look younger. And when we compare the result to the original image, it’s obvious that he is still the same person.

Using Smart Portrait's Facial age slider to make the subject look younger.
Left: The original image. Right: Facial age -50.

If I then lower Retain unique details from 90 down to 10:

Lowering the Retain unique details amount.
Lowering the Retain unique details amount.

He still looks like the same person but Photoshop was able to smooth and soften his skin a little more.

A comparison of higher and lower Retain unique details values for the Smart Portrait filter.
Retain unique details at 90 (left) and 10 (right).

Turning Retain unique details off

But watch what happens if I drag Retain unique details all the way down to 0.

Lowering the Retain unique details value to 0.
Lowering Retain unique details to 0.

Photoshop no longer cares about his unique features and instead makes him look like a completely different person.

The Smart Portrail Neural Filter effect with Retain unique details at 0.
Retain unique details at 90 (left) and 0 (right).

The same things happens if I drag the Facial age slider all the way to the right to make him look older. On the left is the result with Retain unique details set to 90 and on the right is with it set to 0. Again he looks completely different in the two versions.

Even if you lower Retain unique details down to 1, your subject will still be recognizable. It’s only when you lower it down to 0 that they become someone else.

A second example of the Smart Portrail Neural Filter effect with Retain unique details at 0.
Retain unique details at 90 (left) and 0 (right).

Mask feathering

The final Smart Portrait slider, also found in the Settings group, is Mask feathering which by default is set to 10. Increasing this value softens the edge between the Smart Portrait effect and the surrounding image, which may help clean up certain problem areas but usually just creates new ones.

The Mask feathering slider in Photoshop's Smart Portrait Neural Filter.
The Mask feathering slider.

For example, notice that after turning his head to the right using the Head direction slider, there is an abrupt transition across his neck where the effect suddenly ends.

An abrupt transition between the Smart Portrait effect and the surrounding image.
Smart Portrait can create harsh transitions between the effect and the surrounding image.

I can try to soften the edge by increasing the Mask feathering value.

Dragging the Mask feathering slider to soften the Smart Portrait effect transition.
Dragging Mask feathering to 80.

But while the transition in his neck is now softer, it’s also softer everywhere else, creating a faded border around his face. So rather than adjusting the Mask feathering slider, I recommend leaving it at the default of 10. I’ll show you a better way to clean up problem areas next.

The result after increasing the Mask featheting value.
Mask feathering at 10 (left) and 80 (right).

How to remove an area from the Smart Portrait effect

A better way to clean up an edge or remove an area from the Smart Portrait effect is to simply paint over the area you want to remove.

To show you how it works, I’ll bring back that goofy smile by dragging the Happiness slider all the way to the right.

The Smart Portrait effect with Happiness at +50.
The effect with Happiness at +50.

The Subtract from selection brush

Let’s say I want to keep the effect everywhere except for his mouth. I can do that by painting over it using the Subtract from selection brush. You’ll find it in the toolbar along the left of the workspace.

The Subtract from selection brush in the Smart Portrait toolbar
The Subtract from selection brush in the Smart Portrait toolbar.

Adjust the size of the brush using the left and right bracket keys ( [ and ] ) on your keyboard. Then simply paint over an area to remove it from the effect and restore the original image.

Here I’m painting over his mouth, and we can see the original mouth showing through. If you are seeing transparency instead of the original image, I'll explain why in a moment.

Painting away some of the Smart Portrait effect to restore some of the original image.
Painting away part of the effect to restore the original image.

Show mask overlay

By default, a red overlay appears as you paint, which can make it difficult to see what’s happening. You can turn off the overlay by unchecking Show mask overlay in the Options Bar.

Turning the Show Mask Overlay option off.
Turning Show mask overlay off.

With the overlay turned off, I’ll continue painting over the rest of his mouth until the original is restored.

The subject's mouth has been removed from the Smart Portrait effect.
His mouth is no longer affected by the Smart Portrait effect.

I can also paint along his neck with the Subtract from selection brush to soften the transition area.

Cleaning up the harsh transition along his neck.
Cleaning up the abrupt transition along his neck.

The Add to selection brush

If you paint away too much of the effect, switch to the Add to selection brush in the toolbar and then paint over the area to restore the effect. To quickly switch between the two brushes, press E on your keyboard for the Subtract from selection brush and B for the Add to selection brush.

The Add to selection brush in the Smart Portrait toolbar
The Add to selection brush in the Smart Portrait toolbar.

To see which areas were removed with the Subtract from selection brush, turn Show mask overlay back on.

Turning Show mask overlay on for the Smart Portrait effect
Turning Show mask overlay on.

And the red overlay reappears.

The red overlay shows where the original image is showing through the Smart Portrait effect.
The red areas are where the original image is showing through the effect.

Why am I seeing transparency where I painted?

Back at the beginning of the tutorial, I suggested that you first make a copy of the image layer and then apply Smart Portrait to the copy. This brings us to the reason why. If the original image is not below the effect as you paint some of it away with the Subtract from selection brush, you won’t see the original image in those areas. Instead, you’ll see transparency.

Painting with the Subtract from selection brush creates transparency.
The result without the original image below the Smart Portrait effect.

You will also see transparency if you click the Layer preview icon (next to the effect preview icon} and Show selected layer is active. So make sure that Show all layers is selected.

Smart Portrait's Layer preview icon and options.
The Layer preview icon and options.

For comparison, here once again is my original image on the left. And on the right is the Happiness effect after removing some areas, like his mouth, using the Subtract from selection brush. This time the result looks much better.

The Smart Portrait effect with some areas of the subject subtracted.
Left: The original image. Right: Happiness at +50 with some areas subtracted from the effect.

How to output the Smart Portrait result

When you are ready to output the result, click the Output options box which is set to New layer by default.

Clicking the Output options box for the Smart Portrait Neural Filter.
Clicking the Output options box.

Then choose from several options. I recommend choosing Smart Filter which will keep the Smart Portrait effect editable in case you want to go back and make changes.

Outputting the Smart Portrait result as a smart filter.
Choosing to output the result as a smart filter.

Then click OK to close the Neural Filters workspace.

Clicking OK to output the Smart Portrait effect.
Clicking OK to output the effect.

Back in the Layers panel, the layer on which we applied Smart Portrait is converted to a smart object. And the filter is applied as a smart filter. Notice its layer mask showing the area (in black) where we painted away some of the effect.

You can reopen Smart Portrait and make changes by double-clicking on the words Neural Filters below the layer mask.

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the Smart Portrait Neural Filter applied as a smart filter
The Layers panel showing Smart Portrait applied as a smart filter.

And there we have it! Along with Smart Portrait, another of Photoshop's Neural Filters that was recently upgraded to an official release is Colorize which can add color to black and white photos automatically!

Check out my other Photo Editing tutorials for more topics. And don't forget, all of my tutorials are now available to download as PDFs!