eXtensions - Sunday 10 December 2017


Portrait: Useful but Limited app for Output of Face Images with Novel and Adjustable Filters

By Graham K. Rogers


I am often on the lookout for interesting new apps although of late my main problem has been time. Recently I found Portrait, an app that makes deft use of APIs to add filtering effects. As simple and effective as it is, this has the potential for more.


The app opens with the selfie-cam on the iPhone and I was faced with a head and shoulders outline to guide me. There was access to the main camera, but without a head to focus on (initially) I was not able to use this. I was surprised to find also that there was no access to the Photos Library, so no portrait images were available for the filters that this app works with.

At the bottom of the screen was a series of thumbnails panels displaying the filter options. This displays differently on the iPad Air 2 I also used, but for most of the testing I used an iPhone X. Some of the filters were refreshingly unusual in design. When one was selected, the effect was applied immediately to the screen: on and around the head. Sliding a finger up and down the screen applied the effects more or less and a percentage display was shown on those filters that allowed such adjustments (one or two did not).

Portrait Portrait Portrait

Images from Rear-facing camera Using Portrait: Guevara, City and Bowman filter

On the iPad Air 2 the display was different. The app is not optimised for the iPad (it was not easy to find in the iTunes Store on the device) so displays in x1 or x2 screens, but the filters were not available on the device until a photograph had been taken: then filter options and adjustments were possible. I was surprised to find that it worked this way.

On the iPhone X, the effect was applied to the whole image as soon as the filter was selected as long as a face was shown. It was easy to do this with the selfie camera, but with no volunteer, I had to use a mirror to take a photo using the front-facing camera. If I had the reflection slightly out of alignment, the filtering would not appear and the shutter button was unavailable. As soon as I shifted the angle slightly, all worked properly.

Portrait Portrait Portrait

Images from iPhone X Front-facing camera (left) with watermark erased; and from iPad Air 2

The images from the selfie camera were shown as 960 x 1280 JPG files of between 100 - 500 Kb, depending on the filter used. This was the same for the rear camera on the iPhone X and for images I took with the iPad Air2. Each image also had a watermark on the top right and I could see no option in the app to remove this. I was able to erase this in the Photos app on the Mac on a couple of the images, but with some the background made this removal less effective.

If the app could not identify a face, it would not work. I tried with a number of items that had a similar shape to the head and shoulders outline, but nothing worked, hinting that Portrait uses some of the face-recognition abilities of iOS.


While Portrait does a reasonable job for what it is, there is a hint of something more if the developers wanted. There are three specific areas which have definite possibilities: watermark removal (often an in-app purchase, depending on the developer); larger images; and access to the Photos Library.

The last two would require some slight reworking of the app (especially the last), but as it is, this free app does a useful job and is probably aimed at users of social networking sites, rather than those who require more advanced output types: the Guevara and Bowman filters would perhaps make useful poster backgrounds.

As a free app, Portrait does a good job for what it is and is worth giving a try.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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