I have been curious about the Alien Skin Exposure software plugin for Photoshop for a long time. With the third iteration, Exposure3 has taken their film simulation software even further. Read on for examples and reviews…
*Authors note: Link to Alien Skin’s Newsletter showing this article here!
To those who’ve come from the newsletter, welcome!!!
(March 2012) Now that Exposure 4 has been released, you can read my updated review HERE!
I have been having a bit of a film renaissance of late. I have been going through rolls of 120 like they were back in style and I have been loving my new/old analogue experience. There is just something about film that no matter what, will always have a place in my heart (much like listening to vinyl, just a different experience that is still directly irreplaceable). The development team behind Exposure 3 has obviously translated a film based passion into a brilliant digital medium allowing digital photographers the ability to create beautiful film-like reproductions from a digital file. From color recreation and cross processing down to grain structure, everything has been meticulously thought out and digitally replicated.
The picture above of the lovely Kristine was processed in the Color Film interface of Exposure 3 using a cross processed Fuji Provia 100F / Lomo LC-A filter instantly transforming the image into a look that suited my intention for the final product. Here is the same picture, it’s original as well as a cross section of a few different film filters (out of hundreds available) just for a little taste of how differently you can make one image look depending on your taste.
Whether you are an old film shooter that longs for the look of film, a wedding, studio or event shooter looking to provide a more film like “look” or just someone who would like to incorporate a film look with endless modification into your own personal work flow, this is a really, really cool plugin. I use the term film somewhat loosely as any one of these filters stands entirely on its own merit whether you are going for a “film look” or not. Also, most every film preset is available ‘without grain’ for those looking to maintain a grain-less image file, so there you go, or if you have three extra seconds, you can turn the grain off! All of the color, contrast and saturation replication without the grain.
Why would you want to revert your digital files into film replications? Why not just shoot film?
A couple reasons really, first, because we already have the digital equipment, and secondly you don’t have to deal with chemicals, or wait (and pay) to have film developed, then scan, then digitally tweak your files. Don’t get me wrong, I love film and fully support it as a medium for anyone wanting to shoot it, but I’m also a realist, and film just doesn’t make sense in certain shooting situations in the new digital landscape, but it sure is nice to get images that have a more film-like look sometimes…
While I’ve mentioned before how funny I think it is that I have invested thousands and thousands of dollars in digital equipment, software and the like to replicate an image that came from a Holga or a roll of expired film, I feel that one of the coolest aspects of modern digital photography is the infinite amount of tools available. I enjoy shooting film as well, but it just isn’t as practical (nor cost effective) for many modern applications. You have these beautiful, high resolution digital files right? Why not twist, tweak and play with them? With Exposure 3, not only can I get the look of older Kodachrome, or Provia, or Fujichrome but I can have a nearly endless amount of ‘looks’ all from one file. For me, it is not a question of why, but why not?
Here is a shot where I used my 5DII as an overpriced light meter for shots using Kodak Portra 160NC film in a Hasselblad 500 C/M. The set up shot with the 5DII is digitally processed in Exposure 3 as noted, and my film was scanned to a 2400dpi Tiff resulting in 24+MB file to gain a close resolution, to my eye at 100% anyway. Keep in mind that I use a cheap Epson scanner and really should look to upgrade it, but for the time being, it is what I have (and have to say, I’m happy with for the most part, but that’s neither here nor there). The color reproduction from the scanned negatives are less than perfect, so it isn’t the best way to directly compare, but I have to admit, my original optical prints are much closer to the reproduction of the Exposure 3 files after I’ve printed them even on my inkjet printer!
The 5D’s digital file processed in Exposure 3 has a visibly warmer/more magenta tint which is actually closer to the optical print directly from the negative than the scanned file above shows. I guess you’re just going to have to trust me as my scanner isn’t going to do my argument justice. And before you ask, yes my white balance was manually set for the daylight film WB, all settings were identical and the light output was the same for both shots to achieve as close a rendering and controlled a test as I could provide.
While Exposure 3 has an amazing library of color films, with infinitely tweak-able parameters, it also has a wonderful cache of black and white films to boot. I’d like to take time later on comparing this software with the NIK Silver Efex Pro which also has a black and white film generator involved, and has been my go to for black and white digital processing. Having only put the Exposure software through its paces over the last couple of weeks, I must say, it is becoming my favorite plugin to work with for both color and b/w processing. One major reason for this is the interface.
After processing an image in Photoshop, it automatically places the filter on it’s own layer allowing you to further tweak, mask or alter it’s opacity or blend mode adding even more variables to the process.
The curves tab within the Exposure 3 interface is beautifully laid out and uses a series of sliders as opposed to relying on our ability to use manually placed points (a-la photoshop, et al) and provides a much more balanced, controlled (and understandable) manipulation for me. You can, of course, grab and drag points as you would in Photoshop, but the fine tuning, and easy to understand sliders, provide the average user a much better experience. You can manipulate, vignette, age (which adds or subtracts scratches and dust), modify grain structure, apply processing tweaks and use other amazingly well thought out tools. Think of it as a true digital darkroom where you are actually processing your files as if they were film or slides, without the chemicals or clean up.
The library of black and white films are enough to justify the price for the plugin itself. Giving the user the same tools to manipulate, cross process, vignette and develop your image files into black and white is well though out and very user friendly.
Grain is good, noise is bad. You can get away with a bit of noise and maybe even a little further if you process your digital images into black and white, but anyone who’s spent much time inspecting their images know that digital noise just looks different than older film grain. I love the grain generation in Exposure 3. It does in fact look like film grain, not digital noise and that is a good thing in my eyes. Here is a 100% crop of the final image above:
Of course you can play with masking different filters in photoshop for varying effect. This was an effort to play with the idea of my previous post using selective color in black and white processing, this time using Exposure 3.
A very well thought out interface with some serious photo editing tools enabling beautiful results.
I’d certainly suggest spending the half an hour or so to view these videos if you’re interested in the software to see what it can do, and how quick and easy it is to process images using the tools available in Exposure 3.
I have been interested in other software that Alien Skin produces and hope to be able to review others in the future. At this time, I can’t say personally that I’d go with the Photo-Bundle definitively to save by purchasing each of the individual software plugins as I have no personal experience, but it might be very worth while depending on your needs and budget. If Exposure 3 is any indication of the tools their other software can enable a modern digital image maker, they are definitely worth looking into.
It is hard for me to put a price on how worthwhile any particular software is for the average photographer. Some of us may have a limited budget and a $250usd software plugin may be a bit out of reach. Some of us may see the beauty in spending a reasonable amount on tools to provide our photography with a new spin. Others of us may have no reservation when we realize how little the investment may be for the output and potential income it can provide be that from event shooting, print making or the like. Being that you will already have invested in either Photoshop and/or Lightroom to gain access to these plugins, I’d say we understand the cost in these new digital tools. I think this plugin for any wedding or studio shooter would be a no brainer, even if they already owned the NIK Color/Silver Efex software. The cost to benefit is so low it just makes sense. For any photographer, pro or not, looking for the versatility or the ability to create a signature look would not be let down by this plugin either. For me, this has been one of the most versatile plugins I’ve ever seen. Not only do you gain all of the color film filters and all of the customization the software provides, but you have a black and white film plugin with the same interface and customization that definitely rivals Silver Efex Pro, and arguably provides a more extensive and user friendly interface, albeit without Nik’s U-point technology. After digging through the plugin and playing around with some of my own images, I’m a big fan.
Find all of the Alien Skin software, including tutorials, bundles and free trial versions HERE.
All images are ©tyson robichaud photography2010 and the Exposure 3 logo was used with permission from Alien Skin Software.
(*Just in case you’re wondering, I am in no way affiliated with Alien Skin. I just think their stuff is cool and think you might too!)